Citrus Bowl Preview

Where: Orlando, Fla.

When: Mon., Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

Payout: $4 million

Teams’ Bowl Performances Last Year:

Auburn did not play in a bowl game Michigan defeated Alabama 35-34 in overtime in the Orange Bowl

What to Watch For

The Citrus Bowl will feature two of the most gifted running backs in college football, and the team that’s more effective at controlling the line of scrimmage will win this game.

Auburn’s Rudi Johnson was the buzz of the Southeastern Conference this year. After transferring from Butler County (Kan.) Junior College a year ago, Johnson led the SEC in rushing this season with 1,567 yards and 13 touchdowns and was voted SEC Player of the Year by conference coaches.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s Anthony “A-Train” Thomas ran for an average of 141 yards a game this season, logging 1,551 total yards on the ground and scoring 16 touchdowns.

Defensively, Auburn has been much stingier than Michigan against the run. The Tigers, who finished the season ranked 14th in the nation in total defense, allowed an average 98.3 yards rushing per game — third-best in the SEC. Comparatively, teams ran for 152.1 yards a game against Michigan, whose rushing defense was ranked 62nd in the nation. The Wolverines will have to play tougher in the trenches if they hope to contain Johnson.

Michigan’s weak secondary also could aid the efforts of Auburn quarterback Ben Leard, who threw 12 touchdowns but also had 10 interceptions this season — six more pickoffs than his Michigan counterpart Drew Henson.

While Leard is a talented quarterback, Michigan has a more significant advantage with its passing game. Henson recovered from a broken foot in August to throw for 1,852 yards and 16 touchdowns. More than a quarter of his 217 completed passes landed in the hands of junior receiver David Terrell, who was 6 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season and scored 13 touchdowns for the Wolverines.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr has been criticized for being too conservative with his triumvirate of Thomas, Henson and Terrell, and he might opt to open up the offense a bit in the Citrus Bowl.

Watch for Auburn to make big plays on special teams, a unit that scored 19 points for the Tigers in a 33-0 shutout of Vanderbilt. Sophomore placekicker and punter Damon Duval averaged 43.2 yards on punts, was 6-for-8 on field goals of 40 or more yards, and is known to throw a pass from time to time on fakes. Tim Carter, who leads the Tigers with a 24.3-yard return average, ran a punt back 100 yards for a score against LSU.

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PHOTO: Josh Shaw watches a news conference for USCs football coach Steve Sarkisian in Los Angeles, Calif. on Dec. 3, 2013.
Michael Owen Baker/Los Angeles Daily News/AP Photo