It’s been a fascinating year in college football.
Deion Sanders took over the sport for a few months before his Colorado Buffaloes lost eight of their last nine games to end the season, the “Conference of Champions” became the conference of just two teams, and Florida State became the first undefeated Power 5 conference champion to be left out of the College Football Playoff.
All of the storylines have led to the final edition of the four-team CFP, which has the potential to be the best semifinals in the 10-year history of the CFP.
Let’s take a look at the New Year’s Day matchups with the winners playing for the national championship in Houston on Jan. 8.
It’s a matchup between two traditional powers at “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
In what has the look of a classic, Michigan and Alabama will square off in the Rose Bowl with a 13-game and an 11-game winning streak on the line.
Michigan is looking to bounce back from its performance in last year’s CFP after a tumultuous season.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh was suspended by the school for the first three games of the season before missing the final three games of the year after the Big Ten came down on him over allegations of sign-stealing.
With or without Harbaugh, the Wolverines have been perfect, and they’ve gotten it done on the defensive side of the football.
Michigan has allowed the fewest points per game (9.5) while holding opponents to just 239.7 yards per game.
After starting off the year with a very soft schedule, Michigan finished the year against two top-10 teams before shutting out No. 16 Iowa in the Big Ten title game.
They need quarterback J.J. McCarthy to have one of his better games to beat a red-hot Alabama team.
In Michigan’s first seven games of the season. McCarthy threw for 14 touchdowns with an average of 10.6 yards per pass attempt, according to The Athletic. In the final six games, McCarthy threw just five touchdowns and averaged 7.7 yards per pass attempt.
The Crimson Tide come into the CFP winners of 11 consecutive games, a winning streak that can mostly be attributed to quarterback Jalen Milroe’s play.
Since sitting out against South Florida in Week 3, Milroe has been spectacular, throwing for 2,269 yards, 18 passing touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Milroe’s ability to make plays with his legs – 12 rushing touchdowns – makes the Alabama offense dangerous for Michigan as they prepare for a quarterback rarely seen in the Big Ten.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a quarterback like this,” Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said, according to USA Today.
The New Year’s Day matchup at the Rose Bowl will be one college football fans won’t want to miss.
Fans of the Longhorns can finally say that “Texas is back.”
It’s been 13 years since Texas last played for a national championship, and Steve Sarkisian has his team on the doorstep of reaching the pinnacle of the sport.
Texas entered the 2023 college football season as the villains of the Big 12 as they prepare to depart the conference for the SEC in 2024. After winning the program’s first conference championship since 2009, Texas has an opportunity for the ultimate exit.
“We have a chance to be legends,” senior linebacker David Gbenda said. “So why not go be great?”
The Longhorns enter Monday’s game against Washington with an offense ranked in the top 10 in yards per game and a defense in the top 15 in points allowed per game.
The offense is led by quarterback Quinn Ewers, who has shown major improvements in his second season under Sarkisian.
After missing two games due to injury, Ewers enters the CFP on a tear, throwing for 1,246 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions in the final four games of the year.
Ewers has thrown for 3,161 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2023, and the sophomore QB drastically improved his completion percentage, going from completing 58.1% of his passes in 2022 to 70.7% in 2023.
The Texas defense has been elite at stopping the run, allowing just 80.3 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the country.
They’ll be facing a Washington team led by a Heisman Trophy finalist and an offense that can get up and down the field.
The Huskies finished the year 13-0 for the first time in program history as they prepare to depart the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024.
Michael Penix Jr. led the top passing offense in the country (343.8 yards per game) while throwing for 4,218 yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
While the Washington offense slowed in the second half of the season, the Huskies found a way to win close games, winning their last four games by a combined 15 points.
Their receiving core is elite, led by two 1,000-yard wideouts in Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk.
“It’s the touchdowns. It’s the moving of the chains in the big, big moments. There’s been so many we forget about a lot of [them] and you take it for granted the gaudy stats that he has,” Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer said of Odunze. “Just over and over again, think about how many times he’s come through when you really needed it. A lot of times you think about when you lose football games or you didn’t come through in the big moment. You remember those. I can’t remember Rome not coming through.”
And while Washington is known for its passing attack, running back Dillon Johnson has come on strong in the second half, averaging 136.6 yards per game in the last five contests, including a 256-yard performance against USC.
With a secondary allowing 263.2 passing yards per game (120th in the country), college football fans could be in for a high-scoring affair in New Orleans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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