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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon on Michigan vs. Alabama and the end of the four-team College Football Playoff

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh gestures during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game against TCU, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. The Wolverines are back in the semifinals for a third straight season. This time they'll face Alabama on Jan. 1, 2024.
Rick Scuteri/AP
FR157181 AP
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh — shown here during the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, — has guided the Wolverines to their third straight College Football Playoff. His teams have yet to reach the title game. This time around, Michigan will face Alabama in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2024 in a semifinal matchup.

After a lot of juggling by the College Football Playoff selection committee, the final four teams are set.

On Jan. 1, No. 1 Michigan will take on No. 4 Alabama in the Rose Bowl. No. 2 Washington will face No. 3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl. The winners of those games will advance to the national championship game on January 8.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about the semifinal matchups, as well as the Detroit Lions' chances to make the NFL playoffs.

Sunday in the NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears - 1:00 p.m.

Doug Tribou: Fans of the four teams, including Michigan, that will compete for the national championship in the College Football Playoff have weeks of waiting ahead of them before the semifinal games on New Year's Day.

The good news is there are approximately 247 bowl games between now and then to help everyone pass the time. [Laughs] John, full disclosure, I rounded that number up a bit. There are actually only 41 bowl games total this year.

John U. Bacon: Yeah, only 41. Think about that for a second. There used to be like 6 or 7. Now there are 41. There are only 133 or so teams in [the] Division I [Football Bowl Subdivison]. So that means more than half, 80 of 130 or so, get into a bowl game. In other words, it used to be a big deal. Now it's like: Do you still have a football team? Then come on and play.

DT: [Laughs] Since we last spoke, Michigan got the No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff. Alabama jumped into the No. 4 spot after beating former top dog Georgia in the SEC title game. So on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, the Wolverines will face the Crimson Tide. How do you like Michigan's chances against Alabama?

JUB: I think it's about 50-50, which is not bad. It's not one of the Alabama juggernaut teams we saw four or five years ago. And Michigan, I think, is significantly better than it's been, even the last few years. So, they've got a good chance, but about 50-50.

DT: In the other semifinal game on New Year's Day, No. 2 Washington will take on No. 3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Who has the edge in that matchup?

"It's not one of the Alabama juggernaut teams we saw four or five years ago."
John U. Bacon on why he sees Michigan's chances against Alabama in the Rose Bowl as 50-50.

JUB: I'm going to be really wimpy, Doug. Flip a coin again. How about that one? I don't know! How's that? [Laughs]

DT: [Laughs] And then certainly there could have been some maneuvers there that would have maybe favored Michigan. Michigan could have had [a game against] Washington if they had stayed No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. So the Alabama draw really changes things in some ways.

JUB: No question about it. And the sticking point [is] Florida State won their conference game, the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. They're 13-0. They're undefeated. And they got screwed, basically, out of the deal because Alabama with one loss jumped over them. That has people at Florida State outraged, sending out nasty notes. [Florida] Governor DeSantis is going to put aside $1 million to sue the NCAA... because we have time for this, of course.

But [the University of] Michigan's also upset because that would have been an easier draw for Michigan. But that's how college football works. That's the last year of the four-team playoff. Next year, 12 teams.

DT: Well, John, certainly the 12-team playoff will end all of the future problems and debates? [Laughs]

JUB: Yeah! Exactly how it works because you will always have exactly 12 teams you know deserve [a bid], and the 13th will never deserve. Yeah, this should settle all that. No problem.

DT: [Laughs] Let's turn to the NFL. The Lions are still in first place in the NFC North.

JUB: Stop right there, Doug! Stop right there. Say that again.

DT: [Laughs] The Lions are 9-3 this season. They'll face the Bears on Sunday in Chicago. The Bears are only 4-8 so far this season, but they are coming off a win. What do the Lions need to focus on as they head into their final five games and push to lock up a playoff spot?

JUB: When I became the head coach of the Ann Arbor Huron High School hockey team — not quite the same thing I realize — Red Berenson, Michigan's legendary Michigan hockey coach, told me that your first job is to make sure you beat all the teams that you're supposed to beat. Now, in recent years, the Lions were that team that you're supposed to beat.

This time, the Bears — at 4-8 — is a team that Detroit really needs to beat. Just simple: focus on your task. They are the better team. And I still can't believe I said that.

Editor's notes: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's broadcast license.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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