Alabama Football: Why Michigan Won't Even Make Crimson Tide Break a Sweat
Less than two weeks from now, the 2012 college football season will officially kick off—with the first marquee matchup on the season’s opening weekend pitting the highest-ranked squads from the SEC and Big Ten against one another in Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
The battle between No. 2 Alabama and No. 8 Michigan will feature plenty of intriguing subplots, but the biggest may be whether or not the Wolverines are ready to topple what is currently the sport’s premier powerhouse.
Although Nick Saban will field perhaps his least experienced team since taking over the Crimson Tide program in 2007, the Tide’s roster still projects to be one of the nation’s most talented teams.
Meanwhile, Brady Hoke returns quarterback Denard Robinson and 15 other starters off a team that went 11-2 and captured the program’s first BCS bowl victory since 2000—which ironically enough, came against Alabama.
Despite the momentum the preseason favorites in the Big Ten bring into this non-conference showdown, the weaknesses of their team seem to play right into the hands of the defending national champions.
Here are four reasons why Alabama will beat Michigan without breaking a sweat.
4. Michigan Less Than Full Strength
Other than Robinson, two of the Wolverines' biggest threats on offense are questionable to even suit up against the Crimson Tide on Sept. 1.
Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint—who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season—was suspended after his offseason arrest for a DUI, and his status for the season opener is still unclear, per Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News.
Also, the Wolverines second-leading returning receiver from 2011—senior Roy Roundtree—had his knee scoped on Aug. 10, but Hoke expects him to suit up against the Tide, according to Mark Snyder of The Detroit Free Press.
The challenge to make plays against a salty Crimson Tide defense is already daunting, but Michigan’s task becomes nearly impossible if they are without Toussaint and are forced to rely on a hobbled Roundtree.
3. Tide Too Strong in the Trenches
While Alabama has to break in a largely new cast of skill players of both sides of the ball, their combination of size and experience in the trenches is an advantage that bodes well for the Tide in controlling the line of scrimmage.
The Tide’s offensive line will hold nearly a 50-pound advantage per man over the Wolverines defensive line while Saban’s defensive line is, on average, four pounds heavier than its counterparts.
Considering that two of the Tide’s main objectives are to control the clock on offense and stop the run on defense, accomplishing those goals against a less experienced and a smaller group of Michigan linemen appears to be favorable.
If Michigan’s defense is on the field too much and their offense—especially if Toussaint does not play—cannot establish a ground attack, Hoke’s squad will likely be in for a long night against Alabama.
2. Ground Zero
Alabama’s rush defense has finished either first or second nationally in rush defense in three of the last four seasons—with 2010’s unit finishing 10th in the country and representing their down year in that category.
That spells bad news for a Michigan team that averaged only 69 yards per game in the two contests where they faced teams with top-10 rush defenses a year ago (Michigan State and Virginia Tech).
If Alabama is successful in making the Wolverines offense one-dimensional, it’s hard to imagine Michigan staying competitive beyond halftime.
1. Shoelace Fit to Be Tide
Robinson is the engine that makes Michigan’s offense so dynamic—with his ability to extend broken plays and to hurt defenses with his arms and legs putting a tremendous amount of pressure on defenses.
However, his tendency to be turnover-prone—his one interception in every 17.2 throws was the third-worst rate in the country, per Kyle Meinke of annarbor.com—is a crucial element that he must improve upon when facing a defense orchestrated by Saban.
Also, taking into account that against the four top-20 defenses he faced last season, Robinson averaged only 186 yards of total offense in those contests—which was nearly 72 yards less than his season average—going against the Crimson Tide’s defense may be the stiffest challenge of Robinson’s career.
Adding up Alabama’s tendency to stop the run on defense, the potential losses of Toussaint and Roundtree, and Robinson’s history of failing to protect the ball, the Wolverines appear to be facing insurmountable odds to upset the Crimson Tide.