Alabama vs. Michigan is setting up to be one of the most highly-anticipated College Football Playoff games in recent memory. 

The Crimson Tide enter this game as the No. 4 seed, but are only a slight underdog after they upset Georgia in the SEC Championship Game in early December.

Alabama has routinely been on this stage in recent years and regularly comes through with big performances. Michigan, on the other hand, is still looking for its first national championship game appearance in the CFP era. Last year, the Wolverines were upset by TCU in the semifinals.

Both teams feature unique statistical profiles but still have some overlap in terms of stylistic preferences. Both teams prefer to run the ball on offense despite boasting incredibly efficient passing offenses. The Tide and Wolverines also have elite passing defenses that could be tested in this game.

Let’s examine some betting trends, advanced stats and other useful info about these teams:

Alabama vs. Michigan Betting Lines

Spread: Michigan -1.5 (DraftKings)

Total: Over/under 45 points (DraftKings)

Check out these excellent sports betting apps to get in on the action ahead of Monday’s big semifinal.

Betting trends to know for Alabama

  • Alabama is 9-4 against the spread this season
  • The over is 9-4 in Alabama games this season
  • Alabama is 1-0 as an underdog this season
    • Alabama was a 5.5-point underdog to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game

Alabama has rarely been an underdog during the Nick Saban era. If this line holds, it will mark just the 13th time since 2007 that Alabama is an underdog. Over the first dozen games, Alabama went 7-4-1 against the spread and 7-5 straight up. This will be the first time since Dec. 5, 2009, that Alabama is an underdog to anyone other than Georgia.

Betting trends to know for Michigan

  • Michigan is 7-5 against the spread this season
  • The over is 6-5-1 in Michigan games this season
  • Michigan has been favored in every game so far this season
  • Michigan is 2-0 against the spread this season when favored by 4 points or less

Michigan has had an up-and-down relationship with the spread this season. The Wolverines started out 0-3 against the number before going 4-0 over their ensuing 4 contests. Then, in November, they split the difference with a 2-2 record before covering against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game to close out the year. This could be small sample size theatre, but it’s worth noting that Michigan is 5-1 against the spread with Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines this season. Overall, the Wolverines are 5-2 against the spread when favored by a field goal or less during the Harbaugh era.

Résumé rankings

Via ESPN’s Football Power Index

  • Alabama strength of schedule: 6th
  • Michigan strength of schedule: 41st

 

  • Alabama strength of record: 4th
  • Michigan strength of record: 2nd

Advanced Stats preview 

Success rate will be the primary tool referenced in this section. Whether or not a play is “successful” depends on the down and distance of a given play. Here’s a breakdown of how much yardage is necessary for a play to be deemed “successful”:

  • 1st down: Teams must gain at least 50% of required yardage
  • 2nd down: Teams must gain at least 70% of required yardage
  • 3rd or 4th down: Teams must gain 100% of required yardage

Defensively, numbers are presented as what the defense allowed the offense to achieve. So on defense, a 35% success rate is better than a 40% success rate.

Let’s dig into what success rate says about this matchup:

Rushing Success Rate

  • Alabama rushing offense success rate: 45% (67th percentile)
  • Michigan rushing defense success rate: 32% (98th percentile)

Alabama’s rushing offense is not the strength that it has been at most high points of the Nick Saban era. The Tide have rushed for more than 5 yards per carry just 3 times this season. However, it’s worth noting that Alabama can win big games without an elite running game — the Tide beat Georgia in the SEC Championship while averaging just 2.8 yards per attempt.

Despite the lack of high-level success, Alabama’s offense is built around a run-heavy attack. The Tide have chosen to run the ball over 63% of the time so far this season. Michigan is arguably the best run defense that Alabama has faced all year, so that could play into the Wolverines’ hands.

  • Michigan rushing offense success rate: 47% (75th percentile)
  • Alabama rushing defense success rate: 38% (77th percentile)

This is a fairly even matchup. Like Alabama, Michigan also wants to run the ball the majority of the time despite having a more efficient passing game. The Wolverines haven’t cleared 5 yards per carry in a game since Oct. 7, but they still run it 61% of the time. Alabama’s rushing defense completely shut down Georgia in the SEC Championship Game — 78 yards on 31 carries. The week before, Auburn ran all over the Tide to the tune of 5.8 yards per attempt. Which version of Alabama’s rush defense will show up in the CFP? Given Alabama’s history, I’d lean toward the unit that shut down the Bulldogs.

