May 21, 2024

For the third consecutive year, the Michigan Wolverines are gearing up to face the formidable Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, prioritizing game strategy over holiday festivities. Seeking to reverse their fortunes after two previous semifinal losses, they aim to secure a spot in the CFP title game, a feat unprecedented for Michigan.

Here are three key factors for Michigan against Alabama that could propel the team to new heights:

1. **AJ Barner | Tight End**

Standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 250 pounds, Barner has emerged as one of the nation’s premier blocking tight ends, often operating in the shadows this season. However, facing Alabama provides him with an opportunity to showcase his receiving skills. Alabama has struggled against tight ends, conceding 30 receptions and 431 receiving yards to tight ends in 10 games against Power Five opponents. Barner, with 22 catches and 249 yards this season, could become a focal point in play action and red zone situations, especially with the attention likely on standout Colston Loveland.

2. **Alex Orji | Quarterback**

The Orji hype is gaining momentum, with the sophomore quarterback from Texas demonstrating his athleticism, notably on a 20-yard run against Ohio State in a read-option play. Serving as the scout-team quarterback in preparation for Alabama, Orji mirrors the dual-threat style of Alabama’s Jalen Milroe. A bold prediction suggests that Coach Jim Harbaugh may unleash Orji’s passing abilities against Alabama, breaking from his previous run-heavy appearances this season. With Orji’s versatility, the Wolverines aim to keep the Alabama defense guessing and exploit potential weaknesses.

3. **James Turner | Kicker**

Michigan kicker, Saline native named to Lou Groza Award watch list -  mlive.com

Turner, a standout kicker in his first year with Michigan, has been a crucial asset, converting 16-of-18 field-goal attempts and maintaining a perfect record since September. His performance against Ohio State, where he nailed three crucial field goals in the second half, underscores his reliability in high-pressure situations. To overcome Alabama, Michigan needs a flawless and top-tier performance, and Turner’s accurate leg could play a pivotal role in determining the outcome.

In order to secure victory against Alabama, Michigan must deliver their best and most disciplined performance of the season, with each of these X-factors playing a potential role in achieving that goal.

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