The University of Alabama football team is heading to Orlando.

No. 13 Alabama (10-2) accepted an invitation to the Citrus Bowl, to play No. 14 Michigan (9-3, 6-3 Big 10) on Jan. 1 at noon Central time on ABC.

“I think that this is an opportunity for us to reestablish the standard that we want to play to,” UA coach Nick Saban said on a Citrus Bowl teleconference. “I think when you play against a great opponent, that certainly enhances that opportunity. I think it’s an opportunity for a lot of players on our team to have time to practice and prepare for the future, and that’s certainly what we’re focused on right now, the future.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on the same call: “The Alabama team is a great team. I have the utmost respect for them: they set the bar for college football for the last many years, the model of success. Credit to Nick Saban and his coaches.”

This is UA’s first trip to the Citrus Bowl since 2010, when the bowl was known as the Capital One Bowl. In that game, UA beat Michigan State 49-7. Alabama also played in this game after the 1994 season and beat Ohio State 24-17 on Jan. 2, 1995. Sherman Williams was the MVP of that game after running for 166 yards and catching eight passes for 155 yards, one of them the game-winning 50-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jay Barker.

UA got into this game by being the first choice of SEC teams outside of the New Year’s 6 bowls. LSU making the Playoff put Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, and the Orange Bowl selected Florida. The Cotton Bowl selected Penn State to face Memphis, leaving both Alabama and Auburn for the Citrus Bowl to choose. Despite Auburn being No. 12 in the CFP rankings to Alabama’s No. 13, the Citrus Bowl selected UA.

Yet, it is still a bowl game outside of the College Football Playoff, leaving room to question is UA will have its full allotment of players for the Citrus Bowl. Schools outside of the Playoff have seen their top prospects sit out bowl games to prevent injury risk and begin their NFL Draft preparation.

Saban says those conversations have not been had yet.

“I’m sure that guys are going to make individual decisions based on their circumstances and their situations,” Saban said. “What we want to focus on is the guys that want to look to the future, want to improve themselves as players, improve our team and get back to the standard that we want to play to.”

This will be the fifth meeting between Alabama and Michigan in football and will break the series’ 2-2 tie. The most recent meeting was the only one outside of a bowl game, when the two met in the 2012 season opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Alabama won 41-14. The other meetings were much closer: a 28-24 loss on Jan. 2, 1988; a 17-14 win on Jan. 1, 1997; and a 35-34 overtime loss on Jan. 1, 2000.

This season, all three of Michigan’s losses have come to teams ranked in the top 10 of the CFP rankings: 35-14 to No. 8 Wisconsin, 28-21 to No. 10 Penn State and 56-27 to No. 2 Ohio State. Michigan beat No. 15 Notre Dame 45-14 and No. 16 Iowa 10-3.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson

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