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Jumbo Package/Early games open thread: It’s Playoff Time!

Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Coaches Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year, everyone! Our big day has arrived, but there are a few appetizers for you before the 4pm CT kickoff.

ReliaQuest Bowl : LSU vs. Wisconsin 11:00 am ESPN2

Citrus Bowl : Iowa vs. Tennessee 12:00 pm ABC

Fiesta Bowl : Liberty vs. Oregon 12:00 pm ESPN

Use this as your open thread for those games.

OK, enough of that. On to the Rose Bowl. First, a sampling of previews:

Michigan will challenge the Tide’s receivers on the perimeter and its front seven will win battles against an Alabama protection unit that has floundered at times, while Wolverines back Blake Corum tests a run-stop that struggled somewhat against higher-quality backs like Ole Miss’ Quinshon Judkins and Texas’ Jonathon Brooks.

Both these defenses are great on paper, and if anything Michigan has the advantage in theory, but take into consideration that over the course of Big Ten play, it hasn’t faced an opponent that will have the size and speed that Alabama presents. Talent wins out, and that edge, as always, belongs to the Tide.

Alabama wins 27-20

It’s a nervous spot betting against Nick Saban in this round with all the extra time. It’s a very precarious situation, as we all know. This guy, when you give him a month to prepare, figures out what you do well. But I think Michigan is criminally underrated still, even at 13-0. … And I think the big key matchup in this game is the Wolverines’ defense against Alabama’s offense.

I don’t see that NFL playmaking talent when it comes to receiver and running back for the Crimson Tide. Jalen Milroe has gotten better, a lot better over the course of the season, but I don’t know that Alabama is going to score.

On some level, the existing, um, issues will be hovering over the game. Alabama remains a questionable pick to play for a championship despite winning the SEC title. (We all saw the Auburn game one week prior.) There are still doubts in some quarters as to how Michigan got to this point regarding the sign-stealing scandal.

The guess here is that talk of those issues will die down by kickoff. The Wolverines have proven resilient to, well, everything. They used the dual NCAA investigations/suspensions featuring their coach as inspiration. Hey, whatever gets you to a national championship, right?

To prove it belongs, Alabama has to win this game — maybe the whole thing — doesn’t it? Nick Saban has won six straight CFP semifinal games in which Bama has competed, and he has not gone through a three-year period as the Tide’s coach without capturing a national title.

In what should be a Rose Bowl classic that goes down to the final 5 minutes, take Alabama.

Alabama is a flawed but ascending team, as it displayed by controlling the SEC championship game against then-No. 1 Georgia. Quarterback Jalen Milroe is among the nation’s most improved players and will attack downfield against a Michigan secondary led by takeaway-generating star Mike Sainristil.

The disparity among the two teams in the postseason is too much to ignore. Alabama’s Nick Saban has won seven national titles and boasts a 9-4 record in CFP games. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, like his college coach, Bo Schembechler, has been much better in the Big Ten than on the national stage, going 1-6 in bowls and 0-2 in the CFP. Milroe leads a big fourth quarter as the Tide roll on to the national title game.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Michigan 23

“When you see what Bama was able to do against Georgia and when you see what Michigan was without Zak Zinter against Iowa... Because if those two versions show up Bama’s going to win. Now if the Michigan that beat Ohio State and the Alabama that struggled with Auburn shows up, then Michigan wins the game.

“I’m leaning Alabama in this game,” Klatt said. “I am different than Vegas, I think that the ability of Jalen Milroe to extend plays is something that defense has not seen.”

As with any game, turnovers and/or big plays on special teams can generate cheap points and supplement a struggling offense. If the Wolverines are gifted a couple drive starts deep in Alabama territory, that could make all the difference in a close game. As such, the top-notch ball security Alabama’s offense has displayed late in the season − only two turnovers over its last five games − will be of paramount importance. In other words, if Alabama doesn’t give points away, expect Michigan to find them hard-earned.

Alabama 24, Michigan 13.

It’s tough to pick against Alabama in a bowl game. It’s tough to pick against this Michigan team. The Rose Bowl figures to be a highly competitive game between one team that’s been elite all season and another that took a little time to get there.

Still, I’m not fully sold on the Crimson Tide. They lost a home game (albeit to another playoff team, Texas). They needed a last-minute miracle to beat an Auburn team that had lost by 21 to New Mexico State the week before.

Michigan was the better team in last year’s playoff semifinal, against TCU, and lost anyway. It’s not possible to overlook Alabama, so that’s not a concern. I’m calling a big play on a punt — maybe Michigan breaks off a long return or Alabama muffs one — that swings the game. Prediction: Michigan 27, Alabama 24

Rainer Sabin

There are doubts about whether Michigan’s offensive line can hold up against Alabama’s ferocious front. There is skepticism about the Wolverines’ ability to handle Milroe, an athletic passer unlike any quarterback they have seen. There is uncertainty about Jim Harbaugh’s track record in the college postseason, where he holds a 1-6 record in bowl games at Michigan. But his current team, a squad led by a talented set of upperclassmen, is made of different stuff. The Wolverines have always found a path to victory, and they will do so again in the picturesque shadow of the San Gabriel mountains. The pick: U-M 23, Alabama 21.

