When and where: January 1, 2020, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL, 1:00 PM ET
The Michigan Wolverines missed out on the college football playoffs, but they’ve managed to draw the marquee bowl game match-up of January with the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Citrus Bowl. Alabama’s absence from the College Football Playoffs is the first time since its conception. Losses to LSU and Auburn, along with a weak schedule, have factored into them falling all the way to No. 13 in the nation.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines missed out on a chance to upend Ohio State in their last game of the regular season. Their only three losses came to the Buckeyes, Wisconsin and Penn State. A win over the Crimson Tide on January 1 could put a positive spin on another disappointing season for Michigan.
Harbaugh not happy with players sitting outMichigan coach Jim Harbaugh is preparing for the many individual conversations he’ll have with NFL draft-eligible players heading into the Citrus Bowl. A championship isn’t on the line, and the regular season has already ended. Players are essentially being asked to risk their NFL future by playing in a meaningless game that comes with a consolation prize trophy.
As expected, Harbaugh is clinging to the “finished what you started” motto in the locker room. He’s hoping all of his players are made available for the January 1 showdown with Alabama.
“Those are individual conversations,” said Harbaugh, per mlive.com. “‘Finish what you started’ has always been kind of the general rule that I personally thought of it as.”
That’s exactly what a coach sitting on the hot seat would say.
The Wolverines are missing the playoffs in a year where they were crushed by Ohio State, again. They also got destroyed by Wisconsin and failed to close the deal against Penn State. It hasn’t been a season that has left much hope for the future. Perhaps the worst is yet to come with them drawing an angry and motivated Alabama team in the Citrus Bowl.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson is only completing 49.4 percent of his passes against top-25 teams, and he has almost thrown as many interceptions (4) as he has touchdowns (5). Alabama’s defense isn’t racking up sacks like they were last season, but they are capable of generating pressure and forcing Patterson to make quick decisions.
Patterson must limit the turnovers and lean on the rushing attack to put some of the pressure on Alabama’s young linebacker corps.
On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan can’t afford to underestimate Jones behind center. No, he’s not Tua Tagovailoa, but he is capable of tearing their secondary apart like he did against Auburn. However, he also showed his inexperience by throwing two interceptions against Auburn as well. That will be the focal point for Harbaugh when coaching his team up. The Wolverines must play sound football and limit the boneheaded mistakes that typically cost good teams against Alabama.
Not a typical Alabama seasonThe Crimson Tide have dominated for so long that fans often take it for granted that they’ll be in the mix for a National Championship every year. This will be the first year they’ll miss the playoffs. Whether you’re the team’s biggest supporter or not, everyone can at least agree it’ll be weird not seeing them as one of the four teams competing.
Like Harbaugh, Alabama head coach Nick Saban now has to have “the talk” with his players that are slated to enroll in the 2020 NFL Draft. It isn’t a foregone conclusion that every player is going to choose to suit up for the Citrus Bowl.
“[The players can] look at this as an opportunity to enhance their future by playing really well and maybe improving their draft status,” Saban said, via the Detroit Free Press. “That’s what we’ll emphasize to our older players on the team. And they’ll all have a choice to make. When you have guys that don’t play in bowl games and they do play in the playoffs, that in itself tells you the view of the players in terms of how they look at the bowl game. Because we have made everything about the playoffs in college football.”
Regardless of the individual choices made, Saban and the rest of the Crimson Tide football team have another game to play on January 1.
Jones will be back in the saddle behind center at quarterback facing the sixth-ranked defense in the country. Saban will try to instill into his head that he doesn’t have to be Tagovailoa to be successful. Jones has the ability to play a clean game and lean on his teammates for what would be the biggest win of his collegiate career. Assuming running back Najee Harris is in the lineup, I’m expecting the Crimson Tide to shift more towards a run-heavy offense.
Michigan’s defense has been more susceptible to the run than they have been to the pass. They currently have the fifth-ranked passing defense in the country. However, they are giving up 119.1 yards per game on the ground. Harris literally carried the Crimson Tide offense on his back against Auburn. They’ll need a similar effort to poke holes in the Wolverines’ wall of defense.
There is also a lack of trust in their own ability to get defensive stops. Injuries have ravaged the Crimson Tide to the point where they haven’t been able to dominate the line of scrimmage like we’re used to seeing them do. They’ll need to do a better job of getting off the field on third downs and limiting the Wolverines to field goals instead of touchdowns.
It would be a nightmare to dig too deep of a hole for Jones and the offense. That could put the young quarterback in a position where he’d have to try to win with his arm instead of leaning on a balanced attack with Harris.
Update: Cornerback Trevon Diggs (37 tackles, 3 ITNs) and LB Terrell Lewis (31 tackles, 6.0 sacks) will sit out this bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
The top supporting trends for this game, found on Covers.com, are:
- Wolverines are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games after allowing more than 200 yards rushing in their previous game.
- Wolverines are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 bowl games.
- Wolverines are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 Bowl games.
- Wolverines are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 non-conference games.
- Crimson Tide are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games after allowing more than 40 points in their previous game.
- Crimson Tide are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games against teams in the Big Ten.
- Crimson Tide are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games on field turf.
- Crimson Tide are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games following an ATS loss.