B1G Bets: Rose Bowl Preview & Pick No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Alabama


Dec 31, 2023

It’s been nearly a month since the Michigan Wolverines and Alabama Crimson Tide won their respective conferences. Some would say it’s been that long since we’ve seen meaningful college football.

We’ll leave lamenting the demise of bowl games for another day…the College Football Playoffs are here!

The public is on Alabama, and so are most of the pundits. It seems like the teams are being held to different standards. The Wolverines blew everyone out through nine games, leading to the “ain’t played nobody” mantra.

Yet, now the focus is on what are being viewed as unimpressive wins over three ranked teams (two in the top 10) over their final four games, even though the Wolverines covered all three of those games. What do the people want?

On the flip side, we’re supposed to excuse Alabama’s loss and close wins against average teams because they were earlier in the season, and the Tide have improved. We’re also supposed to ignore a miracle 27-24 win over 6-7 Auburn in the season’s final week because it’s a rivalry game.  

Despite all this, the line has held steady at Michigan -1.5 (up to -2 at some books), bucking predictions that Nick Saban’s team would be favored by now.

On to our B1G Bet! Scared money, don’t make money. Let’s eat!

Rose Bowl Matchups: Top 5 Game Changers | Bama Off. vs. Michigan Def. | Michigan Offensive Stars | Alabama Offensive Stars | Alabama Defensive Stars |

B1GBets 2023 Record

Bowl Record: 4-1 overall (+2.5 unit) | Overall Record: 53-28-1 overall (+27 units)

ATS: 32-15-1 | Team Totals: 16-12 | Game Totals: 5-1

B1GGEST Bets (1.5 Units): Season: 6-1 (+7.5 Units)

B1GGER Bets (1 Unit): Season: 27-8 (+19 Units)

B1G Bets (1/2 Unit): 20-19-1 (+ 0.5 Units)

College Football Playoffs: Championship Odds | CFP X-Factors | CFP Defenses Ranked | CFP Offenses Ranked | CFP QBs Ranked | CFP Coaches Ranked |

Rose Bowl Preview: Michigan vs. Alabama

Money Line: Michigan -128 | Alabama +106 | Total: 44.5

Jan 1: Time: 5:00 p.m. ET | TV: ESPN | Location: Rose Bowl | Pasadena, CA

Michigan: CFP: 1 | SP+: 1 | PFF: 1

Alabama: CFP: 4 | SP+: 8 | PFF: 3

Rose Bowl Previews: Rose Bowl Preview (video) | Rose Bowl Narratives | Natty Odds

B1GGEST Bet: Michigan -1.5 Alabama (Consensus)

These are both outstanding teams. Really, really good. But Michigan is better.

One team is ranked No. 2 in net points/drive, No. 3 in EPA margin, No. 8 in offensive success rate, No. 7 in defensive success rate, and No. 1 in net field position.

The other team is ranked No. 15 in net points/drive, No. 17 in EPA margin, No. 35 in offensive success rate, No. 15 in defensive success rate, and No. 10 in net field position.

Team two is excellent. But it’s not as good as team one.

The biggest reason Jim Harbaugh’s team is No. 1, undefeated, and a slight favorite is their defense.

As good as Alabama’s corners are, Michigan’s Will Johnson (3 INTs, 1 TD) might be the nation’s top cover man and is a future first-round pick. Two-time captain Mike Sainristil (5 INTs, 2 TDs) is as impactful as any slot man in the country, and transfer Josh Wallace solidified CB2 with sound play. Safety is one of their deep positions, where they go four deep, led by junior Rod Moore.

Johnson is among Michigan’s defenders who should be healthier going into the Rose Bowl than at the end of the season when he played through a calf strain.

Count defensive tackles Kris Jenkins and Mason Graham among them. When 100 percent, Graham might be their best defensive player, while fellow sophomore Kenneth Grant will remind you of an SEC interior lineman with his athleticism/size (340 pounds) combo. That trio can take over a game.

The Wolverines are four deep at EDGE, rotating bodies to be fresh. Underrated veteran Jaylen Harrell leads with 6.5 sacks, followed by Josaiah Stewart (4.5 sacks). Many consider Braiden McGregor the most talented of the bunch, and another true sophomore, Derrick Moore, added four sacks among his EDGE-leading 32 tackles.

Their top three tacklers come from the linebacker corps led by Tennessee native Junior Colson (79 tackles), who Harbaugh nabbed from SEC country. Sixth-year senior Michael Barrett is active and an effective blitzer with three forced fumbles, two recoveries, and two sacks, while backup Ernest Hausmann is a downhill thumper who finished third on the team in tackles.

Jesse Minter’s defense has 19 players with 20-plus tackles, all playing significant roles. On that list are five interior defensive linemen (with 24+). Five! Among them, 13 have at least two passes defended. The depth of this unit is unparalleled.

Alabama’s Jalen Milroe is known for throwing a pretty deep ball, and the numbers back it up. The Crimson Tide finished 13th in pass plays of 20+ yards, 12th in pass plays of 30+ yards, and sixth in pass plays of 40+ yards.

However, Michigan’s defense is among the stingiest when it comes to giving up big plays, especially against the pass. The Wolverines are ranked third in pass plays of 20+ yards allowed, 16th in pass plays of 30+ yards, and 14th in pass plays of 40+ yards.

I expect the Big Ten champs to force Milroe to beat them with pin-point short and intermediate throws, where he can struggle. His inconsistency can turn into tipped balls and potential turnovers. He also tends to hold the ball too long, making the pass rush a critical piece.

Michigan’s pass defense received the highest coverage grade of any team by PFF (93.1). The best pass defense Alabama has faced this season is Georgia’s (ninth), and in the SEC Championship Game, Milroe posted a season-worst 50.2 passing grade.

When the Wolverines have the ball, the key will be J.J. McCarthy (25-1 as the starting QB), who was much improved as a junior, completing 74.2 percent of his passes for 9.2 yards per pass. His adjusted QBR of 89.3 is third in college football, behind only Jayden Daniels and Bo Nix.

McCarthy must be a game manager, making the right decisions, protecting the football, and a playmaker. A leg injury limited him toward the end of the season. When he’s right, McCarthy can make big plays with his legs and extend drives. He has elite speed.

With a good, not great, offensive line protecting him against elite pass rushers, the quarterback must make some plays off-schedule. He can be the best QB on the field in the Rose Bowl.

We’ve seen Alabama have some trouble with mobile quarterbacks, and I’m not just talking about LSU’s Daniels. McCarthy is a more dangerous runner than Auburn’s Payton Thorne, who helped the Tigers rush for 244 yards. Backup Alex Orji, a more powerful ball carrier, could see some action if Michigan looks for a change-up.

Believe it or not, the Wolverines do have some excellent skill players. Blake Corum had another 1,000-yard season, played his best against the most formidable run defense they’ve faced (145 yards, 2 TDs vs. PSU), and is elite in short-yardage situations (24 TDs). Junior Donovan Edwards had a down season but is a versatile weapon with explosive ability as a runner and receiver.

The Crimson Tide have elite cover corners on the outside, but don’t count out speedster Roman Wilson (16.1 YPC, 11 TDs) from having a big game. He works out of the slot where Alabama has been vulnerable. Veteran Cornelius Johnson has reliable hands and has improved in making contested catches, while electric true freshman Semaj Morgan has four touchdowns on 20 touches.

Michigan’s most dangerous weapon through the air might be tight end Colston Loveland (40 receptions, 572 yards, 14.3 YPC, 4 TDs), a budding star with All-American potential. Loveland is a smooth route runner with after-the-catch ability. He’s complemented by A.J. Barner, a massive 6’6″ target. The Tide are ranked 101st in yards allowed to tight ends, another area the Wolverines can attack.

It’s not an explosive offense, but they know how to move the chains, stay on schedule, don’t beat themselves (third-fewest turnovers; second-fewest penalties), and finish drives (18th in red zone TD percentage). It might not be pretty, but they will do what it takes to get the job done. To the point that they’ve trailed in a game for less than 24 minutes…all season!

This offense has also won despite being mostly vanilla and, at times, predictable. They’ll have something up their sleeve going into the Rose Bowl. Like they did against Ohio State the past two seasons, the Wolverines will incorporate a wrinkle or two in the run game. Tendency breakers will be critical. We’ll see a trick play or two.

Harbaugh’s team is primed to play their best game of the season. They’ve been to the mountaintop twice in the past two seasons, and now’s the time to finish their journey with the program’s first playoff win.

Thumbnail photo via Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Picked For You