A Happy New Year, indeed. And a thank you.
Let's get it all out there on Alabama, Michigan, life and more as we close the book on 2023.
LOS ANGELES — Twenty-four observations, notes and thank yous to ring in the new year in style — and ahead of one of the biggest New Year’s Days in recent college football memory.
1. Saturday’s Rose Bowl media day was as good as it gets. Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban were in pretty much the best moods you could ask for in this type of setting. For as quirky as Harbaugh can be, you simply cannot look away every time he steps in front of a mic. And for as surly as Saban can be, he has an incredible way of turning every question into a leadership lesson that reminds you again and again of why he is the very best to ever do this college coaching thing. Who knows how much longer both coaches will still be doing this — Harbaugh loves to flirt with the NFL, while Saban is certainly closer to the end of his run than he is the beginning — but moments like this Rose Bowl matchup help you appreciate just how special the college game is with characters like these two.
2. Favorite Harbaugh quote from Saturday, on what it would mean for him to win it all: “What it means is that your players know what it's like to be a champion. That's the special feeling. Their parents know what it's like to have a son or a brother or a grandson who's a champion. For me, for my wife to have a husband who's a champion, for my parents to have their son to be a champion, for my kids to know what it's like to have their father be a champion — it's not for me anymore. It's for all them and all that we're associated with, and they know what that feeling is like, and now they want to go do it again. That's the feeling.”
3. Favorite Saban quote: “It was almost like Wheaties because everybody criticized us and said we weren't any good and we were done and Coach Saban is past his prime and all that. It was like eating Wheaties, breakfast of champions. That helped us. So now can we handle the success, that's the next question.”
4. Both teams’ starting quarterbacks were awesome to talk to as well. Jalen Milroe’s growth since his in-season demotion has been something to watch, particularly the way he talks about it. Asked what he’s learned about himself through this uneven but ultimately rewarding season, Milroe said: “I think the biggest thing was acknowledge I'm not a finished product. Constantly wanting to grow in every element of my game, I think that was very important to acknowledge that and embrace hard. I think that's something that allows a quarterback to grow, allows a quarterback to be successful as an individual, one, is embrace hard. That was something I was challenged by the coaching staff, challenged by Coach Saban, and around me just to embrace hard and embrace the role of being a quarterback and being a leader of the team.”
5. It’s very easy to see how Michigan rallies around J.J. McCarthy. The guy is as likable as it gets for a player of his stature, confident as ever without crossing the line into cocky — no easy feat on a program that has been surrounded by controversy this season. His openness with mental health, his tribute to late high school teammate Ryan Keeler and his leadership on and off the field have been impressive. Does he ever feel the pressure of leading the nation’s No. 1 team? “No, because this is everything that I’ve asked for, everything that I’ve envisioned as a kid. I feel like just the preparation that I put into on a day-to-day basis, there's no pressure at all because the work that I put in, the work that my teammates put in and just the reliability that I have in my coaches is everything that puts the pressure off me.”