The Rose Bowl: Michigan vs Alabama
By George Somerville
Bowl Season continues! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. Over the previous coverage the Touchdown team has previewed the other 41 match ups.
But now we turn our attention to the Grandaddy of them all – The Rose Bowl: Michigan v Alabama
Where and When
The Rose Bowl
Location: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Date: 1st January 2024
Time: 5:00pm (ET)
Story so far…
So far we have had 41 Bowl games but now its the turn of the Grandaddy of them all – it’s the Rose Bowl!
And I doubt we could have asked for a greater match up. The #1 team in the country (Michigan) faces up to a resurgent Alabama Crimson Tide – a team many thought were dead and buried early in the season.
Michigan is undefeated and already has the scalps of Ohio State and Penn State on their resume. Alabama has that one loss – to another CFB Playoff team, Texas – which has blighted their season. They made it into the CFB Playoff which a win over Georgia in the SEC Championship game. In an unprecedented move the CFB Playoff committee agreed that the SEC Champion was more worthy of a place than the undefeated ACC Champion. We will find out in the wee small hours of January 1st if their decision was justified.
Of course this is the match up between two heavyweight head coaches – Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Alabama’s Nick Saban. The Michigan head coach seeks his first National Championship ring. Alabama’s head coach already has seven and is on the hunt for #8.
The Rose Bowl is rightly considered the greatest stadium in which to play a neutral venue game. Which, with all of the high stakes at play, the head coaches and the widest array of talent you will see on a football field, makes for one of the most eagerly awaited games in CFB history!
Excited, you betcha!
Over the years, certainly during Jim Harbaugh’s reign as head coach, Michigan has struggled to find what we might today call an elite quarterback. Good quarterbacks? Yes, but elite – no. Michigan fans have had to sit and watch fierce rivals OSU churn out a conveyor belt of talent such as Justin Fields, CJ Stroud, JT Barrett, Cardale Jones – frankly the list goes on. But now Michigan has that elite QB – they have JJ McCarthy.
This season McCarthy ranks 2nd to only Jayden Daniels in completion % of passes of 20 yards or more and 2nd behind Bo Nix in completion % in total.
Over the course of this season McCarthy has thrown for 2,630 yards, 19 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He has had a year.
While many including his head coach have talked about his readiness for the NFL, McCarthy is laser focused on the Rose Bowl game. McCarthy, outside of Jayden Daniels is likely to be the most dangerous quarterback that Alabama will face this season.
If you have kept up with the Rose Bowl pregame coverage you will have heard Jalen Milroe talk about ex-Alabama and current New England Patriots offensive co-ordinator Bill O’Brien’s views on Milroe as a quarterback. Milroe has talked this week about O’Brien’s attempts to convert the Crimson Tide QB to wide receiver.
Statistically speaking, Jalen Milroe has the 9th highest QBR in FBS this season. Which makes O’Brien look silly.
However, if you watched Alabama play in the early stages of the season, Milroe’s rise to the top of the game seemed improbable. Impossible even. The story of Milroe’s development this season will be the stuff of legend in years to come. Culminating in his 3rd & 41 play in the Iron Bowl, and the cool and controlled way that he orchestrated the defeat of Georgia in the SEC Championship game, Milroe is the hot hand coming into the CFB playoffs.
It is his ability to run and his strength which sets Milroe apart. He has been likened to a “strong Lamar Jackson” by Georgia head coach, Kirby Smart.
So far this season, Milroe has thrown for 2,718 yards with 23 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. But, back to that running game. Milroe has also rushed for 468 yards and 12 touchdowns, making his running game so dangerous and something Michigan must stop if they are to win the game.
Prospects to watch…
The benefit of there being a National Championship game on the line is that there have been minimal opt-out’s to the Rose Bowl. Yes both teams have lost players to the transfer portal but in reality these are fringe players at best who, barring disaster were never going to feature in the Rose Bowl game.
Meaning we are embarrassed by riches when identifying talent to watch in this game.
Blake Corum, Running Back
You can’t talk about Big Blue this season without the name Blake Corum being front and centre. While Michigan is stacked with talent, there is no question the star of the show is Corum.
Corum is virtually unstoppable on short runs, meaning the Wolverines are very adept at converting short 3rd downs and lethal in the red zone on short and goal.
While some say that Corum is not the same player from before his injury, 218 carries for 1,028 and 24 Touchdowns suggests this is far from the case. Corum is a game winner, short and simple.
Colston Loveland, Tight End
Sophomore tight-end, Loveland has drawn a lot of praise this year, especially from his head coach.
At 6’5″, 245 pounds he cuts an impressive figure who creates a mismatch physically along the line of scrimmage. With 40 catches resulting in 572 yards and four touchdowns, Loveland is the Wolverines second best receiver.
And with Alabama’s secondary including the impressive Terrion Arnold and Kool-Aid McKinstry, Loveland is exactly the kind of player who can provide the X-factor and add some much needed physicality. Having played against Brock Bowers for Georgia already this season, Alabama will believe they have the tools to negate Loveland. However Loveland is a very physical threat who could cause Alabama all sorts of issues.
Dallas Turner, Outside Linebacker
If Alabama are to put pressure on and stop JJ McCarthy, the Crimson Tide edge duo of Chris Braswell and Dallas Turner must maintain the form they have shown all season.
Turner is a leader of this team and the fact that there has been no mention of the loss of now NFL star, Will Anderson is testament to how good Turner has been this season.
In the season so far, Turner has recored 50 tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles. In recognition of his contribution, SEC coaches voted him the league’s defensive player of the year.
Jase McClellan, Running Back
While McClellan might not be the same supertar name as Corum, Alabama fans breathed a sigh of relief when head coach Nick Saban confirmed that McClellan is fit enough to play in the Rose Bowl. McClellan suffered a foot injury during the Iron Bowl which meant that he missed the SEC Championship game.
McClellan is the Crimson Tide’s leading rusher with 166 rushing attempts resulting in 803 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Having McClellan back is vital for Alabama who will look to spread the offense between the run and passing game.
As the rankings suggest, the undefeated Michigan Wolverines are favourites with Vegas but only just. An opening 2.5pts spread has reduced to 1.5pts telling us just how close this game is going to be.
The over is 44.5pts reflecting the excellent offenses of both teams.
However, it feels like this comes down to which defense plays the best and holds the playmakers to the minimum of scores.
Which really can be narrowed down to how well Alabama can contain Blake Corum and Michigan can contain Jalen Milroe.
I’m the homer and believe that this Alabama team has improved in every game they have played. The reaction of the Michigan players when the CFB Playoff rankings were announced, tells the story of how much they wanted to avoid Alabama.
It feels the momentum is with the Crimson Tide. Can they “roll” over the Wolverines? I think they can and do.
Michigan 28-38 Alabama
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.