Alabama made it into the College Football Playoff in epic fashion, beating out Florida State for the final spot in the CFP after beating Georgia in the SEC Championship.
The Crimson Tide face the No. 1 overall seed in Michigan, who has passed every test in its way to an undefeated season. The Wolverines are in the CFP for the third straight year, but is this the year they can get over the hump?
There's plenty of time to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, but here are some key talking points to monitor in the lead up to this highly anticipated National Semifinals matchup.
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Alabama vs. Michigan Odds, Spread and Total
Alabama News and Notes
The Crimson Tide were no sure thing to make the CFP, needing an upset win over Georgia and a nod from the Selection Committee to get into the top four. However, now the team is here and is fresh off arguably the most impressive win of the season in the SEC Championship Game.
The team was able to slow down Georgia's potent offense and now face one that hasn't shown to have the explosive capabilities that the Bulldogs had in Michigan. The Wolverines prefer to play bully ball on the ground and rely on veteran quarterback to make timely throws in the intermediate.
The Crimson Tide have an SEC defensive line, seventh in Pro Football Focus' rush defense grade, but there are some other concerning marks, 60th in EPA/Play and 115th in explosive rush defense. Will the Wolverines be able to scheme up field flipping runs with the likes of Blake Corum, opening up the passing game for McCarthy?
Alabama's defense has an elite secondary that will probably lead to another run-first approach from Michigan, can the Crimson Tide win that matchup on defense? That'll likely be the key to this one.
Meanwhile, Jalen Milroe has emerged after being benched in Week 3 following Alabama's lone loss. The Crimson Tide offensive line is outside the top 100 in sacks allowed and Milroe has put himself in some dangerous situations, but the offense has become far more explosive, evident in the team's win against Georgia where the team average nearly yards per dropback.
Milroe is completing 53% of his passes of 20 or more yards with 24 big time throws to zero turnover worthy plays, per PFF.
Can he take the top off the Michigan defense en route to a Rose Bowl win?
Michigan News and Notes
Michigan, like it has in the past three seasons, has been able to bully the Big Ten and use its physicality en route to winning the conference. However, that hasn't worked in the CFP. An incredible Georgia defense, maybe the best in recent history, shut down Michigan's goal to that two years ago. Meanwhile, last year, TCU's explosiveness and speed out-dueled Michigan in a shootout.
However, Alabama isn't really either. The team is not as imposing as Georgia two years ago, and the offense has big-play ability, but isn't as potent as TCU's O. The Crimson Tide of course are an elite team, but have proven to be up-and-down all season long, feasting on poor SEC defenses (in what is a down year for the conference).
Michigan's defensive line should be able to control this game. The team has the fifth best pass rush in the country, per PFF. They'll match up against Alabama's 46th best pass blocking unit in the Rose Bowl.
The Crimson Tide has been boom-or-bust, top 10 in explosive pass rate, but outside the top 30 in success rate. To me, the key is if Michigan can slow down Alabama's group of pass catchers like Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan's offense may struggle to get much traction against this Alabama defensive line given the team hasn't run it up on teams with big runs. The unit is efficient on the ground, 57th in success rate, but not ripping big ones at all, bottom 20 in explosive run rate. Michigan is going to try and establish the run and get to third and short, but that may not work against a team with an SEC defensive line.
Further, the team won't have starting offensive line Zak Zinter for this game, who suffered a serious leg injury against Ohio State. The Michigan offensive line can use the month to scheme up a sound blocking scheme against the likes of future pro on Alabama Dallas Turner.
On offense, the key is if Michigan can stay ahead of schedule and if McCarthy can make plays down field. I've been waiting all year for the Wolverines to open up the passing game, but the team simply hasn't had too. I wonder if we see something from Michigan that we haven't yet this season, a downfield passing attack. The team might need it in the Rose Bowl.
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.
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