Daniel Dash: Alabama 41, Michigan 24
Even without star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (hip), Alabama boasts a star-studded offense. At its core, the Crimson Tide offense is comprised of multiple future first-round offensive linemen, a highly-touted wideout corps spearheaded by Jerry Jeudy and an elite running back in Najee Harris.
To keep pace in the game, Michigan has to play a mistake-free brand of football. Against Ohio State, the Wolverines weren’t able to do that. Against Wisconsin and Penn State, they took far too long to settle into the game. For Michigan to give itself a chance, it needs to come out the way it did against Notre Dame, when it scored the game’s first 17 points.
Defensively, the Crimson Tide will be without redshirt junior linebacker Terrell Lewis and senior cornerback Trevon Diggs. As one of the country’s top destinations for high-end recruits, Alabama may very well turn to talented youngsters to plug the holes. In order to give itself a chance, Michigan’s veteran offense must take advantage of any inexperience on the field, particularly in the passing game.
Heading into the Citrus Bowl, one defining storyline is the matchup between Alabama’s receiving corps and the Wolverines’ secondary. Alabama’s wide receiver trio of Jeudy, Smith and Henry Ruggs III combined for nearly 2,900 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns during the regular season. To put that in perspective, the Wolverines’ group of Black, Peoples-Jones and Bell posted a combined 1,790 yards and 14 scores.
Whether it’s forcing a turnover, breaking up a third-down pass or making a crucial open-field tackle, there will be times when Michigan looks to its secondary for a pendulum-swinging play. The group’s ability to answer the call may very well dictate the game.
But after surrendering 56 points to the Buckeyes, there isn’t much reason to believe the Wolverines will be able to keep pace with Nick Saban’s group. And as a result, a four-loss season will send Michigan into an offseason of questions and introspection.
Brandon Justice: Alabama 45, Michigan 31
To put it plain: I don’t see a way Michigan wins the Citrus Bowl and defeats Alabama.
Similar to the Ohio State game, the Wolverines can hang around and certainly put up points on a good-not-great Tide defense.
However, Nick Saban’s Football Factory™️ will prove to be too much for Michigan’s defense.
In U-M’s losses to Penn State and the aforementioned Buckeyes, the most obvious talent gap was Michigan’s defense not being able to handle the speed of opposing skill players.
Against the Nittany Lions, it was KJ Hamler; in The Game, it was Chris Olave and J.K. Dobbins, among others.
Unfortunately for Michigan, Alabama has three receivers better than Hamler and Olave in Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs.
Michigan’s reliance on its man defense will hurt them again in its bowl game.
And I don’t see a scenario where the Wolverines stop any of those guys — no matter who’s throwing to them.
I do see Michigan’s offense having success throughout the contest, much like it did for the majority of The Game.
However, it’ll be one U-M comes up short on despite competing due to the pure talent and presence of the Crimson Tide.