Michigan Football: Top 5 Players to Watch in Wolverines vs. Alabama Game Sept. 1
We're just hours away from the epic gridiron battle that should be the eighth-ranked Michigan Wolverines vs. the defending national champion and second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Sept. 1 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
And while Wolverines and Tide fans alike foam at the mouth to see Wolverines coach Brady Hoke match wits with Tide coach Nick Saban, it's hard for them not to think about the players/groups that could have the most impact on the game.
Michigan has star quarterback Denard Robinson, who is an early favorite to the win the Heisman Trophy, going up against junior Tide signal-caller AJ McCarron, one of the SEC's top quarterbacks.
Of course, one looming question for Michigan is this: What type of impact will sophomore running back Thomas Rawls have on the ground game? The Flint native was, at one time, slated to start for Fitz Toussaint, who was suspended in July for drunken-driving.
Which players will shine Sept. 1? Which players' names will be called out numerous times after breaking big plays or stopping them?
It's hard to exactly forecast which ones will be stars, but it's a safe bet to say the five on this list have the potential to do something extraordinary come game day.
5.) Michigan's Thomas 'The Train' Rawls Could Rule the Ground
Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson can't say enough good things about sophomore Thomas Rawls.
Rawls' shoulder injury last fall may have been a reason why Michigan fans didn't see much of the hard-running, then-freshman. However, he scored two touchdowns in Michigan's spring game, generating quite the buzz afterward.
Alabama's defense is one the biggest, fastest and most athletic in the country (we'll touch on that later). Rawls will certainly face challenges, especially when it comes to getting past the husky Tide defensive line.
If Michigan is to have success, Rawls will have to be a part of that attack. If the sophomore gets rolling along at a breakneck pace, he'll likely be one of the game's most entertaining athletes to watch. He's a tank, welcomes contact and is one of the best downhill runners in the Big Ten.
Rawls should start, but Fitz Toussaint is listed as the No. 1 back heading into Saturday's duel.
4.) Alabama QB AJ McCarron Could Torch Wolverines If They're Not Careful
If college football fans didn't know about Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron before the BCS title game, they surely knew of him after.
Then a sophomore, McCarron sliced the Louisiana State defense and led Alabama to a 21-0 victory. He was tactical, evidenced by his short, but accurate, darts to the sidelines—many of which resulted in big plays that resulted in first downs or inched Alabama closer to one.
McCarron completed 23-of-34 passes against LSU, good for 234 yards. Most importantly, though, is the fact that he didn't throw an interception. Granted, 234 yards aren't out of this world, but McCarron showed incredible poise when it came to managing the offense against one of the nation's better defenses.
Success hasn't changed McCarron. He's still the same humble kid that Tide coach Nick Saban recruited. A humble star is always a formidable opponent.
"Every play that doesn’t work in practice, you can see him kicking the sand or whatever with his gestures,” Saban recently told the Washington Post. “He always bounces back for the next play. He’s a really good competitor. It means a lot to him. He really wants to do well, and really has developed into a really, really good leader in terms of how he affects other people.”
“People always ask, ‘How do you sustain? You’ve been doing this for 30-something years.’ Well, that’s never the question. It’s how you’re driven to be who you are. I would be this way if I were still pumping gas at my Dad’s service station. It’s just the way you are, and that’s the way AJ is.”
If the Michigan secondary—led by safeties Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon, along with corners Blake Countess and JT Floyd—isn't careful, Sept. 1 could turn into a nightmare when dealing with McCarron's arm and receivers.
3.) Alabama's Defensive Line Will Have Say in Game's Result
At 6'4", 320 pounds, Alabama nose tackle Jesse Williams might have a thing or two to say about how well Michigan runs the ball.
And don't forget about others who have the potential to shine while starters get a breather. Sophomore nose tackle Brandon Ivory works behind Williams, a senior—but at 6'4", 315 pounds, he's a mountain to move, just like Williams is.
Ed Stinson will man the nose tackle position while Alabama is in the nickel defense, according to the latest depth chart. At 6'4", 282 pounds, Stinson is another big-bodied defender that will have his eyes on Michigan's Thomas Rawls.
Of course, the Wolverines will have to fret about the Tide linebackers and secondary, but first and foremost, they'll have to contend with an NFL-sized defensive line.
Talk about an uphill battle.
2.) Alabama RB Eddie Lacy Will Be a Handful for Michigan
College football fans know about how effective Alabama's Eddie Lacy was in 2011 behind starter Trent Richardson.
As the Tide's No. 2 back, Lacy, then a junior, ran for 674 yards.
Yeah, pretty impressive.
Lacy will be the focal point of Michigan's defensive eye when it comes to containing the running game. The 6'2", 220-pound junior could contend for the Heisman Trophy this fall, too.
Michigan's run defense improved in 2011, but there is still much more room to grow. In 2011, the Wolverines allowed 131 yards per game, ranked 39th nationally.
Well, Lacy has the ability to match that total come Sept. 1. Although he has just 380 yards against SEC teams on his resume, he's definitely a back that is capable of racking up gaudy numbers against a defense that's looking to re-tool the way it approaches stopping the rush.
1.) Michigan's Denard Robinson Changes Games
Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson may be the most dynamic player in all of college football.
His dislike of tying shoes made him a somewhat of a legend in Ann Arbor nearly instantaneously. His knack for breaking tackles and leaving defenders in the dust made him a household name—ask UConn, which Robinson ripped apart in Michigan's 30-10 season-opening win in 2010.
An early Heisman favorite, Robinson will have all eyes glued on him come Sept. 1.
It's quite possible that Alabama spent long hours planning on how to stop the elusive Wolverines signal-caller.
If Robinson gets into rhythm, it could be all over for Alabama. Forget how great its defense is, or how explosive the offense could be—if Robinson gets on a roll, Alabama could be in for a long day.
Now, most aren't expecting the Tide to lose. In fact, some think the game will be a lopsided win for the defending national champions.
But that's easy to forecast.
Take into account just how many times Robinson has taken control of games, especially in the late stages, and then reevaluate your thoughts on the outcome. Alabama could very well win big Sept. 1, or it could fall during the final moments due to a big play from Michigan's Heisman contender.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81