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Updated: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 10:27 AM EST
NCAA FOOTBALL PREVIEW
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No. 20 Florida (8-4) vs. No. 11 Michigan (9-3) Outback
FLORIDA GATORS
Florida Gators
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MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
Michigan Wolverines
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TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Two perennial powers who want to end somewhat disappointing seasons on a high note face off at Raymond James Stadium when No. 11 Michigan takes on No. 20 Florida in the Outback Bowl.

Michigan (9-3), which will be facing its fifth different Southeastern Conference bowl opponent in five years, has never faced Florida (8-4). It is 17-5-1 all time against teams from the SEC, including 5-3 in bowl games.

Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr is 3-1 against SEC opponents in bowl games, but the one loss was a 45-17 thrashing to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl last season.

This year, Michigan came up just short of upsetting the undefeated Ohio State in the regular season finale, 14-9. The Wolverines dominated yardage and time of possession and led for most of the contest. After the Buckeyes went ahead in the fourth quarter, Michigan's potential game-winning drive ended with an interception by John Navarre.

The Wolverines hope to record their fourth 10-win season under Carr, having accomplished the feat in the 1997-99 seasons.

Navarre, who was heavily criticized by Michigan fans entering the season, set school records for pass attempts (412) and completions (227), and threw for a Big Ten-leading 2,586 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Standout senior outside linebacker Victor Hobson, who had a team- and career-best 87 tackles, will move inside due to injuries to starters Carl Diggs and Zach Kaufman and reserves Roy Manning and Lawrence Reid.

The Wolverines led the Big Ten with 38 sacks, including six by defensive end Shantee Orr. Hobson paced the team with 15 tackles for a loss.

Michigan is 2-1 in the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines last played in the game six years ago, losing to Alabama, 17-14.

Florida, which should have the crowd in its favor, went 8-4 in its first season under Ron Zook, who took over when Steve Spurrier left to coach the NFL's Washington Redskins. Zook went 0-3 against Michigan as the defensive backs coach at Ohio State from 1988-90.

The Gators had an up-and-down season, losing to Miami and Louisiana State at home and Mississippi and Florida State on the road. They defeated Tennessee on the road and SEC champion Georgia in their annual matchup in Jacksonville.

Rex Grossman, a Heisman Trophy finalist as a sophomore, threw for 3,079 yards and 20 TDs this season but also tossed 17 interceptions while learning a new offensive scheme.

Still, Grossman and his excellent receiving corps, led by Taylor Jacobs, have the potential to have a big day against the Wolverines' athletic but vulnerable defensive backs.

The Gators are appearing in a January bowl game for a 10th straight year, joining Florida State as the only teams in the country to do so over that span.

Florida is attempting to win at least nine games for the 13th consecutive season, a streak that would be the longest active one in the nation. Nebraska had won at least nine games 33 straight years but fell short this season.

Florida defensive coordinator John Thompson will take over as coach at East Carolina after the bowl game.

Florida is 14-15 all time in bowls - 4-1 against Big Ten teams - while Michigan is 17-16. The Gators are 21-12-3 all time in Tampa, but they have not played here since 1989, when they beat Mississippi State, 21-0.


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