Michigan - Alabama Preview

DEFENDING CHAMPION ALABAMA GETS TOUGH TEST RIGHT AWAY WITH MICHIGAN

Even though we're a couple of days into the new college football season, Saturday brings the first truly big BLOCKBUSTER game of the 2012 campaign when defending National Champion Alabama takes on Michigan in Arlington, Texas in a game to be nationally televised in prime time on ABC.

This will definitely have a BCS feel to it. Alabama has one a couple of recent championships, and is an early favorite to win another one this year. Michigan is an up-and-comer that earned a controversial invite to the Sugar Bowl last year where they knocked off Virginia Tech. Michigan is a popular pick to win the Big Ten this year. One preseason pollster even gave the Wolverines a number one vote over the likes of Alabama, LSU, and Southern Cal.

Now, the market thinks that the pollster was OUT OF HIS MIND, given that Alabama is currently a favorite of 13.5 points on a neutral field. You can't be the superior side if you're a two touchdown underdog! But, Michigan will have a chance to prove the markets wrong in a spot where the defending champs could easily come in overconfident and flat after spending the offseason celebrating their title.

Who's the best team in the matchup? Alabama. Who's the hungriest? That's another story. Michigan could well be the answer to that question, and they have the talent to make a statement if the Tide doesn't bring it's "A" game.

Let's run some numbers...

ALABAMA vs. MICHIGAN (8 p.m. on ESPN from Dallas, TX)
Las Vegas Spread: Alabama by 13.5, total of 46

The market has spoken pretty clearly about its assessment of Alabama's superiority. The Tide opened as an 11-point favorite. Professional wagerers (who act early) bet that up even higher to -12.5 and -13 both offshore and in Las Vegas. As the public started getting involved in days leading up to the game, the number went even higher. Michigan may have an exciting quarterback and a head coach who's going to turn things around for good. But, the market isn't going to forget how dominant the best teams in the SEC have been against the Big 10 in recent years. And, that low total (by college standards) suggests that the market believes it's Alabama's defense that's going to intimidate Michigan and keep them out of the end zone. Vegas is looking for a 30-16 type game.

2012 AP POLL RANKINGS
Alabama: 2nd
Michigan: 8th

Pollsters have a tendency to rank the best Big 10 teams way too high. We may be seeing that again here. You don't normally see the projected #2 team as laying something like two touchdowns on a NEUTRAL field to the projected #8 team whether you're talking about bowls or made-for-TV September matchups. For some reason (mostly that the East and Midwest media couldn't possibly make a living in Vegas betting their own assessments), whoever's seen as best in the Big 10 is given credit for being a defacto national power even when it's obviously not true. Maybe Michigan will prove the pollsters right. Just be aware that they were blown off the field by Virginia Tech statistically last year in the Sugar Bowl, and will now be facing an opponent that's even more physical. More pollsters should read boxscores.

2012 ATHLON MAGAZINE RANKINGS
Alabama: 3rd
Michigan: 7th

As should more sportswriters in general even if they don't vote! We've talked about this often over the years too. We have a lot of respect for the work that Athlon does...but they generally overrate the Big 10 significantly from year to year. It's not as bad as it used to be. Michigan will have to show us in their big games this season whether or not that kind of ranking was justified.

HEAD COACHES
Alabama: Nick Saban
Michigan: Brady Hoke

Great stories here...as Saban has firmly established himself as a dominant coach at the collegiate level while Hoke has had success wherever he's been. Saban's teams play pro style defense. He recruits the best athletes. He just overpowers opponents on both sides of the ball even when running a vanilla offensive attack. You get the sense that Alabama will be a national championship threat for as long as Saban is there (unless they get into trouble with rules violations or something). We're big fans of Hoke, even if it turns out that he's not quite ready for the national championship discussion just yet. He is ready for the Big 10 championship discussion heading into the season. That's good enough considering how far this program had fallen in recent years. At least they're tackling again!

QUARTERBACKS
Alabama: A.J. McCarron
Michigan: Denard Robinson

Unlike Boise State/Michigan State, where we had two question marks in a marquee TV game; and South Carolina/Vandy, where you had two inconsistent signal callers who knew they had to avoid mistakes; we have known quality in this one. Robinson will start the year on the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates. He was a bit of a disappointment last year because he tried to do a better job of NOT running into injuries...which kept him throwing inaccurate passes rather than scrambling for big plays. Michigan must find the right balance where he stays healthy and makes big plays vs. top teams. McCarron does what's asked of him...and does a bit more than what's asked of him more often than his critics realize. It's tough to earn great press as a quarterback for this style of team. He's likely to be better this year than he was last year...and last year was good enough to lift the BCS trophy. 

OFFENSES
Alabama: Returns 6 starters from the 31st ranked offense
Michigan: Returns 6 starters from the 42nd ranked offense

Many will think of this game as "the offense of Michigan" vs. "the defense of Alabama." But, Alabama had the better offense last year despite playing in a league with better defenses...and will probably do so again. If you think of Michigan as an offensive juggernaut, we strongly encourage you to go look up that boxscore of the Virginia Tech game. They can run up the score on the likes of Indiana and other weak Big Ten schools. Alabama moves the chains and plays field position...and yet STILL outgained Michigan last year.

DEFENSES
Alabama: Returns 4 starters from the 1st ranked defense
Michigan: Returns 7 starters from the 17th ranked defense

Last year we talked about how Alabama and LSU played such great defense that ranking them #1 and #2 on that side of the ball didn't do them justice. It's like nobody else was within 20 spots of them in terms of true defensive ability. We need to say this here because the national rankings make Michigan look closer than they actually are on defense. Yes, Hoke is doing a very good job here...and we're optimistic about Michigan's defensive impact in conference play. Maybe Alabama's graduation losses will have a big impact that turns out to be an equalizer. Given what we know about SEC recruiting, we'll believe it when we see it. Alabama will likely be great on defense again even with all the new faces.

BEST EXPECTATION
To us that matters on the mindset of Alabama. It's pretty rare to worry about focus in the first week of college football. You figure everyone's fresh and fired up. But, we have seen in past seasons that defending National Champions come in a bit too impressed with themselves. A slow start from 'Bama could make this a game. And, a few times a year we see title contenders get upset by underdogs in this price range. If Alabama comes out to make a statement...then Denard Robinson could be in for a long night...just like he was in that very sloppy effort vs. Virginia Tech in last year's Sugar Bowl.

JIM HURLEY may or may not be playing Michigan/Alabama for his clients. There's a chance it could be a Blue Ribbon play, or be part of his weekly TV Triple Crown, where games like Notre Dame-Navy, Ohio-Penn State, Southern Miss-Nebraska, Clemson-Auburn, and Hawaii-USC are also being considered. Be sure you check the home page of this website for bulletins and big play announcements today and each and every day all through the football season.

If you have any questions about our football or baseball programs, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Remember that the NFL starts this Wednesday with Dallas-NY Giants. And, the pennant races are shaping up to be something special once again.

The dog days of summer are behind us. NOW IT'S FULL STEAM AHEAD FOR AN AWESOME AUTUMN!

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