State of Florida dropping out of top four in College Football Playoff rankings the final weekend of the regular season will go down as one of the biggest controversies in college football history, for obvious reasons.
But even though the exclusion of the undefeated Seminoles from the national semifinals widespread contemptTHE the committee can justify this decision highlighting the makeup of a star-studded playoff series that features the nation’s four hottest teams in Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama.
It will be Michigan and Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Washington and Texas will face off in the Sugar Bowl. This is the Wolverines’ third straight playoff appearance, Alabama’s eighth overall, Washington’s second, and the Longhorns’ postseason debut.
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The playoffs will take place against a backdrop of controversial decision to exclude Florida State. This outcry could reach an even more feverish level if the Seminoles beat Georgia in the Orange Bowl. On the field, however, this might be the most unpredictable playoffs of the four-team era, with each team actually capable of winning two games in January to capture the national championship.
Michigan and Alabama key to the Rose Bowl
Michigan asserted its will over teams as good as Ohio State and Penn State. Whether the Wolverines can do the same against Alabama is by far the biggest key in determining the Rose Bowl.
One thing you can assume: Michigan would prefer to play Florida State.
Alabama has been on a tear since losing to Texas and battling South Florida in September. The Crimson Tide has benefited from strong play from quarterback Jalen Milroe and has made huge strides on defense over the past two months, culminating with a victory against Georgia this could help re-establish the Tide as the FBS’ flagship program.
What Alabama has developed is a sense of explosiveness on offense. Milroe was particularly strong in the downfield passing game and helped the Tide rank ninth nationally in plays gaining 30 yards or more. They’ll need to maintain that against the Wolverines, who rank second nationally in first downs allowed per game and generally force teams to produce long drives that tend to fizzle out of the red zone.
In summary, Michigan is a comeback team that looks to control games from the inside to the outside, starting with total domination of space from one offensive guard to the next. Defensively, the Wolverines have the plan and personnel to suppress the Crimson Tide and make it a low-scoring game.
There’s also something to be said for Alabama’s defense, which has turned a real corner since struggling to get stops against Jayden Daniels and LSU in early November. The Tide’s last four opponents have averaged 4.9 yards per game, with no team gaining more than 337 yards, while Georgia’s 78 rushing yards on Saturday were the fewest yards in a game in the Bulldogs since the 2021 Peach Bowl.
The keys to Washington and Texas in the Sugar Bowl
The Longhorns are playing as well as any team in the country and going into the playoffs, one of the hallmarks of national playoff champions.
The same can be said of quarterback Quinn Ewers, who threw for more than 450 yards with four touchdowns in Saturday’s win over Oklahoma State and is beginning to fulfill the potential that made him one of the top recruits in the modern era.
Washington played close game after close game throughout the regular season, which could be considered a major advantage in this context – teams that keep finding ways to win often keep finding ways to win, you know — or a sign that the Huskies might be overmatched at this point.
But then look at the two wins against Oregon. Not taking Washington seriously as a team capable of beating Texas and then beating Alabama or Michigan for the national championship simply ignores everything the Huskies bring to the table and everything they have accomplished during a perfect regular season.
The key may be quarterback play and other surrounding factors, namely how each team protects the passer and how each secondary will match up against two talented receiving corps. That last point is a bigger problem for Texas, which must run with Michael Penix Jr., Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillen or potentially get buried by the nation’s most potent passing game.
Predicting the College Football Playoff Semifinals
Michigan can certainly beat you on the ground and probably beat you in the air, although JJ McCarthy has only thrown one touchdown pass since early November.
Alabama might just be a team of destiny. But let’s not forget how close the Tide came to being eliminated from the playoffs against Auburn before being saved by Milroe’s miraculous touchdown pass.
The bottom line of the Rose Bowl is that Michigan will try to stifle Alabama, and it’s on the Crimson Tide to show they can hold up to the Wolverines’ physicality and strength on both lines. If they can do that, Milroe and the Tide should be able to produce enough on offense to pull out a victory.
Prediction: Alabama 21, Michigan 17.
The Sugar Bowl is more likely to end in a shootout. Washington ranks fifth nationally in yards per play and has gained at least 400 yards in seven of eight games against bowl competition. Texas ranks ninth in yards per game and really turned things around late, scoring a combined 106 points in wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
Although far from guaranteed, a high-scoring affair would turn into a high-profile matchup between two elite quarterbacks. It’s a comfort position for both teams, especially considering how Ewers has played since missing two games with injury in late October and early November.
But there is one thing that separates these two teams: the running game. Both are solid on the ground, Texas even more so, but the Longhorns are among the best in the country at stopping the run. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where they establish things on the field and make the Huskies offensively one-dimensional.
Prediction: Texas 37, Washington 24.