After 17 years away, Michigan is finally spending another New Year's Day at the Rose Bowl.
And the No. 1 Wolverines got a daunting matchup for the 110th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All.
Top-seeded Michigan will face Southeastern Conference champion Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal to be played as the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1.
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The CFP committee announced the lineup for the final four-team playoff Sunday, and the unbeaten Wolverines (13-0) -- who got to choose their semifinal destination as the No. 1 seed -- booked another bowl appearance in the Southern California sun against the Crimson Tide (12-1).
Jim Harbaugh's team is finally making its long-anticipated return to Pasadena, which has been Michigan's home for so many New Year's Days in the past. The Wolverines will be playing in their 21st Rose Bowl, more than any school except USC, but Michigan hasn't been to the archetypal bowl game since 2007.
“It's going to take all those days, all those hours, all those minutes,” Harbaugh told ESPN. “We played Alabama before. Haven't beaten them. We know it's going to take our best. We're going to have to play really good, but before that, we're going to have to plan. We're going to have to practice and get in a position to execute against really good football teams.”
Michigan's fans hope the Rose Bowl berth is the penultimate step in a tumultuous season featuring incredible play, but also two suspensions for Harbaugh. The Wolverines haven't faltered amid the chaos, even ascending to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time in 26 seasons earlier Sunday after shutting out Iowa in the Big Ten championship game.
Michigan is in the CFP for the third time, looking for its first victory. The Wolverines are two wins away from their first national title since 1997.
But Michigan drew a formidable foe in the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide, which is coming off a spectacular upset victory over No. 1 Georgia in the SEC title game on Saturday. Alabama returned to the CFP and earned its eighth appearance in the Rose Bowl by ending the Bulldogs' 29-game winning streak.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said he had a long Saturday night while hoping his Tide would earn a spot in college football’s final four.
“I didn’t sleep a lot, because there’s a lot of good teams out there,” Saban told ESPN. “It’s unfortunate that some good team had to get left out, but I really think our team earned the right to be here.”
The Crimson Tide played in the COVID-19 version of the Granddaddy just three years ago, routing Notre Dame 31-14 in a CFP semifinal “Rose Bowl” game played in Arlington, Texas, because of California's safety restrictions. Alabama has been to the Rose Bowl more times than any school not in the Big Ten or the Pac-12.
Alabama's previous Rose Bowl Game appearance was in 1946, although Saban's Crimson Tide also won the national championship at the Rose Bowl in January 2010 when they beat Texas in the BCS title game.
Alabama is led by a top-notch defense and by quarterback Jalen Milroe, who has settled into the starting job. He passed for 192 yards and two touchdowns without an interception while beating Georgia.
“He’s got it,” Harbaugh said of Milroe. “He’s got that ‘it’ factor. Surrounded by a lot of really superior athletes that are really well-coached and know what they’re doing. That’s a vital, critical combination.”
Alabama is in the CFP for the eighth time in its 10 years of existence. After missing out on the playoff last season and then losing to the Longhorns in the second game of this season, the Tide reverted to their peerless form and reeled off 11 consecutive victories, capped by their 27-24 victory over two-time defending national champion Georgia on Saturday.
The national championship game will be played Jan. 8 in Houston.