That last one is from a turncoat. Rainer covered Alabama for a while.

It has been a while since I remember a game where such an overwhelming majority of pundits are picking the Vegas underdog. Alabama fans online seem quite confident as well, which is mildly unsettling. This is a Michigan team that is undefeated and has allowed fewer than ten points per game. Life isn’t going to be easy for the Alabama offense.

Michigan’s path to victory looks an awful lot like Texas’ back in week 2. JJ McCarthy will need to have an outstanding game, and the Michigan defense will need to get a couple of turnovers. The problem is that Michigan doesn’t appear to have the talent outside that Texas does, and Alabama hasn’t been turning it over of late.

If Jalen Milroe takes care of the football, I too see an Alabama victory, even if I’m not quite as confident as Gump Twitter. Give me the Tide, 27-19.

Of course, that’s merely my opinion. Vote and give us yours in the comments.

Poll

What will be the result of the Rose Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    Harbaugh catapults to the NFL after another CFP dud, Tide by 10+
    (247 votes)
  • 31%
    Tight game, Tide by 1-9
    (125 votes)
  • 7%
    Michigan gets it done this time
    (29 votes)
401 votes total Vote Now

We know who Jalen Hurts is picking. Check out the 6 second mark of this video.

Yesterday was the head coaches’ press conference, and Harbaugh sure seemed to squirm when Nick was asked about the sign stealing business.

Nick is always professional but has never seemed particularly fond of Harbaugh, dating all the way back to the satellite camp nonsense. I’ll embed the press conference below, but nothing particularly notable was said. Both coaches were asked about the state of the college game with opt-outs, etc. and deferred to a later date for that discussion. Saban is clearly more comfortable in front of the mic than Michigan’s socially awkward weirdo.

The Rose Bowl is going to be a cool family affair for Tommy Rees.

The Rees’ still have family on their mom’s side in Southern California. Danny is also still out there. He had a daughter born recently. His sister, Meghan Ganzer, was planning to fly out this month to meet the baby, but she waited until the Rose Bowl trip, which worked out perfectly.

Ganzer estimated there will be about 20 family and friends at the game supporting Tommy and Alabama.

“It’s been something that has been near and dear to our family and we have some memories growing up going to the Rose Bowl for different games over the years,” Ganzer said. “It kind of feels like home a bit. We’ve always talked about how cool it would be to go back to the Rose Bowl if Tommy were coaching. It’s a great opportunity that’s finally coming full circle.”

If Alabama wins Saban his eighth national title, Travaris Robinson deserves a ton of credit.

“I think a lot of people during recruitment, they get involved in the glitz and the glam more than what it really takes,” Downs told The Tuscaloosa News.

That wasn’t for Downs, though. He also didn’t really waste too much time looking at a bunch of schools. He had about three to four he was really interested in, Robinson said. And Robinson, who joined Alabama before the 2022 season, knew first hand what it’s like not to be one of those schools.

“I tried to call him at places I had been before and get on the phone with him, and he had a good attitude about it, but he wasn’t very receptive to it,” Robinson said. “He had kind of his mind of what he wanted to do.”

So once Robinson arrived at Alabama “it wasn’t very hard to recruit Caleb.” The coaches just had to be willing to talk for hours about football.

“He is just a ball, ball guy,” Robinson said. “When I say dedicated, he’s meeting with our GAs and a bunch of guys who are analysts. We’ve got a bunch of guys who are around that he wants to watch film.”

Caleb was the missing piece for this secondary to become the nation’s best, and Robinson was the right man to make sure they developed as such.

Last, Alex Scarbrough wrote an outstanding longform about the way Saban mentors his quarterbacks. Best thing you will read today.

Blake Sims, who started 14 games for Alabama in 2014, can picture Saban now, running behind him after the stretch period of practice and chiding him, “Hey 6, I bet you can’t throw the ball like this.” Saban would then gather the defensive backs for individual drills, planting his right leg and tossing passes to them as they ran down the sideline. Always a good loft, almost always a tight spiral.

“Hey 6,” Sims remembers Saban bellowing, “you need to come over here and throw like this.”

Jake Coker, who followed Sims as the starter, laughed at his version of the same story. He said it’s a shame most people don’t get to experience Saban’s sharp sense of humor, including some “legendary jokes” he says aren’t fit for print.

“There’s something funny about seeing a 70-year-old in a straw hat throwing the ball around and cussing 20-year-olds out,” Coker said.

So much great stuff in there, including quotes from just about every starting QB he’s had at Alabama and a nugget about how Blake Sims pushed Nick to let him go faster on offense. Blake may have been just as integral as Lane Kiffin in the modernization of Alabama’s offense.

That’s about it for now. Have a great week, and a great year!

Roll Tide.