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Michigan’s X-factors for Rose Bowl against Alabama

Which Wolverines have a chance to make a big impact in the semifinal game?

2023 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Michigan’s matchup with Alabama is fast approaching, and by now it’s likely the teams have a better sense of how they match up with one another. In any given matchup, there are players whose performance can have a larger than usual impact on the game, likely due to mismatches between the teams.

One example of this would be TCU’s Max Duggan, who regularly caused fits for Michigan’s defense last year with his mobility in the Fiesta Bowl. Once again in the playoff this year, Michigan has some players who can help to exploit Alabama’s vulnerabilities. On the flip side, though, there might be some areas where Michigan could be susceptible, and will need players to step up.

Today, we’ll have a look at a couple players and position groups that could be X-factors for Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Colston Loveland

In the second half of the season, we have seen tight end Colston Loveland become more featured in the offense. His athleticism and movement skills have been fully on display, while his chemistry with J.J. McCarthy helped him get 40 receptions for 572 yards and four touchdowns.

The Wolverines face a mismatch against the Tide on the outside, as Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold are two of the best corners in the country. This will mean Michigan can use Loveland as a means to keep the ball moving down the field. It’s certainly encouraging that another great tight end, Texas’ Ja’Tavion Sanders, had a big game against Alabama, reeling in five receptions for 114 yards.

Edge Rushers

Coming into the season, one area perceived as a strength for Alabama was its offensive line, but the unit hasn’t been strong in pass protection. Even with a mobile quarterback in Jalen Milroe, Alabama has still allowed 43 sacks this season, tied for the eighth-most in the FBS.

Michigan should have a sizable advantage here, as the Wolverines have a great group of edge rushers led by Jaylen Harrell and his 6.5 sacks. Braiden McGregor, Josaiah Stewart and Derrick Moore have made some valuable contributions, too. Between the four, Michigan’s edge group has versatility and the ability to win with both speed and power. Getting after the quarterback is key in winning any game, and it will be crucial for Michigan against the Tide.

Offensive Line

While the Wolverines have plenty of areas where they have an advantage, the offensive line, especially the right side, could pose an issue.

Following an injury to Zak Zinter against Ohio State, Karsen Barnhart shifted to right guard and Trente Jones came in to play right tackle. The tandem did well to finish out that game, but Iowa had its way in the Big Ten Championship against the line, getting after J.J. McCarthy for four sacks and holding Michigan to 1.9 yards per rush.

The makeshift offensive line is going to face another big test in the College Football Playoff, as Alabama’s defensive front is no slouch. The unit is led by edge rushers Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell, who have combined for 17 sacks this year. Michigan is going to have to hold its own against this talented Alabama defensive line if it wants to be able to move the ball and put points on the board.

J.J. McCarthy

While the two pick-sixes might be what fans remember most from J.J. McCarthy in the Fiesta Bowl last year, his play is actually what allowed Michigan to stay in the game and ultimately put up 45 point. When TCU threatened to pull away, it was McCarthy making plays with his arm and his legs to help keep things close.

McCarthy has led the way as the centerpiece for Michigan’s offense this season, and his play has given him the status as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. While his play against Maryland and Iowa might have left something to be desired, he still has all the ability to take the game with his playmaking ability.

Great quarterback play is a must in the College Football Playoff, so McCarthy will need to showcase his ability if Michigan wants to win.