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It's almost hard to believe, but in the long, storied history of these two great programs, there have been just three meetings.
The last meeting was at the 2000 Orange Bowl, where a quarterback named Tom Brady led the Wolverines to a thrilling overtime victory over the Crimson Tide in what was one of the most entertaining bowl games in history—certainly in the BCS era.
Michigan leads the scantly-played all-time series, 2-1, but has outscored the Tide by just two points all-time (77-75).
The largest margin of victory in the series was four points, when Michigan beat Alabama, 28-24 in the 1988 Hall of Fame Bowl.
But with Michigan coming off of a Sugar Bowl win and Alabama fresh off of its latest BCS National Championship Game victory, it's probably a fair argument to say that this Week 1 marquee match-up is at least as big, if not bigger than any of the previous three meetings.
Last season, it was LSU that rode an impressive Week 1 win over Oregon to what seemed like an inevitable national championship game berth. Don't be surprised if this game's winner rides a similar wave of momentum in 2012.
Yes, we all know that Alabama still will have to face the gauntlet of the SEC after this game is over, but if Michigan is as good as advertised, the Crimson Tide will get tested every bit as much in Week 1 as during any other week of the season.
Michigan has a collection of offensive skill position players that will give any defense nightmares, and the much improved defense of the Wolverines should be capable of holding its own this season against the best the nation can throw at it.
That being said, we're talking about the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Tide are going to be one of a small handful of national championship game-bound teams we'll all talk about before the season even kicks off—and for good reason.
Nick Saban is the best in the business, and you can rest assured that he'll have his team in perfect order come September 1.
But Michigan's new head coach Brady Hoke has found a way to come up with some pretty impressive—and improbable—wins in his first season. A win against Alabama would only serve to prove that Michigan is indeed “back.”
A Michigan win would also go a long way towards taking much of the wind out of the SEC fan base's sails. If the Wolverines emerge victorious, the SEC is going to have to abandon at least one of its two favorite arguments; either the Big Ten isn't as inferior as they'd have the rest of us believe, or a one-loss SEC team isn't more valuable than an undefeated Big Ten / ACC / Big 12 / Pac-12 team. If the Crimson Tide lose, SEC fans will have to ditch at least one of those arguments—for now.
Of course, a win for Alabama (against a BCS bowl-caliber team) would just show us that Alabama is still Alabama, and the SEC is still the SEC.
And both teams know exactly what is at stake.
Not only will a victory give the winner a surge of momentum, it will also give instant credibility to the inevitably resultant top five ranking.