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Published: Tuesday, 12/10/2002

Wolverines think `10' is beautiful number

BY DAVE WOOLFORD
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR - Here's 10 reasons why Michigan wants, desperately, to defeat Florida in the Outback Bowl in Tampa on New Year's Day.

Reason No. 10: The Wolverines want 10 victories this season.

Reason No. 9: See reason No. 10.

Reason No. ... let's just forget the rest. Michigan does.

That's because UM is 9-3 and doesn't want to finish the season with two consecutive losses for the second straight time.

Ten-and-three has a nice ring to it. Nine-and-four, with the crescendo on “four” can be flat for foreboding Michigan fans.

“Two losses at the end of last season were very difficult,” said UM free safety Jon Shaw of Coral Springs, Fla. “During the entire off-season our mindset was win, win, win. We're thinking about 10 wins. That's all we're focusing on. Ten wins.”

Could this Outback Bowl be a bloomin' Redemption Bowl for both teams, Michigan losing to arch rival Ohio State in the last game of the regular season while the Gators were thumped by rival Florida State?

“I wouldn't say we're looking for redemption,” Shaw added. “All we're thinking about is 10 wins. On the first of January we will be trying to get that.”

Michigan had not lost its last two games of the season since 1984. But its malady has been four-loss campaigns five times in the last nine years, including last year when the Wolverines were 8-4 after losing 45-17 to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl. It was Michigan's worst bowl loss ever.

“It [losing the last two games last season] was very difficult,” UM defensive tackle Grant Bowman said. “We talked about it a lot, how we wanted to play championship football in November and in the bowl. Last year was very tough and it's something we don't want to repeat. We talked a lot about working hard so it won't happen again. It was especially hard for me being from [Blacklick] Ohio.

“We definitely want to end with a win for the seniors and to start a trend with momentum and a positive feeling for next year.”

Michigan lost three of five games in November of last season and almost lost a fourth to Wisconsin. There was a huge emphasis on making this November a month to remember. The 13th-ranked Wolverines' only setback last month was to the second-ranked Buckeyes, a game in which Michigan had the statistical edge.

The Gators, 8-4, are disappointed they didn't make a BCS bowl game by playing in the SEC championship. They're hanging their helmets on a nine-win season in their first-ever Outback Bowl appearance.

After being ranked as high as sixth early in the season, the 23rd-ranked Gators would fall out of the polls for only the second time in the last decade with a loss to Michigan.

The Gators, too, could lose their last two games of the season for only the second time in the last 12 years. Florida got beat by Alabama in the SEC championship game in 1999 and then lost to Michigan State in the Citrus Bowl. There have been only seven occasions in the last 40 years when Florida lost its last two games of the season.

This will be the second consecutive year Michigan will play a major opponent in a bowl for the first time. Florida and UM have never met, as was the case between Michigan and the Volunteers last year. It will be UM's seventh consecutive New Year's Day bowl appearance and the fifth straight time it has played in Florida.

Michigan tight end Bennie Joppru said he doesn't like the idea of linking redemption with the Outback Bowl.

“We're both coming off losses to our rivals and you always want to finish with a win and definitely not two straight losses,” he said. “That's something you have to think about all winter and spring.

“It was difficult last winter and spring and we all talked about it. It's a tough thing to go through and we're going to do everything we can to put our best effort out there January one and hopefully get a win.”

Michigan quarterback John Navarre feels the Wolverines are better than 9-3, but ... .

“This league [Big Ten] comes down to a couple of plays a season being the difference between winning the title and being mediocre,” he explained. “I think we know we're a good team. Obviously, we didn't accomplish everything we wanted to. We're happy we played well, but we could have played better to be in a different position. We had a tough schedule and we could have taken care of some things differently. We're not happy where we ended up, but we've still got a ways to go.”



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