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Motivators fuel No. 1 Michigan, No. 4 Alabama in CFP semifinal


Jalen Milroe’s benching after Alabama’s Week 2 loss to Texas is well known, and so is his ensuing rise to one of the top players in the nation.

The chip on the shoulder of the Crimson Tide quarterback is pronounced as he leads No. 4 Alabama into the College Football Playoff semifinal contest against No. 1 Michigan on New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Milroe has often heard he should switch positions. But watching those words come from the mouth of then-Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien (2021-22) was particularly irritating.

“My own offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, told me I shouldn’t play quarterback,” Milroe said Thursday. “The biggest thing was to stay true to myself. I had a bigger purpose than anyone’s opinion. (O’Brien) told me a bunch of positions I could’ve switched to, but look where I’m at, so who has the last laugh?”

Milroe looks to add more enjoyment to his spectacular campaign when the Crimson Tide (12-1) face the Wolverines (13-0) for a spot in the national championship game. No. 2 Washington and No. 3 Texas meet in the other semifinal.

Milroe has passed for 2,718 yards, 23 touchdowns and six interceptions while also rushing for 12 scores. The Crimson Tide have won 11 straight games — including all 10 since he was restored to the starting gig.

The signature moment was the fourth-and-31 pass to Isaiah Bond with 32 seconds left to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

“He’s a different quarterback than we’ve seen all year,” Michigan defensive end Jaylen Harrell said. “Freaky athletic, can make all the throws, big throws.”

Michigan has its own solid quarterback in J.J. McCarthy. He owns a 25-1 record as a starter, but that lone setback came in last year’s CFP semifinals when the Wolverines lost 51-45 to TCU. That setback stretched Michigan’s bowl losing streak to six. Now the pressure is higher.

“I think for the outside observer, it’s the biggest game in Michigan history, one of the biggest games in college football history,” McCarthy said Friday. “But to us it’s just another football game that we’re going to go out there and try to execute, play with physicality, and lock into all the little details that are going to show up in these big games.”

McCarthy has completed 74.2 percent of his throws this season for 2,630 yards and 19 touchdowns against four interceptions. Star running back Blake Corum (1,028) has topped 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight season while setting a school mark with 24 rushing touchdowns.

The Michigan defense entered the bowl season as the nation’s leader in scoring defense (9.5 points per game) and No. 2 in total defense (239.7).

The Wolverines have thrived despite coach Jim Harbaugh missing six games due to two different suspensions. But Michigan’s reputation for falling short in big games includes an 0-2 mark in CFP semifinal appearances.

“I think everyone wants to change the narrative of Michigan football or how we can’t win postseason games or we haven’t won a (national title) in forever or whatever it may be,” Wolverines center Drake Nugent said.

On the other hand, Alabama is a stellar 6-1 in the CFP semifinals and has won three national titles during the CFP era. Few people thought the Crimson Tide would be back after a dismal Week 3 effort when a last-minute touchdown was needed to put away South Florida. Milroe was reinstated as starter the following day.

“After Week 3, I don’t think anybody thought we would be in this position,” Alabama defensive end Justin Eboigbe said. “But just truly each and every game, each and every practice, we just came together, understood that it’s us. And I feel like truly we became close as a team through all the doubts, the adversity that happened, and we truly understood that we still controlled our own destiny.”

Crimson Tide running back Jase McClellan (foot) said he’s good to play. He missed the victory over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game.

Alabama is 44-26-3 (plus one win vacated due to NCAA violations) in bowl games, while Michigan is 21-29. The teams have met five times with the Crimson Tide holding a 3-2 edge.

–Field Level Media

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