December 31, 2019
By Tony Dixon, for COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRAP-UP(c)
Ypsilanti, MI —
Alabama versus U-M in a bowl game!
If I had said that at the start of the season, who among us wouldn’t have envisioned a College Football Playoff semi-final or…dare I say, the CFP Championship game!
Ok, let that soak in and perhaps savor it for a few moments……that’s enough!
Let’s get back to reality. The Vrbo Citrus Bowl is not a CFP game. But, to be honest, this still has the chance to be a great match-up. Two traditional powers, two storied programs, members of two powerhouse conferences clashing for a little respect for their less than anticipated season outcomes.
Michigan (9 – 3, 6 – 3 B1G) and it’s somewhat embattled Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, appears to be a team that is suffering from Detroit Lion’s fever, (that strange sport’s malady whose symptom’s break down to a pattern of: A – fill the stadium every game day, B – get that big check for TV rights, C – go through the motions and rhetoric of telling the media and fans…”it was a good season, it could have been better, we were leading in every game, etc, etc.) hopefully in this case it can still be treated and cured, unlike the professional football team that it is named after, where it is the business model and not the aberration.
U-M has a talented and driven group of student-athletes that will/should be well prepared and ready to show the world what they can bring to the gridiron. Led by QB Shea Patterson (3,828 yds, 22 TDs and 6 INTs) the offense can be potent and really stretch the field with Wide Receivers like Ronnie Bell (44 catches, 705 yds, 1 TD), Nico Collins (33, 681, 7 TDs) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (33, 404, 6). Running Backs Zach Charbonnet (642 yds, 11 TDs, 4.7 YPA) and Hassan Haskins (561, 4, 5.4 YPA) will have the tough task of keeping the Bama defense honest and assisting the offensive line in giving Patterson time to throw to his talented wide-outs.
Alabama, on the other hand, finds itself in the unique position of having to accept the harsh reality of what a two loss season means to a perennial powerhouse program. Most college football fans, if they are being honest with themselves almost always put Bama in the CFP playoff bracket, along with Clemson and the Big Ten Champion and the years darling (LSU?) or their alma mater, if applicable/realistic.
Coach Saban, well known in the state of Michigan, as well as an icon in the current era of college football coaches reality, has a reputation for getting the most out of his Assistant coaches, players and almost anybody else that he interacts with. But, a season like this one will probably bring out the…”is Saban going to the NFL” rumors. If so, it’s a safe bet that the pro team from Michigan would NOT be a preferred destination. Even with the size of that possible paycheck, he is probably wise enough to realize that he would go insane in that “sports-as-business” atmosphere.
On the field, the Crimson Tide is currently led by QB Mac Jones(?) (1,176 yds, 11 TDs and 3 INTs), he will be searching for Wide Receivers Jerry Jeudy (71 catches, 959 yds, 9 TDs) and DeVonta Smith (65/1,200/13 TDs, with a long of 85 yds). Alabama’s featured Running Back is Najee Harris (1,088 yds, 11 TDs and a 5.9 YPA average) he is spelled by Brian Robinson (425 yds, 5 TDs and a 4.6 YPA average).
The numbers for this game breakdown like so; Points per game, Bama 48 points per game for, 19 PPG against, U-M averages 33 PPG while surrendering an average of 19 PPG. Total offense also favors Alabama 513 YPG versus U-M’s 402. Defensively U-M does have a slight advantage in the numbers 293 total yards to 318 for the Tide.
The strength of schedule numbers are likewise similar; U-M was 5th, Bama was 7th. The poll positions are just as tight, U-M is ranked #14, Alabama is #13.
Bottom line, it’s not for a championship, but the bragging rights that will come from the clash of these two programs/head coaches/brand names will be worth it’s weight in cachet.
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Tony Dixon is a Co-host for The College Football Wrap-Up(c), MISPORT-TV’s original content vehicle that reviews the past week’s college football games played by Michigan based colleges and universities across all divisions and conferences. The show also utilizes the TPR(c) (Team Performance Rating) to measure a team’s performance in the past game and also to quantify it’s performance over the seasons games. The teams are then ranked according to their TPR number, the higher the number, the stronger the performances.