The vibe around the Michigan Wolverines program is a lot different now than it has been in the past. In the Jim Harbaugh era, the Wolverines hadn’t won an outright East Division title and had only finished higher than third once up until this season. They haven’t won a bowl game since Harbaugh’s first season in 2015. Now, they’re in the College Football Playoff.
It won’t be easy to pull the upset against the Georgia Bulldogs, a 7.5-point favorite in the Orange Bowl, but the Wolverines are there and this is what a storied program used to expect. Perhaps it will be the new normal going forward.
This is also where Georgia expects to be, but the Bulldogs have been a much bigger player on the national stage the last several seasons and could very well be looking at a rematch of the 2018 National Championship Game, a game won 26-23 by Alabama in overtime. All it would take is the chalk to hold up in both semifinal games.
Georgia’s dominance was put into question with a thrashing by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide hung 41 points on a team that had previously allowed fewer than seven points per game. Georgia actually led 10-0 in that game, though nobody remembers it. That’s because Alabama scored 38 of the next 45 points.
The nation’s top defense still only allowed 4.01 yards per play, but Alabama proved that there were chinks in the armor. Can Michigan do the same? This is the first time since 2011 that the Wolverines have had a top-25 offense in yards per play. The creative play-calling of Josh Gattis, the development of Cade McNamara and a strong running game have been sights for very sore eyes in Ann Arbor.
Harbaugh, a man that nearly reached the pinnacle of coaching with his loss in Super Bowl XLVII, finally got creative with his coordinators. Guys like Gattis and 34-year-old defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald sparked life into a program that finally realized status quo wasn’t enough. Macdonald spent seven years with a Baltimore Ravens organization that knows how to win and it should come as no surprise that one Harbaugh helped another.
This Michigan team is legit. The talent that enrolls annually at the University of Michigan is now living up to its potential and the Wolverines stopped being David for at least one year and became Goliath against Ohio State.
Perhaps some are dealing with a case of recency bias, given that the last data point for Georgia was the worst one of the season. However, many have wondered about Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels for a while, which is not a case of revisionist history. Will Zamir White and James Cook find the same wide-open running lanes that some porous SEC defenses allowed?
The question is not the Georgia defense, which was exposed against Alabama. Rather, the Georgia offense is the unit under the microscope because 7.5 points are a lot in a game with a low total. How will the Bulldogs handle a close game? After all, Georgia won every game after the opener against Clemson by at least 17 points until Alabama ended the perfect season.
Michigan is a live underdog here. Imaginative coordinator hires and improved schemes put this team in position to shock the college football world with a dominant win over the Buckeyes. This stunner may not come as easy, but it could very well come.
Pick: Michigan +7.5