CFB: 2024 Rose Bowl Preview – Special Teams and the X Factors for Michigan and Alabama

darren cooper
By:
Darren Cooper
26/12/2023/
NCAAF

Highlights

  • We’re less than a week away from the 2024 Rose Bowl/College Football Playoff semifinal between No. 1 Michigan and No. 4 Alabama in Pasadena, California.
  • This is the third part of our game preview, focusing on the Tide and Wolverines special team units plus the X Factor for each team.
  • Michigan remains a slight favorite on the best Michigan sportsbooks.

By themselves, special teams usually can’t win you a football game, unless it comes down to a last-minute field goal, but special teams play a big part in any championship game.

Michigan and Alabama will meet in the 2024 Rose Bowl Sunday, Jan. 1. We’ve already gone deep and talked about the Tide’s offense and defense, and compared them to the Wolverines offense and defense, but what about the special teams? Michigan sportsbooks are expecting a close game, one that could very well be decided by special teams play.

Caesars and BetMGM still have the Wolverines listed as 1.5-point favorites, with the total set at 45. Both sportsbooks will keep adding markets as the game gets closer. Here’s what you need to know about Alabama and Michigan’s special teams.

What’s Special about the Tide? 

It used to be that Alabama also had a weakness at kicker, but Will Reichard solved that problem. The fifth-year kicker handles kicks and kickoffs for Alabama. He went 20-23 on kicks this year, missing one against Auburn and two against LSU. His career long is 52.

The Tide’s punter is Aussie James Burnip, who has handled the job for three years. He averages 46.8 yards a kick.

Alabama’s return game is only above-average. All-American DB Kool-Aid McKinstry has run back 14 punts and Caleb Downs has run back four. Downs ran one back for a TD against Chattanooga. Other than that, they’ve combined for about nine yards a return. Kendrick Law is the main kickoff return man. He’s averaged 22 yards a return.

What’s Special about the Wolverines? 

James Turner is the Michigan kicker. He’s a four-year letter winner. His career long is 50 yards. This season he’s 16 for 18 on field goals and 58 for 59 on extra points. He’s steady.

Michigan punter Tommy Doman kicks off and punts. He has 61 touchbacks and averages 44.6 yards per punt.

Michigan’s return game is nothing special. Jake Thaw and Tyler Morris have run back punts for an average between them of 8.4 yards. Semaj Morgan has run back 10 kickoffs for an average of 15 yards. It seems both coaches prefer to play it safe in the return game, making sure their guy catches the ball and isn’t at risk.

The X Factor 

We can go so many different ways here. Let’s start with the obvious: Turnovers. Michigan is plus-17 in turnover margin this season, that’s second in the nation. The ball has bounced their way all season. Alabama’s turnover margin is plus-8, which is good, but not amazing.

One big thing to look for in a game like this is penalties. This is one area where Michigan has a huge edge. Alabama has been penalized almost twice as many times as the Tide. Alabama has been penalized 75 times, while Michigan just 38.

Finally, the coaches. Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh have only met once in college, the 2020 Citrus Bowl, won by Alabama, and Wolverine fans still remember that it seemed like Alabama ran up the score at the end. Harbaugh has been to a Super Bowl in the NFL. Saban’s NFL tenure is very forgettable, but Saban has seven national titles, while Harbaugh has zero.

Born and raised in Louisiana, Darren Cooper has a fond appreciation for bayous, Mardi Gras beads and the sports betting industry. Darren has worked for multiple print and online publications since 1998, primarily as a sports columnist in the Northeast. He’s covered a Super Bowl (it was a blowout), the World Series (same) and the NBA Draft (man, those guys are tall). For the last few years he’s dug deep into the sports gambling industry as it exploded across America, learning how the legal sausage is made and how while all the sportsbooks look the same, they all have different identities and styles. He’s learned to always bet within his means -- and take the under. When not in front of his computer creating, Darren spends time with his three boys. He runs, reads and is always looking for the next big thing to write about.