Alabama can still score plenty of points with sophomore quarterback Mac Jones running the show. Jones was thrust into the spotlight when injuries sidetracked star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's season. With Tagovailoa supported by a crutch on the sideline, it will be Jones’ opportunity to notch his first postseason victory as a starter when the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide face another storied program, No. 14 Michigan, in Orlando's Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day. The Citrus Bowl odds have Alabama -7.5 vs. Michigan.
Citrus Bowl odds: Alabama (-7.5, 60.5 over/under), New Year's Day at 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Jones filled in for Tagovailoa against Arkansas on Oct. 26 and completed 18 of 22 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-7 romp over Arkansas.
In the regular-season finale against Auburn, Jones was 26 of 39 for 335 yards and four touchdowns, though he was also picked off twice in the 48-45 loss.
“He doesn’t have to try to live up or be anybody but himself in terms of what he does as a player,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “That’s what we’ve tried to get him to stay focused on. You don’t have to press, you don’t have to prove. You just have to do your job and he’s done a pretty good job of that so far.”
The Crimson Tide (10-2) are loaded with quality receivers. The group this season is headed up by DeVonta Smith (65 catches, 1,200 yards, 11 TDs) and Jerry Jeudy (71 catches, 959 yards, 9 TDs).
“I think the receivers, the offensive line, all of a sudden those guys see No. 10 (Jones) going there and making throws — make throws against Auburn, where guys are breathing down his face at critical moments on third down — getting conversions,” Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “I think he’s translated the practice to the game, built his own confidence and then, in turn, that’s built the confidence in his teammates in him as well.”
Oddsmakers are confident there will be plenty of fireworks in the Citrus Bowl. The over/under of 58.5 points is the highest among this year's New Year's Day bowls. Alabama is a 7.5-point favorite with a money line of -295.
Alabama's rushing attack is headed up by Najee Harris (1,088 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, 11 TDs).
Motivation might be the biggest question mark for the Crimson Tide.
They expected to be where LSU and Clemson find themselves — preparing for the national championship game. The Crimson Tide have played for the title the past four seasons, winning twice.
Their defense let them down in their two losses this year. They gave up 46 points in their five-point loss to LSU on Nov. 9.
Alabama will be without two key players in the bowl game. Linebacker Terrell Lewis and defensive back Trevon Diggs decided to skip the postseason in order to prepare for the NFL draft.
Michigan's defense will also be seeking a measure of redemption. The Wolverines (9-3) carried a four-game winning streak into the annual showdown with Ohio State but the Buckeyes thrashed them, 56-27. Michigan gave up 577 yards in its regular-season finale.
“We've moved on from that,” Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “Obviously, you can't let a significant loss like that linger. If you let it linger, then one loss leads to two losses. And I think our guys have done a good job of just putting that behind us and focusing on what's in front of us. We've got a great challenge coming up here Wednesday and that's our 100 percent focus.”
Michigan has gone 1-3 in the postseason under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines' last postseason victory came in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016, a 41-7 romp over Florida.
Michigan senior quarterback Shea Patterson has thrown 22 touchdown passes and scored five more on the ground this season. He had some turnover issues earlier in the season but settled down as it carried along.
“The competitive edge, that just keeps coming back to me when I talk about Shea or I think about Shea. It's humility with a competitive edge,” Harbaugh said. “As Coach Saban said, Shea can make all the throws. And his accuracy has just gotten better and better. His understanding is at a very high level. He can run, he can get out of the pocket, he can create plays, he can create space, he's effective both as a runner and the thrower.”
Patterson doesn't have a go-to receiver — no wideout has more than 43 receptions. The rushing attack features the duo of Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins, who have combined for 15 touchdowns.
Harbaugh says his team is ready to go but knows that it will have to play its best game this season to pull an upset.
“Offense that is built for speed and attacks every part of the field in the passing game, in the running game,” Harbaugh said of Alabama. “Physical, physical football team. Defensively, really the same thing. Very attacking, multiple in coverages and the special teams is really dangerous, especially in the return game. The punt return, kickoff return, in all facets, everything is tight, everything is battened down and there are no weaknesses.”