Michigan Football: Opener Against Alabama Will Determine Where Season Goes

Ryan Phillips@@RumorsandRantsContributor IIIAugust 7, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Brady Hoke of the Michigan Wolverines applauds his teams play against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 3, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are planning to do big things on the football field this fall, but to reach those lofty heights they will need to get past a stiff test to open the season. Michigan kicks off its 2012 campaign in the Cowboys Classic at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Their opponent will be the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. 

If the Wolverines want to surpass their highly successful 2011 season, in which they went 11-2 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, they must come away with a win on September 1 against Alabama. Head coach Brady Hoke must get his team clicking early if they want to pass that stiff early season test. 

The key will be ensuring that returning quarterback Denard Robinson plays as well as he ever has against Alabama's incredible defense. Robinson has to improve on his completion percentage from 2011 (55 percent). Meanwhile, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has to run tough in his first test of 2012. 

The Wolverines will have a good chance of shutting down Alabama's offense that lost stud running back Trent Richardson to the NFL this offseason. Richardson was a huge part of the Crimson Tide's offense last year, as he racked up 2,017 yards from scrimmage and 24 total touchdowns. 

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was solid in his sophomore season, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,634 yards, with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. But unless he has improved a lot this offseason, McCarron isn't the kind of guy who will beat you on his own. 

The key for the Wolverines will be getting pressure on McCarron early and forcing him to make quick decisions. 

If Michigan can beat the Crimson Tide it will have the inside track on a berth in the BCS Championship Game. The Big Ten looks like it will be down this year, with Wisconsin and Michigan State looking like the only real contenders for the league title. That means the Wolverines could have an easy road through the conference. 

If they get past Alabama, they could be on their way to a BCS title game.