Although one-loss teams often figure in the BCS National Championship, it helps if that one loss is to a top-flight team.
So the loser of Saturday’s highly anticipated opening weekend matchup between #2 Alabama and #8 Michigan – one of five must-see games this weekend – will not be eliminated from the national title picture. But the winner will certainly have an early leg up.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama enters the season as the defending BCS National Champion, having bested LSU (whom they had lost to in overtime earlier in the season in Tuscaloosa) 21-0 in last year’s final game. The Crimson Tide is ranked second in both the AP and USA Today top-25 polls.
Coach Nick Saban has returned the program to dominance, winning BCS National Championships two of the last three years. Saban’s ability to recruit and develop NFL-caliber talent is second to no other coach right now.
Michigan will start the 2012 season with their highest ranking since 2007, back when current coach Brady Hoke was coaching Ball State and Lloyd Carr was still leading the Wolverines. That year began with the infamous and stunning loss to Appalachian State, and Carr retired at season’s end.
After three mostly awful seasons under coach Rich Rodriguez, Michigan returned to prominence last season with the hiring of Hoke, a former member of Lloyd Carr’s assistant coaching staff. After leading the Wolverines to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl win against Virginia Tech, Hoke is poised to continue bringing Michigan back to the National Championship conversation.
As if an opening weekend battle between two of the most storied programs in football history (who also both happen to be ranked in the top-10) needed any extra sizzle, this one is being held in Dallas, Texas at Cowboys Stadium, the $1 billion-plus home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
This game is certainly the marquee non-conference matchup in all of college football this season, so what better way to display that spectacle than by hosting it at a marquee venue in prime time.
Key Points for Alabama:
Alabama lost several key players to the NFL and graduation in the offseason.
First, they will be forced to replace Doak Walker winner and Heisman finalist Trent Richardson. Also on offense, they will need to plug in new starters to replace fullback/tight end Brad Smelley, center William Vlachos and wide receiver Marquis Maze.
Perhaps more importantly, though, are the losses on defense.
Four Crimson Tide players were selected in the first 35 picks of the NFL draft, the most of any program. Those included safety Mark Barron (7th), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (17th), linebacker Don’ta Hightower (25th) and linebacker Courtney Upshaw (35th). Also leaving for the NFL were defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Josh Chapman, and cornerback DeQuan Menzie.
What is most important though is that coach Saban has recruited as well as anyone in the nation, and he will undoubtedly plug the holes.
Junior running back Eddie Lacy is expected to take over Richardson’s spot as the top ball carrier. Linebacker Nico Johnson, safety Robert Lester, center Barrett Jones, and defensive end Damion Square are also expected to start.
Returning at quarterback is junior A.J. McCarron, who looks to build on a very efficient 2011 season.
Last year, McCarron completed 66.7% of his passes while throwing 16 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions. That kind of efficiency will be key against a Michigan defense that, despite ranking 6th in FBS last year in points allowed, is still rebuilding under Hoke and coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines are opportunistic, but Alabama is not a team that makes many mistakes.
If Lacy can be even a passable imitation of Richardson, and if McCarron and the passing game can execute as they did last year, Alabama should be able to control the ball, the clock and ultimately, the final score.
Key Points for Michigan:
It is no secret that Michigan’s hopes for this game (and every game, really) rest on the shoulders of their explosive senior quarterback Denard Robinson.
This year, Robinson enters as a leading candidate for the Heisman trophy and will try to improve on a junior season in which he threw for 2,173 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1,176 yards and 16 more scores. Few players in college football are as important to their teams as Robinson.
Robinson’s challenge has always been with accuracy. In 2011, Robinson completed 55% of his passes and threw 15 interceptions. If he struggles with accuracy, or if he settles for throwing off-balance (especially the dreaded back-foot throws) against Alabama, look for the Tide to capitalize with interceptions.
There is such a small margin of error allowed when facing a team with Alabama’s speed and talent, and self-inflicted mistakes will doom even the best of teams.
Another question mark for Michigan is at running back.
While Robinson gobbled up the headlines, Fitzgerald Touissant had a very good season in 2011, rushing for 1,041 yards on 187 caries (5.6 yards per carry). He was expected to tote the load for the Wolverines again, but an offseason arrest has his status for the game unkown, even now.
If Hoke upholds Toussaint’s suspension, Michigan will likely rely on sophomore Thomas Rawls to be the primary ball carrier (besides Robinson, of course).
Defensively, the Wolverines lost a couple of mainstays in tackle Mike Martin and end Ryan Van Bergen. Corner Troy Woolfolk is also gone, but Michigan has reloaded with several highly touted youngsters.
If Michigan’s front can limit the damage Lacy and the Tide can inflict (while getting a little pressure on McCarron as well), Robinson may have a chance to win the game with some of his trademark heroics.
Michigan enters as a two-touchdown underdog, which makes sense given their aforementioned uncertainty on defense and the rock-solid Crimson Tide program. I think the game will turn out closer than that, though. Robinson will break at least a couple big plays, and I think the Wolverines are hungry to show the nation that they can compete at the highest level.
In the end, however, I think Alabama has too much speed and athleticism defensively to let Michigan put up big points. I like Alabama to win, but I think Michigan makes it interesting.
Final Score: Alabama 27, Michigan 20
Who do you think will win? Sound off in the poll!
Michigan-Alabama Game Info
- Alabama vs. Michigan Date: Saturday, September 1, 2012
- Alabama vs. Michigan Kickoff Time: 8:00 ET
- Alabama vs. Michigan TV info: ABC
- Alabama vs. Michigan Point Spread: Alabama -14
- Alabama vs. Michigan Over/Under: 45.5