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Michigan to Face Alabama in Rose Bowl With Berth in Championship Game at Stake

Published on Monday, January 1, 2024 | 5:33 am

Alabama will seek its second consecutive victory over an undefeated top-ranked team when it faces Michigan Monday in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl.

The Crimson Tide upset previously undefeated Georgia, 27-24, in the SEC Championship Dec. 2, then climbed from eighth to fourth in the final College Football Playoff rankings released the following day, including passing Florida State, which was 13-0 and had been ranked fourth.

However, the Selection Committee considered the Seminoles to be a “different team” without injured quarterback Jordan Travis, dropping them to fifth, according to Boo Corrigan, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee chair and North Carolina State’s director of athletics.

Michigan (13-0) moved up one spot from second following its 26-0 victory over Iowa in the Big Ten championship game later Dec. 2, setting up the semifinal matchup with Alabama (12-1).

When assigning teams to sites, the Selection Committee places the top two seeds at the most advantageous sites, weighing criteria such as convenience of travel for their fans, home-crowd advantage or disadvantage and general familiarity with the host city and its stadium. Preference goes to the No. 1 seed.

The Rose Bowl was determined to be a more advantageous site for the Wolverines than the site of the other semifinal, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, far closer to Alabama’s campus in Tuscaloosa.

Michigan enters Monday’s play allowing 9.5 points per game, the fewest among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Wolverines held eight opponents under 10 points, including two shutouts.

“They’ve got really good guys up front,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said at the final pregame news conference Sunday. “Their linebackers are very athletic. The secondary is very disciplined in terms of how they play and how they execute and what they do.

“They’ve got some pretty interesting ways that they pressure the quarterback, whether it’s single back or plugs, kind of the way they present trying to pressure the quarterback, which I think can be challenging to the offensive line. I think they play really, really well together as a group in terms of how they execute. They have lots of experience. They don’t make a lot of mental errors, and they don’t give you a lot.”

Michigan led the nation in point differential during the regular season at plus-354, edging Oregon, who was at plus-349. Only two other teams were over plus-300: Penn State at plus-309 and SMU at plus-302. Alabama was among 15 teams with differentials of 200 or better, finishing 13th at plus-217.

The Wolverines are tied for 12th in scoring with Texas State, averaging 36.7 points per game.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy is second in FBS in completion percentage at 74.6%, and sixth in passing efficiency with a 170.3 passer rating.

Running back Blake Corum leads FBS players in touchdowns and running touchdowns, both 24, and scoring with 144 points.

The Wolverines dominated each of their first nine opponents, winning each game by at least 24 points, one other game by 38 and three others by 42, 45 and 49.

Michigan was tested for the first time in its 10th game, defeating Maryland, 31-24, Nov. 18 in its first one-score game of the season. The Wolverines defeated arch rival Ohio State, 30-24, Nov. 25, knocking the Buckeyes out of the undefeated ranks.

The Crimson Tide had a much tougher path to the playoff, beginning with a 34-24 loss to Texas Sept. 9, which prompted the demotion of starting quarterback Jalen Milroe, but he regained the role after one game on the bench.

Alabama trailed Texas A&M, 17-10, at halftime before rallying for a 26- 20 victory Oct. 7, and needed a touchdown pass from Milroe to Isaiah Bond on a fourth and goal from the Auburn 31-yard line with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter for a 27-24 victory over arch-rival Auburn Nov. 25 to keep its playoff hopes alive.

The Crimson Tide is tied with Mississippi for 16th in scoring, averaging 35.1 points per game and tied with UCLA for 15th in scoring defense, allowing 18.4 points per game.

Senior receiver Jermaine Burton, a former Calabasas High standout, leads Alabama with 777 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches and is second among FBS players in yards per reception, averaging 22.2 yards per catch.

The Crimson Tide are among 61 teams who have made all their conversion kicks.

This is the third consecutive season Michigan has reached the College Football Playoff semifinals. The Wolverines lost to eventual national champion Georgia, 34-11, in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31, 2021, and TCU, 51-45, in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31, 2022.

“I feel like last year I got caught up in the noise and all the emotions of it,” McCarthy said. “I’m just trying to stay simple, trying to focus on dominating meetings, dominating practice and just being around my guys and enjoying every moment because this only comes around once for us and just appreciating every moment.”

Alabama will be making its record eighth playoff appearance — Clemson is second with sixth — and returning after a one-season absence.

Chris Fowler, who call the 2 p.m. game for ESPN, said Alabama “has to avoid silly penalties and Jalen Milroe has to take care of the ball,” to win.

“When they hit their high note, they’re devastating,” Fowler said. “But they’ve had some games that are un-Alabama-like because they’ve made key mistakes and they made things complicated for themselves.”

Michigan has to “be themselves first of all, don’t go out of character and don’t over think this” to win, Fowler said.

“I think they approach this with ample respect for Alabama, but not fear,” Fowler said. “I think they feel good about themselves and their preparation. They’ve learned from the last couple of years and they haven’t played near their best game in a playoff game so I think they prepared better.”

Oddsmakers have made the Wolverines between a 1 1/2-point and 2-point favorite. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Michigan a 55.3% chance of winning.

The No. 1 seed is 7-2 against the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff semifinals. The No. 4 seeds that won were Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2015 over Alabama and Alabama over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2018.

The Wolverines will be playing in the Rose Bowl Game for the 21st time, the second-most behind USC’s 34, and first time since New Year’s Day 2007, when they lost to USC, 32-18.

Alabama will be playing in its eighth Rose Bowl, the most among non- Pac-12 or Big Ten teams, and first since Jan. 1, 2021, when it defeated Notre Dame, 31-14, in a game moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Crimson Tide last played in a Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena in 1946, when they defeated USC, 34-14, the season before the agreement between what are now the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences limited the game to teams to those conferences.

Alabama last played at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 7, 2010, when it defeated Texas, 37-21, in the BCS National Championship Game.

The Crimson Tide leads the series 3-2, including a 35-16 victory in the most recent meeting, on New Year’s Day, 2020, in the Citrus Bowl.

The winner will face the winner of the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Sugar Bowl between second-seeded Washington and third-seeded Texas, set to begin at 5:45 p.m. Monday, for the national championship next Monday in Houston.

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