ORLANDO, Fla. -- After Alabama blew out Michigan State on New Year's Eve and Northwestern no-showed against Tennessee earlier on Friday, the Big Ten needed to make a statement against the SEC.
No. 14 Michigan thoroughly dismantled No. 19 Florida 41-7 at the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, kicking the Gators' tails with a 24-0 second half. The Wolverines made easy work out of the No. 6 defense in the FBS, pushing the SEC East champs around up front and even burning their talented secondary.
Florida (10-4), which didn't score after tying the game at 7 on a trick play late in the first quarter, looked listless during much of the second half, as if its players were eager to get on the bus back to Gainesville. Meanwhile, a hungry Michigan team enjoyed its first bowl victory since the 2011 Sugar Bowl -- and earned back at least a little respect for the Big Ten against the SEC.
What the win means for Michigan: You can now consider Jim Harbaugh's first year as head coach an unqualified success. The Wolverines finished 10-3 one season after going 5-7 and added an impressive bowl victory over an SEC division champ. The Michigan offense improved greatly over the course of the season and seemed to benefit from another month under the tutelage of Harbaugh and his staff. The Wolverines have to replace senior quarterback Jake Rudock as well as other starters, but this team could well be a preseason Top 10.
What the loss means for Florida: The excitement over Jim McElwain's first campaign in Gainesville has definitely cooled off. The Gators lost by at least two touchdowns in each of their final three games and were just never the same after the Will Grier suspension. Even worse, their defense got pushed around by Michigan and served up the most points it had allowed all season. Better times could still be ahead, especially with a young roster. But this season ended with a thud.
Player of the game: Rudock is a Florida native who played several high school games at the Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. The senior, who had a miserable day last January in Florida in his final game in an Iowa uniform, ended his college career in style with a highly efficient performance. Rudock finished 20-of-31 for 278 yards and three touchdowns and didn't turn the ball over.
Stat of the game: Michigan ran the ball 46 times for 225 yards against a Florida defense that ranked 17th in the FBS against the run. The Gators were allowing just 120.6 yards per game on the ground coming into the Citrus Bowl and had only let three teams (Tennessee, LSU, Alabama) ring up 200 yards against them on the ground this season. The Wolverines' offensive line was outstanding, and De'Veon Smith had his best running game since September with 109 yards on 25 carries.