Michigan Football: Why Season Opener vs. Alabama Will Be Game of the Year

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVAugust 10, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 03:  Craig Roh #88 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with fans and students after Michigan won 23-20 in overtime against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 3, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Just as the college football season is getting under way, we're blessed with a spectacle in "Jerry World" that will undoubtedly shape the national championship race as Michigan faces Alabama in the 2012 Cowboys Classic in Arlington. 

There aren't any college football programs more historically relevant than these two foes, and the same can be said for this year. Michigan quickly rebounded in Brady Hoke's first season as head coach in 2011, as the Wolverines posted a record of 11-2 that included a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

But don't forget about the defending national champion. Nick Saban's team will stroll into Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 1 as the No. 2 team in the land, according to USA Today's preseason poll. He'll bring with him a reloaded roster and a team motivated to start 2012 like they ended 2011. 

Just over a year ago, this would seem like a relatively easy win for the Crimson Tide. However, Michigan football is miles different than they were a year ago, and they're even considerably better than the Wolverines squad that ended 2011. 

The Big Ten was one of the biggest losers of the conference realignment era, and they're slowly losing ground as one of the top conferences in the NCAA with the ascent of the Big 12 and Pac-12. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that there haven't been any real title contenders outside of Ohio State in the last five years.

That makes this game much more than just about Michigan. A win on the biggest stage against the best team—from the SEC, no less—would immediately quiet the critics and would prove that the Big Ten can still hang with the big boys. 

And with Ohio State still reeling from NCAA sanctions and unable to play in a bowl game, Michigan is the Big Ten's only team who is capable of making a national title run.

Denard Robinson is THE Heisman favorite heading into 2012, and for the first time, he has a championship-caliber team surrounding him. We could be in for a history-making season if Robinson can go above his performance last season.

However, he goes against an Alabama defense that is one year removed from being one of the most dominating defenses in the history of football. Their drop-off from last season will hardly be noticeable, too, as their recruiting classes have stacked up so heavily that it's hard to find players on that side of the roster that weren't 5-star coming out of high school.

We saw one of last year's best games in the 2011 Cowboys Classic, as LSU rallied late to take down Oregon. The game ended up having huge implications as a win would've surely put Oregon in the BCS National Championship for the second straight year.

This year will be no different. Michigan is No. 8 in the country, and they'd easily climb their way into the top five with a win against the defending champs. 

It doesn't get much bigger than Michigan and Alabama in college football, and for the first time, they'll be playing in the regular season. 

Get your popcorn ready.