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Top-seeded Michigan returns to Rose Bowl to face Alabama in College Football Playoff semifinal

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — After 17 years away, Michigan is finally spending another New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl.

And the No. 1 Wolverines got a daunting matchup for the 110th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All.

Top-seeded Michigan will face Southeastern Conference champion Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal to be played as the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1.

“We’re going against the best,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Sunday. “Tradition. Two true blue bloods of football, facing Alabama.”

The CFP committee announced the lineup for the final four-team playoff Sunday, and the unbeaten Wolverines (13-0) — who got to choose their semifinal destination as the No. 1 seed — booked another bowl appearance in the Southern California sun against the Crimson Tide (12-1).

“We’re excited to face them,” Harbaugh said. “It’s iconic. It’s Alabama. It’s Roll Tide. It’s doesn’t get any better, to be playing in the Rose Bowl. Just going to appreciate the tradition of the Rose Bowl, playing a great team like Alabama. It always has meaning.”

Harbaugh’s team is finally making its long-anticipated return to Pasadena, which has been Michigan’s home for so many New Year’s Days in the past. The Wolverines will be playing in their 21st Rose Bowl, more than any school except USC, but Michigan hasn’t been to the archetypal bowl game since 2007.

Michigan’s fans hope the Rose Bowl berth is the penultimate step in a tumultuous season featuring incredible play, but also two suspensions for Harbaugh. The Wolverines haven’t faltered amid the chaos, even ascending to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time in 26 seasons earlier Sunday after shutting out Iowa in the Big Ten championship game.

Michigan is in the CFP for the third time, looking for its first victory. The Wolverines are two wins away from their first national title since 1997.

“We’ve accomplished many of our goals, and now winning it all is what we had also put on the goal sheet,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we’ll turn our one-track mind to, to this next opponent and playing Alabama in the Final Four, and we’ll do what we always do. We’ll play, we’ll prepare, we’ll practice and get ready to give it our very best.”

But Michigan drew a formidable foe in the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide, which is coming off a spectacular upset victory over No. 1 Georgia in the SEC title game on Saturday. Alabama returned to the CFP and earned its eighth appearance in the Rose Bowl by ending the Bulldogs’ 29-game winning streak.

“Our team is very excited about having the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country in the University of Michigan,” said coach Nick Saban, the former Michigan State coach. “They’ve had a very, very successful season, Big Ten champs. I’d like to congratulate them on that. We’re going to look forward to the challenge that we have ahead in terms of what we have to do to prepare and be the best that we can be to play against the No. 1 team in the country.”

Saban said he had a long Saturday night while hoping his Tide would earn a spot in the CFP.

“I felt like our team deserved the right to be in the playoffs,” Saban said. “They earned the right to be there. I was just very anxious and hopeful that they would get the opportunity to do that, so it made a bit of a sleepless night in a lot of ways. We were trying to prepare for the opportunity, if we got it, but also concerned about what opportunities we’d have if it didn’t work out. But we’re excited about the fact that it did.”

Michigan and Alabama last faced off in the Citrus Bowl four years ago, with the Tide winning 35-16.

The Crimson Tide played in the COVID-19 version of the Granddaddy just three years ago, routing Notre Dame 31-14 in a CFP semifinal “Rose Bowl” game played in Arlington, Texas, because of California’s safety restrictions. Alabama has been to the Rose Bowl more times than any school not in the Big Ten or the Pac-12.

Alabama’s previous Rose Bowl Game appearance was in 1946, although Saban’s Crimson Tide also won the national championship at the Rose Bowl in January 2010 when they beat Texas in the BCS title game.

“It was a great experience, a lot of great people, first-class organization in every way,” Saban said.

Alabama is in the CFP for the eighth time in its 10 years of existence. After missing out on the playoff last season and then losing to the Longhorns in the second game of this season, the Tide reverted to their peerless form and reeled off 11 consecutive victories, capped by their 27-24 victory over two-time defending national champion Georgia on Saturday.

The national championship game will be played Jan. 8 in Houston.

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