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Alabama begins their national title defense on the big stage versus Michigan.
There is not a more exciting game in college football's opening weekend, and it has also been one of the most anticipated matchups of the 2012 season (Georgia-South Carolina, LSU-Alabama and USC-Oregon also come to mind).
Hail to the Victors versus Roll Tide. Alabama has an elephant for a mascot. Michigan doesn't even have a mascot (the wolverine is not native to Michigan). Michigan has the most wins of any team in the history of college football. Alabama is No. 8. The Tide have 14 national champions while Go Blue claims 11. Three Michigan players have a Heisman Trophy, and Alabama boasts one of their own. Both teams are, without a doubt, two of the best to ever play the game.
Coming into their matchup in Dallas, though, only one subject will be on both the players and coaches from each team's minds: winning.
Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson leads what should be one of the best offenses in the Big Ten, and probably the nation, in 2012. He is fast, lethal in the open field and, when accurate, the most dreaded quarterback in college football. Junior running back Fitzgerald Touissant is suspended (maybe) for this game, so Michigan may have to rely on Robinson to step up in the pocket and throw the ball to a receiving corps that has underachieved the past two seasons and loses top target Junior Hemingway.
All this should be difficult against Alabama, who led the nation in total defense, passing efficiency defense, scoring defense and rushing defense last year, right?
Well, as Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend." The Tide return only four starters from the best defense in the nation last year, and while they seem to stockpile defensive talent in Tuscaloosa, nobody wants their coming out party to be against Michigan's well-oiled offensive machine.
Alabama runs a 3-4 defense in which the defensive line holds up blocks and allows their talented linebacking corps to make plays. It won't be easy to replace Dont'a Hightower or Courtney Upshaw, both of whom went in the first round of the NFL Draft. Only two starters return in the defensive secondary, and besides Arkansas, they haven't faced a wide-open attack like Michigan's.
Something needs to be said about Alabama's offensive line versus Michigan's defensive front. The Tide feature what could be the best offensive line in the country, and the Wolverines will be missing their starting defensive tackles from a year ago. That's not to say Michigan doesn't have talent on their defensive line; they just aren't nearly as experienced as Alabama's.
With that being said, Alabama returns very little in the form of pass catchers, and Trent Richardson's replacement, Eddie Lacy, is coming off turf toe surgery in the spring. Michigan has a ton of talent in its linebacking corps and in the defensive secondary.
This is going to be a great game, and it looks to finally (finally) be one of those prime time matchups that actually lives up to the billing. Alabama is the defending national champion, but they lost a lot on both sides of the football. Michigan needs to compensate for the loss of their starting defensive tackles and deal without Touissant. It may come down to special teams, and Alabama has proven that you can never rely on their kickers.