To say the least, the Crimson Tide will be a daunting task for Jim Harbaugh and his program. But, there will still be plenty of reasons to tune into this game.
1. This is a measuring stick game that could recruiting and the outlook of the program.
First off, this is a clash between two of the most storied programs in college football history. This bowl game will be a matchup of two traditional powers, albeit one with much more recent success. It will be the winningest program in college football against the team with the second-most championships. This is a heavyweight battle that could have huge implications for recruiting for both squads.
It might not be too hot a take to say that Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Harbaugh may not be the biggest fans of each other, and that is largely because the Wolverines have begun to dip into the Crimson Tide’s waters on th recruiting trail. However, it’s not just Alabama, but it is in fact the whole SEC country.
Harbaugh has (wisely) realized that there is a ton of high school talent in the southeast, and has stolen studs like Daxton Hill right out of the jaws of Saban and his program. Saban made comments in 2016 on satellite camps across the country, specifically in the southeast, and Jim Harbaugh was obviously the man who headlined most of them.
That means that the winner of this game is not only going to have bragging rights as the better program this season, but is will most certainly make an impact over this highly coveted recruiting area.
Harbaugh has been a bit of a nuisance to Nick Saban since his return to college football. All that the Michigan head coach has wanted since his arrival in Ann Arbor is to be an elite program like Alabama has been for the past decade and a half. If you want to be a top dog in college football you have to beat other top dogs, and Harbaugh has yet to do that consistently in his tenure at Michigan. A win in this bowl game would prove to recruits and really to everyone that the Wolverines are ready to change that.
There have been a few indications that Michigan is ready to make the jump into the upper echelon of teams in college football here and there, but a win against the only team that has made it to every college football playoff up until this season would be a huge statement.
2. Michigan has a weapon at their disposal in the coaching staff, and it should bring clarity.
Another thing that Michigan has going for them is that they have a coach who knows this Alabama team and its head coach very well. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is going to be a huge weapon for the Wolverines. He knows Saban and all of his wrinkles and the things that the legendary coach struggles with (even if they are minimal). You best believe that Michigan is going to use him to their advantage in scheming on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
Offensively speaking, the Wolverines played very well towards the end of the season. Things finally began clicking in the second half against Penn State, and the team has only grown since then.
Alabama’s defense is going to be one of the toughest that Michigan has faced this season. Gattis is going to know all of the ins and outs of the opponent, and this game will prove whether or not this “Speed in Space” experiment can be applied long-term, especially with players from both sides likely sitting out getting ready for the NFL.
This game will could also be a defining moment of Don Brown’s career at Michigan. He is going to have an advantage with Gattis’ knowledge of Nick Saban’s offense and he is going to have to pull out every stop and every package to get it done. Alabama has some of the fastest and most athletic receivers in the country and his secondary is really going to have to step up, especially in the man-to-man packages that he likes to run. This has been a recipe for disaster throughout Brown’s entire career at Michigan, but if he can get his defense to play well in this big-time game, it may be his ticket to another ride in Ann Arbor next season.
3. If nothing else, it is the last time you will see Michigan football until August.
This season just flew by, and it was another disappointment based on preseason expectations. This Michigan team will be remembered as a highly talented one that didn’t execute in its biggest moments, including the eighth-straight loss to Ohio State.
But, to change that course, they could also be remembered as the team that beat Alabama. That would certainly help erase some of the negativity surrounding this team and their program.
Will that happen? Eh, we’ll see.
The Wolverines will be underdogs in this one, so if they lose it will be what everyone expected. Then, we will wait for August when they will have plenty of opportunities, once again, to prove that they belong in the conversation for the college football playoff.
But the bowl selection committee has granted Michigan another chance to have a program-defining game against one of the most dominant dynasties in college football history. In a lot of ways, that might beat playing a team like Auburn, USC or Tennessee where it largely would have meant nothing other than a more likely 10th win.