College football predictions, odds: Expert picks for Michigan vs. Alabama, Washington vs. Texas bowl games

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Claire Komarek, CBS Sports

The College Football Playoff has nearly arrived. After months of speculation about who would end up in college football’s final four — and another month of trying to figure out what will happen in the games once the actual teams were announced — we’ve reached the point where the only thing left to do is have the teams take the field and end the debate themselves.

But that doesn’t mean we are going to stop trying to figure it out before kickoff.

Will Michigan finally get over the hump under Jim Harbaugh and win the College Football Playoff for the first time in three straight appearances (first as a No. 1 seed) on the way to bringing the Wolverines faithful their first national championship since 1997? Will Washington and Michael Penix Jr. continue to prove their doubters wrong while continuing their undefeated season as the No. 2 seed?

No. 3 Texas has already shown it’s “back,” but the Longhorns — just the third Big 12 team to ever make the CFP — might just be all the way back if they can win their first national crown since 2005. And then there’s Alabama, which controversially entered the field at No. 4 over undefeated Florida State and must now prove that decision correct. Will the Crimson Tide reclaim their throne and continue Nick Saban’s streak of winning national titles at least once every three years at Alabama?

We’ll find out soon enough. For now, let’s try to figure out what’ll happen in Monday night’s CFP semifinals on New Year’s Day.

2023 Rose Bowl: (1) Michigan -1.5 vs. (4) Alabama

Spread: The line for this game is on point. All things equal, the outcome of this game is a coin flip. Michigan has been one of the most dominant teams in the country, and while it doesn’t have nearly the same level of postseason success Alabama has experienced under coach Nick Saban, this is not your typical Alabama team. We’ve seen the Crimson Tide struggle against inferior competition at times this season, and the Wolverines defense is legitimate; it will cause the Tide plenty of problems.

Still, I’m not here to sit on the fence, so if I’m going to make a pick, it’s hard to pass up Alabama as an underdog in a College Football Playoff game, no? The Tide have captured three national titles in this format and won more playoff games (nine) than any other program. Michigan is yet to win one despite consecutive appearances. Maybe its first will come in the Rose Bowl against Alabama, but I need proof of concept before I bet on it. Pick: Alabama +1.5

Total: When you look at these teams, it’s hard to argue that the best units on both squads are their defenses. However, this total isn’t giving nearly enough credit to the offenses. Michigan has scored 3.15 points per possession this season, which ranks seventh nationally. Alabama isn’t far behind with 2.81 (20th). Both teams excel at finishing drives in the red zone and avoiding negative plays that cause the offense to fall behind schedule. Granted, neither has spent the entire season playing defenses as good as the ones they’ll be facing here, but with a total at 44.5, it’s not as if we need a high-scoring shootout. A 24-21 game gets us home. Plus, have you seen the history of the Rose Bowl? That’s a fast track in Pasadena. Pick: Over 44.5

2023 Sugar Bowl: (2) Washington +4 vs. (3) Texas

Spread: These teams have a lot in common. Both are led by terrific offensive play callers who do a tremendous job of creating ways to put the ball in their best players’ hands. Both have excellent quarterbacks surrounded by a deep cadre of talent at the skill positions and strong offensive lines to boot. If there’s a difference between them, it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Texas’ defensive line, led by T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy, could be the best in the country. It’s certainly the best the Washington offense will have faced this season.

The problem for Texas? If there’s a weak spot on the Longhorns defense, it’s the secondary, and that’s a terrible place to have problems when you’re going against Michael Penix Jr., Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and the Huskies. My suspicion is this game goes back and forth seeing plenty of points put on the board, but Texas strikes me as the more complete team, so that’s the side I’m taking. But don’t worry, Washington. I felt the same way about Oregon, and you know how that went. Pick: Texas -4

Total: Points! Points! Points! While I’m not overly confident in picking a winner here, I’m quite sure we will see plenty of big plays and points on the scoreboard. I’ve just seen this game play out too many times before. When you give two great play callers nearly a month to prepare for a team and figure out the weak spots they can exploit, they usually do just that. While I love many of the players on the Texas defense and more than a few on Washington’s unit, great offense overcomes great defense more often than not these days, and there are just too many playmakers in this game. Pick: Over 63.5

Which college football picks can you make with confidence during bowl season? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned well over $2,000 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons — and find out.

 

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