ORLANDO — The University of Alabama has been through bowl games like this one, where its football team wasn’t particularly motivated for the task at hand. Those bowl games haven’t ended well.

UA coach Nick Saban is more optimistic about his team’s preparation for the Citrus Bowl against Michigan, but he believes it has proven useful in more than just the likelihood of winning the game.

“Our team has practiced and had a good attitude about the opportunity that we have here,” Saban said. “I’ve been pleased with the way a lot of our young players had an opportunity to improve: as you know we’ve had several players missing and I think this has been a real blessing for a lot of our younger players to improve and grow.”

The two primary beneficiaries of that time are outside linebacker Christopher Allen and cornerback Josh Jobe, who are expected to take the starting spots of Terrell Lewis and Trevon Diggs after they elected to not play in the Citrus Bowl. The other players down the depth chart are receiving similar rep increases.

“I think sometimes what young players try to do is try to memorize what they’re supposed to do, they don’t understand the big picture very well,” Saban said. “I think it’s very encouraging to their improvement when they do understand the big picture and the concept. This has been really good for a lot of our younger players.”

Seeing Shea again

Shea Patterson’s record against Alabama, albeit in one game at his previous school (Ole Miss), is uninspiring: 14-for-29 (48.2 percent) for 165 yards with two interceptions, no touchdowns and eight runs for minus-16 yards.

Both coaches believe they will see a different version of Patterson, now concluding his second season as Michigan’s starting quarterback.

“We’ve known Shea since he was a freshman in high school. I thought he played well when he played at Ole Miss,” Saban said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh added, “Shea’s been tremendous. He’s a great player, great competitor, been a tremendous teammate. He’s just gotten better and better, and he came in really good. Competitive edge, that just keeps coming back to me when I talk about Shea or think about Shea. It’s humility with a competitive edge.

“As Coach Saban said, Shea can make all the throws and his accuracy has just gotten better and better. He can run, he can get out of the pocket and create plays. He’s effective both as a runner and a thrower.”

Personal history

Saban knows Orlando and this bowl game well from earlier in his UA tenure, having coached in it against Michigan State to end the 2010 season. But Saban’s history with the game goes deeper than that.

Saban played in the game in 1972 when it was the Tangerine Bowl, his Kent State Golden Flashes going against the University of Tampa. Tampa won 21-18, and the university stopped playing football after two more seasons.

“Based on what this game has become relative to what it was then, I think this community has done a good job of supporting this game and obviously the organization of this bowl game has grown to be something special,” Saban said. “I think it’s one of the great venues in college football to have an opportunity to be a part of.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson