May 19, 2024

Last offseason, coming off back-to-back wins over formerly domineering rival Ohio State, the Michigan Wolverines made a bold statement about their mindset for 2023. Instead of devoting an entire session of each practice to the Buckeyes, they created a “Beat Georgia” drill. The message was clear: Michigan finally knew it could handle Ohio State and had to switch focus to the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs to accomplish its ultimate goal.

As it turned out, the Wolverines were right about one thing: They vanquished the Buckeyes once again, and this time did it without head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was serving a suspension from the Big Ten relating to the NCAA’s investigation into the sign-stealing methods of former Michigan analyst Connor Stalions.

But what Harbaugh’s players didn’t account for was that someone else would take care of Georgia for them. It was Alabama that silenced the Bulldogs, throwing the College Football Playoff selection process into upheaval. The Wolverines will now face the Crimson Tide in the national semifinal at the Rose Bowl. Perhaps a “Beat the SEC” drill would have been a safer choice for Michigan, with alternating simulations for Georgia and Nick Saban’s Alabama behemoth, which will be looking for its unprecedented seventh national championship since 2009.

Michigan versus Alabama feels like one of those matchups that will have very little chance of attaining the hype that comes with two of the sport’s unquestioned blue-bloods meeting for the first time in its most iconic venue. But, we can hope, right?

The Wolverines, 13-0 and ranked No. 1 for the first time since they split the national championship in 1997, enter the game as favorites seemingly only among Las Vegas oddsmakers who see something different in this group, which has lost both of its previous CFP semis. The rest of the country sees Michigan as a program built only to beat Ohio State, a team without the speed and skill to outlast an SEC power like Alabama when everything is on the line.

If Michigan prevails on New Year’s Day, it crushes all remaining narratives that downgrade its success — including that this recent run is a product of a superior (and surreptitious) scouting system. The Wolverines would also advance one step away from winning the Big Ten its first national championship since 2014, ironically during a year in which conference leadership did everything it could to stop their ascent to the top.

For Alabama, this would just be one more CFP victory and point toward 2023 as Saban’s most impressive coaching job to date. The Crimson Tide were left for dead after losing to Texas in Tuscaloosa and barely beating South Florida the next week. This may not be a vintage Alabama juggernaut, but the Crimson Tide were good enough to beat Georgia over 60 minutes. Yes, it was no drill, and anyone who has watched this sport over the last 15 years would expect Alabama to respond by humbling Michigan and whichever of Texas or Washington awaits in Houston.

With all of those subplots in mind, here are five things to watch in this year’s Rose Bowl:

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40
93
59
00
25
56
55
62
18
34
92
64
11
23
65
23
87
71
23
08
45
70
45
57
16
21
43
78
97
88
50
90
62
52
61
46
90
46
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55
72
50
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32
72
15
05
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02
63
53
66
97
92
42
34
43
62
81
10
29
70
97
46
90
92
41
01
71
38
59
31
56
07
77
56
87
88
16
08
61
45
05
73
42
84
28
19
71
35
89
40
72
54
14
91
46
95
94
96
96
69
33
11
39
64
90
40
27
33
68
38
01
96
52
16
28
93
19
84
64
31
01
09
96
45
66
80
15
32
87
51
58
45
84
68
27
10
47
88
00
83
59
79
10
94
63
09
32
88
96
56
75
93
50
93
58
26
93
58
90
43
21
91
74
42
76
26
88
94
05
89
47
90
54
52
66
85
80
02
86
52
60
64
43
05
85
59
36
07
73
85
92
89
85
47
35
22
12
24
58
61
49
19
39
06
81
15
95
47
49
25
18
44
40
33
20
18
53
91
02
92
20
40
02
77
75
05
72
32
68
65
27
10
96
09
49
59
71
33
16
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77
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32
80
07
41
22
21
65
18
03
50
45
18
16
85
35
56
98
73
48
32
10
62
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31
65
12
98
88
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61
86
10
47
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80
06
55
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28
91
71
84
34
64
36
19
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33
54
56
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81
01
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22
66
69
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80
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32
95
45
12
18
59
95
46
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63
14
56
24
03
06
54
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08
72
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18
63
47
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25
52
15
38
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34
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96
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75
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96
67
03
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56
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84
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56
35
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95
36
28
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28
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97
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48
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56
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01
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47
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95
08
53
52
63
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53
97
85
88
66
56
42
98
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19
02
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24
79
12
76
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46
98
10
84
91
36
72
96
14
23
00
69
28
18
34
19
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30
53
03
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55
82
24
69
96
95
94
56
40
19
12
23
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14
19
20
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51
02
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35
30
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33
36
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83
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86
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71
14
20
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33
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76
83
84
08
05
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19
43
27
73
41
99
84
15
11
06
04
78

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