The Citrus Bowl matchup between No. 13 Alabama and No. 14 Michigan is perhaps the most intriguing among non-CFP games on the bloated bowl agenda this season.

As we have chronicled, neither team particularly wants to be in Orlando on New Year’s Day, but both find themselves facing plenty of questions before tying a bow on their 2019 campaigns.

Both college football blue-blood programs, Alabama and Michigan is a marquee matchup … on paper. But they don’t play football games on paper. They play them on TV. So away we go with 5 things I want to see in the Citrus Bowl..

5. Mac Jones continuing to establish himself as QB1

Jones’ 2019 has been a well-chronicled journey, going from clipboard-and-visor detail behind Tua Tagovailoa to sudden closer against Tennessee and starter against Arkansas, then back to the bench until Alabama’s sweet Hawaiian prince went down for good against Mississippi State.

Jones’ flower bloomed in full against Auburn, as he went 26-of-39 for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns in a losing effort on The Plains. But the Iron Bowl defeat was far from Jones’ fault, even with his 2 pick-6s not helping the situation.

In the once-per-season media availability with Crimson Tide assistants, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was quick to praise Jones’ growth and maturity throughout the process.

“Mac’s done an excellent job from when he got thrown in against Tennessee, that’s a different formula,” Sarkisian said during Alabama’s run-up to Wednesday’s Citrus Bowl. “And then all of a sudden you get the week to prepare. You become the starter against Arkansas and you get those reps, you get those looks, and then you go out and perform, I think it naturally just builds confidence.

“I think the confidence in his teammates for him has grown. I think the receivers, the offensive line, all of a sudden those guys see No. 10 going there and making throws – make throws against Auburn, where guys are breathing down his face at critical moments on 3rd down – getting conversions. So I think that’s where he’s grown. I think he’s translated the practice to the game, built his own confidence and then, in turn, that’s built the confidence in his teammates in him as well.”

4. Alabama’s WR corps torching Michigan’s secondary

It is accurate to say that Michigan hasn’t seen a passing offense like Alabama’s, because, outside of Baton Rouge, there isn’t one quite like them in college football right now. With 4 future NFL receivers, Tagovailoa and Jones had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to targets.

Junior WRs Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and sophomore Jaylen Waddle are all good to go against the Wolverines, even though Jeudy, Ruggs and Smith could easily sit out of the Citrus Bowl to preserve their health in advance of the NFL Draft.

That means Jones will be pitching the rock around to a pro-level group of receivers that Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown called 1 of the top 5 WR sets he has ever schemed against.

“I think these guys have an extremely high football IQ,” Sarkisian said. “Not only are they physically gifted, not only are they really great competitors, they’re tough, their football IQ is really high. And as a coach, that makes it enjoyable to coach them because you can put different things on them. You can move them around. You can coach conceptually rather than just one person, ‘This is what you do on this play.’ And these guys eat it up.

3. Containing Michigan QB Shea Patterson

The facet of Michigan’s offense that concerns Alabama the most is the variety of ways Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson can hurt them.

A senior transfer from Ole Miss, Patterson has thrown for a career-best 2,828 yards this season and tied his career-best with 22 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions. But what really has Alabama’s attention isn’t necessarily Patterson’s right arm … but his legs.

“Schematically, they make you account for all 11 because they’re going to run the quarterback,” Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding said. “So, obviously, your structure on defense, you’ve got to be able to account for the quarterback and the run game. … He’s very athletic. They do a lot of unique things to be able to run the quarterback, for you to use all 11 guys. And I think on 3rd down, it’s going to be pivotal, obviously, to keep him, make him be a pocket passer and use our hands.”

Patterson’s rushing stats aren’t overwhelming this season — as he has gained just 46 yards on 79 rushing attempts. But he has scored 5 touchdowns on the ground, and went for 273 rushing yards on 76 carries as a junior in 2018.

2. Jim Harbaugh to be further exposed as a strikingly average head coach

There’s no other way around this other than to just say it: Jim Harbaugh is average. He isn’t bad. But he isn’t elite, either. He is just … average.

Breaking down Harbaugh’s 5 seasons in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has won 9.4 and lost 3.4 games per season. To put it in terms SEC fans can better understand, Mark Richt won 9.8 games a year in a dozen years at Georgia. Tommy Tuberville won 8.5 games a year at Auburn over 10 seasons.

Going 9-3 every season isn’t going to cut it at Michigan any more than it did in Athens or on The Plains. Michigan’s fans and wealthy alumni base will figure that out soon enough, and the Citrus Bowl against Alabama will most likely further the chirping about Harbaugh being closer to Rich Rodriguez than to Bo Schembechler.

1. The 2010 Tide to show up, not the 2008 Tide

Your humble author was at the Superdome when the 2008 Alabama season ended on New Year’s Day 2009. For those who forgot, it came via a resounding thud — as the Kyle Whittingham-coached Utah Utes jumped out to a 3-touchdown lead and embarrassed the Crimson Tide 31-17 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

That was, perhaps, Alabama’s worst bowl appearance in coach Nick Saban’s era. It was a huge letdown from a season that saw the Tide play national champion Florida to the limit in the SEC title game before falling short.

Alabama was in the situation of playing a bowl game that didn’t matter just 2 years later, here in Orlando. This time, the defending national champs avenged a forgettable season by beating Michigan State so badly that Kirk Cousins still has nightmares about it.

The chief concern for Alabama, ever since the final dadburned seconds ticked off the Iron Bowl scoreboard, is that this Citrus Bowl game against Michigan goes like the 2010 Citrus Bowl did and not like the 2008 Sugar Bowl.