Alabama opens the college football season against the Wolverines. The game features two teams ranked in the top 10 by every major preseason poll, but is nonetheless one that the Tide should win handily for these four reasons.
1. Nick Saban
Brady Hoke did great things in his first season at Michigan. Eleven wins and a Sugar Bowl victory did much to appease a fanbase that had been growing increasingly frustrated after a 15-22 stretch under Rich Rodriguez.
But he is no Nick Saban, and in the world of college football, that is enough of a reason to take 'Bama over any opponent. The fact that this is the first game of the year as well as the first out-of-conference matchup for Alabama makes a chance of a Michigan upset even more unlikely.
Alabama is yet to lose its season opener under Saban. They are also especially strong against non-SEC teams. The Tide have won all their regular season games against out-of-conference schools ranked in the top 25 each of the last four years. This includes the ’08 and ’09 seasons in which they opened against Virginia Tech (No. 7) and Clemson (No. 9 ).
Alabama lost eight players to the NFL Draft, including six defenders. It’s an astonishing number, and one that certainly explains how they managed to record the first ever National Championship Game shutout.
Enter the next installment of 'Bama talent.
While elite freshman are identified immediately in college basketball, it will often take one or two seasons before their football counterparts can emerge as premier players.
There are several players on Alabama’s roster that are in a position to make such a jump. Saban and company brought in 19 ESPN Top-150 recruits from the 2010 and 2011 classes combined. Compare that with Michigan’s total of just two.
3. Offensive Line
How many times have we heard this over the last five or so years: Alabama has one of the strongest O-lines in the nation.
You need look no further than the front five to understand why Alabama has been ranked in the top-20 nationally in rushing average each of the last three seasons. They were seventh in that department in 2011.
Brady Hoke told the Associated Press (via The Washington Post), “I’m a defensive coach and watching that offensive line, that’s as good an offensive line as I’ve seen in college football.”
To their credit, Michigan finished the 2011 season ranked sixth in points against (17.4 per). However, they left much to be desired in their dealing with the running game. Michigan allowed 1,712 yards—41st in the country—with a 3.99 yards-per-carry average.
4. Neutralizing Denard Robinson
Michigan’s ability to win every game ultimately comes down to the play of Denard Robinson; most would say that is a serious weakness. Then again, if you were forced to rely on just one guy to get it done, Robinson is not a bad choice.
While Saban has certainly not game planned against anyone quite as talented over the last two seasons, he does have experience with mobile quarterbacks.
Auburn’s Kiehl Frazier was held to 28 yards on eight carries in his game against the Crimson Tide in 2011. Jordan Jefferson of LSU had an equally difficult time in the championship game. If you take away an 18-yard run, Jefferson’s line was a nauseating 13 carries for negative three yards.
It’s an insult to suggest that these two are Robinson’s athletic peers. However, considering that Frazier will be the man in Auburn in 2012, Alabama’s need to prepare for a mobile quarterback will not be a situation unique to their opener against Michigan.