Understandably, the Michigan Wolverines and Alabama Crimson Tide are both coming off disappointments, and in the case of Alabama in particular, it might seem a bit of a letdown not to be involved in the college football playoff. But by all accounts Nick Saban's team will have some focus and resolve as they suit up for the Citrus Bowl, beginning at 1 PM ET at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
It will be televised on ABC, and BetAnySports customers will have the opportunity to place wagers after the kickoff as they access what is available through Sports Betting Ultra.
Michigan scored big victories over Iowa (10-3) and Notre Dame (45-14) and managed to put some distance between themselves and other bowl teams like Illinois, Michigan State and Indiana, but playing top-notch foes wasn't good for them, as they found themselves beaten by Wisconsin and Ohio State by a combined 50 points. And last year's appearance in the Peach Bowl was an embarrassment, as they were routed 41-15 at the hands of Florida.
Alabama had visions of competing for the national title again, but a couple of things happen to them. One of them was Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers, who beat them 46-41. And another was the loss of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who was sailing along with 71.4% completions and a 33-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio before going down with a hip injury.
Losing the Iron Bowl 48-45 was just salt in the wounds for the Tide, and these two defeats marked the first time since the 2015 season that they lost outside of the bowl games or conference championship contests.
As an amusing sidelight, Saban actually played in this annual game whe it was known as the Tangerine Bowl and he was at Kent State University.
In the college football betting odds posted at BetAnySports on this Citrus Bowl, Alabama is favored:
Alabama Crimson Tide -7.5 (-105)
Michigan Wolverines +7.5 (-115)
Over 58.5 points -110
Under 58.5 points -110
Michigan's defense was strong (ranked seventh nationally), but it wasn't as dominant as it had been in other seasons in the recent past. And when punching up in weight, they showed some vulnerability, giving up 359 rushing yards (487 total) against Wisconsin, and 264 on the ground (577 total) against Ohio State. So the idea that they have allowed just three yards a carry must be taken with a grain of salt.
It's quite possible that they have yet to meet a team with the full array of weaponry that Alabama possesses. Najee Harris could have had more amazing numbers he if he played at another school, but he just fits in as a part of the overall picture with 1088 yards this season. When his time comes, Harris (5.9 ypc) will be drafted in either the first or second round.
It is quite possible that no team in the country – not even LSU – has the ensemble of wide receivers that Alabama can throw out there. Whether it's Jerry Jeudy (71 catches, 959 yards), Devonta Smith (65 receptions, 1200 yards, 18.5 yards per catch), Henry Ruggs (18.9 yards per reception) or all-purpose threat Jaylen Waddle, who averaged 17.3 yards a catch, led the nation in punt returns and had a 98-yard kickoff return against Auburn (being named All-American in the process), these guys can all go "coast to coast." Michigan is good, being ranked in the top 30 in passing efficiency defense, but this combination is going to be tough to handle. And they're all backed by a great offensive line with ywo all Americans at the tackle spots (Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills), which allowed only 12 sacks on the season.
If there's a question mark with the Alabama attack, it's the guy at the controls. Mac Jones was just below 70% as a passer, averaging ten yards per throw. He can produce; he threw four touchdown passes against Auburn, but he also had two deadly pick-sixes that helped the War Eagle seal the victory. If Tua declares for the NFL draft, he's likely to be next year's starter, and so he's come a long way from his DUI arrest back in 2017. If he can just find a low-risk way to get the ball into the hands of his superior weapons, Alabama can do a lot of business against the Michigan defense.
And on the other side of the ball, Alabama may not have been sensational, but they were more than capable. It is true that the 3.8-yards per carry average they allowed is more than they are used to, and they were only 100th in "stuff rate" this season, but we're not sure that Michigan's backfield, which includes Zach Charbonet and Hassan Haskins (1203 yards between them) can do a lot of damage. Keep in mind that no Michigan running back had more than eight receptions this season, so perhaps Alabama doesn't have to worry a lot about that, and wide receiver Tarik Black will miss this game. QB Shea Patterson last saw the Crimson Tide in 2017, as he was on the short end of a 66-3 loss by his Ole Miss Rebels. This year he's been pretty good – 2828 passing yards and a 22-6 TD-INT ratio, with Jim Harbaugh complementing him on his accuracy, but he's no better than a lot of quarterbacks Alabama has faced.
Perhaps 'Bama might be a little more permissive than usual, because they will be missing two potential first-round NFL picks in quarterback Trevon Diggs and linebacker Terrell Lewis, both of whom have skipped this contest to prepare for the draft. What we DO know is that Alabama has scored at least 35 points in every game this season, and we don't expect things to be a whole lot different here. So this total is very reachable, and as long as they are focused, we like the Crimson Tide's "class" advantage here, so we are laying points.
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