Passing Success Rate

  • Alabama passing offense success rate: 45% (74th percentile)
  • Michigan passing defense success rate: 33% (98th percentile)

On the surface, this looks like a significant edge for Michigan. However, I’m skeptical of how well the Big Ten has prepared the Wolverines to face a passing offense like Alabama’s. Michigan faced one top-40 passing offense (by passer efficiency rating) in the Big Ten this season, and that came against Ohio State. In that game against the Buckeyes, Michigan allowed a passing success rate of 46% — a respectable figure but far below its season average. 

Alabama’s passing offense is even more potent than Ohio State’s. Jalen Milroe has significantly improved as a passer over the course of the year as well, culminating in a 2-touchdown performance vs. Georgia in the SEC title game. Milroe averages 10.4 yards per attempt, making him one of the most efficient passers in the country. Alabama still keeps his volume relatively low, but he’s been very effective when called upon.

  • Michigan passing offense success rate: 56% (98th percentile)
  • Alabama pass defense success rate: 34% (96th percentile)

Michigan rarely leaned on its passing game in high-leverage situations this season. The Wolverines attempted only 8 passes in their win over Penn State. They threw it only 21 times against Ohio State a couple of weeks later. Michigan would much prefer to control the clock and impose its will in the running game.

That decision will likely be made easier because of how good Alabama’s pass defense is. The Tide have the SEC’s No. 2 defense by passer efficiency rating. This matchup could be decided by an area where both teams are excellent — success rate on passing downs. Michigan’s offense is in the 89th percentile in passing down success rate while Alabama’s defense is in the 87th percentile in that category. I’m expecting a relatively low volume of Michigan pass attempts, so whoever wins the tug-of-war in obvious passing situations will likely end up with a big edge in this matchup.

Havoc rate

A havoc play is defined as a play where the defense records a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, an interception or a pass breakup.

For defenses, a higher havoc rate is good. Offensively, havoc rates are presented as what the offense allowed the defense to create. On that side of the ball, the lower the havoc rate, the better it is for your offense.

Here’s a breakdown of this matchup:

  • Alabama offensive havoc rate: 15% (69th percentile)
  • Michigan defensive havoc rate: 21% (96th percentile)

Almost no one has been better this season at creating havoc than Michigan. The Wolverines are especially good in the secondary, where they have picked off 16 passes and broken up 46 more. Alabama’s offense is solid in this area, but will need to be at the top of its game vs. Michigan.

  • Michigan offensive havoc rate: 11% (97th percentile)
  • Alabama defensive havoc rate: 19% (82nd percentile)

Michigan’s offensive havoc rate has been elite all season. The Wolverines rarely have negative plays and have the fewest number of giveaways (7) in the Big Ten this season.

Points per opportunity

A scoring “opportunity” is defined as a possession in which the offense has moved the ball beyond the opponents’ 40-yard line. This stat measures how effective a team is at cashing on its scoring chances — or preventing them from their opponents.

  • Alabama points scored per opportunity: 4.59 (86th percentile)
  • Michigan points allowed per opportunity: 2.37 (99th percentile)

Michigan’s defense is incredible in the red zone. The Wolverines were allowing under 2 points per opportunity until mid-November, but have regressed slightly in recent weeks. This is still a defense that is allowing 2.76 yards per rush and has conceded just 46 passing yards in the red zone all season.

Alabama has a passer efficiency rating of 181.07 in the red zone in 2023 — a very impressive number. The Tide are also 7th nationally with a 97% score rate in the red zone. They have 37 touchdowns and 12 field goals in 50 red zone possessions this year.

  • Michigan points scored per opportunity: 4.79 (93rd percentile)
  • Alabama points allowed per opportunity: 3.86 (45th percentile)

Michigan has been ruthless offensively all season. The Wolverines have 30 rushing touchdowns from the red zone this year. In the passing game, they have posted a passer efficiency rating of 194.87. It will be interesting to see how that passing game performs against Alabama’s red zone defense, which has a passer efficiency allowed mark of just 111.2 in 2023. Opposing offenses have completed just 42% of pass attempts against Alabama in the red zone this year.

Tracking efficiency 

ESPN FPI

  • Alabama offense: 19th
  • Alabama defense: 9th
  • Alabama special teams: 17th

 

  • Michigan offense: 3rd
  • Michigan defense: 1st
  • Michigan special teams: 50th

ESPN SP+ 

  • Alabama offense: 11th
  • Alabama defense: 9th
  • Alabama special teams: 2nd 

 

  • Michigan offense: 10th
  • Michigan defense: 1st
  • Michigan special teams: 4th

Note: All advanced stats mentioned in this story are from CollegeFootballData.com unless otherwise noted. Betting trends are via the Sports Betting Dime database.