We’re less than two weeks out from football, and it’s time to start looking ahead to all week-one games.
The Matchup: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan
When: Saturday, September 1st
Where: Arlington, Texas – Jerry World
Game Time: 8:00 PM ET
What you need to know about Michigan: The Wolverines enter 2012 as the highest ranked Big Ten team because of their 11-2 finish a year ago, but they are not really the favorites to win the Big Ten, as Wisconsin is largely the favorite. This year’s team is even stronger, with a second-year coach in Brady Hoke, 13 returning starters and a quarterback in Denard Robinson who has Heisman Trophy aspirations as a senior. He’s the top dual threat quarterback in the country, as he threw for 2,173 yards and 20 touchdowns and added 1,176 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns in 2011. However, he threw 15 interceptions and completed only 55 percent of his passes while doing so. This is the fastest and most physical defense he will likely see all year, and his Heisman hype could either flourish or take a nosedive, depending on the outcome.
Michigan previously suspended starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, but he is now back practicing with the team. Hoke hasn’t said whether he’ll play in the game, yet. In addition, top wide receiver Roy Roundtree had knee surgery recently, but all indications point towards him being ready by game time. Both are impact players.
Michigan’s defense returns seven of 11 starters but only return one starter on the defensive line in end Craig Roh.
What you need to know about Alabama: Reigning BCS National Champs are 13-0 (past BCS Champions, not Alabama’s 2011 record) in the following year’s opener, with an average margin of victory at 45-13. The Tide returns a bevy of offensive linemen and defensive linemen looking to control this football game at the point of attack. Nick Saban has a special knack for stopping big-time quarterbacks and ‘fast’ teams. Look for Alabama to play contain on the edges and keep Robinson in check on the perimeter, making him beat them through the air. Robinson has faced good defenses before, but he hasn’t faced a scheme and a coordinator like Saban who disguises coverages and blitzes so well. Don’t think for a minute Saban hasn’t been preparing for this game for six months now. It’s part of ‘the process’.
Even though Alabama will be breaking in three new starters in the secondary, Robinson poses a greater threat in the running game. This works out better for the young secondary in coverages, too.
But just a word of caution for Alabama fans – this Michigan team is hungry, and they bear the rest of the country’s cross of losing to the SEC for several years now. Even OSU fans are eager to see Michigan upset the Tide.
What you need to watch: We can talk about Denard Robinson and how Alabama has to stop him all day, but when any team from another conference takes on the SEC, I head straight to the trenches. This was the case last year against Oregon; it applies the same way to Michigan.
The Wolverines only return one starter on the defensive line. Alabama’s strength is their offensive line, with four returning starters and one new starter in Cyrus Kouandjio, who projects better than the four returners. Alabama will run the football and set the tempo from the get-go. Running backs Eddie Lacy, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and TJ Yeldon will all get carries, and we’ll see a running back by committee most likely, with Lacy the most featured back if he’s 100 percent. The Tide will run to set up the passing game with AJ McCarron. His decision making will be key in this first game.
I think we all remember the hurtin’ Bama put on Michigan’s little brother, Michigan State, and this one could turn out similar if the Wolverines are not careful. But there is enough firepower on Michigan’s offense to make this too close for comfort.