It has been almost eight months since the Alabama Crimson Tide last took the field, winning the 2011 BCS national title over rival LSU. Way back on January 10th, the Tide nation began to look forward to this week's season opener with Michigan, their sights set on back-to-back titles.
You see, the football season never ends in Alabama. This Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines are going to find that out for themselves.
As dedicated as he is to the perfection of his craft, head coach Nick Saban has surely had the Michigan game on his radar since January as well.
Saban and his staff have seen and evaluated all of the film, they have broken down every position on both sides and they will be as prepared for this game as they have been in previous neutral sight season openers against top-10 teams like Clemson and Virginia Tech.
In looking over the odds and ends of this marquee matchup of supposed national title contenders, there is one glaring difference in the two squads—the trenches.
Both programs are well-stocked with quality talent. Both have proven playmakers even though they are young at wide receiver. Both enter the game with a highly respected defense. But in evaluating the offensive and defensive line matchups, this game is not even close.
Saban has a well-deserved reputation for exposing his opponent's weaknesses, and that is exactly what he is going to do on Saturday. It is no secret that if you can dominate the front lines you can control the game, and that is where the Tide will take advantage of the undersized Wolverines.
Alabama will enter this game with arguably the best offensive line in the nation. D.J. Fluker, Cyrus Kouandjio, Barrett Jones, Anthony Steen and Chance Warmack are all returning with experience and will be averaging close to 315 pounds each. Fluker, Jones and Warmack all come into the season as potential All-Americans.
Michigan, on the other hand, will be welcoming in three new starters on the defensive line. Welcome to the big time, boys! Senior Craig Roh is the only returning starter. He will likely be joined by Will Campbell, Jibreel Black and Brennan Beyer. The real problem for the Wolverines, even more than the lack of experience up front, is that this group comes in with an average weight of roughly 280 pounds.
This means, of course, that Michigan will be giving away roughly 35 pounds per man up front. Speculation has swirled this summer that the passing game will play a bigger role for the Tide this season. But in this game, don't expect to see that come to fruition.
With a foursome of quality running backs, Saban will look to wear down the outmanned defensive line. The rotation that will include bruisers Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler, mixed with smaller, faster backs like T. J. Yeldon and Dee Hart will put a seemingly endless pounding on the Wolverines.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan returns three starters, but will have a new center in Ricky Barnum. Barnum will have the task of taking on the beast that is Australian Jesse Williams, who outweighs him by some 25 pounds.
Williams will be joined on the Alabama line by Quinton Dial, Damion Square and Ed Stinson. All four of these men match up well with the size of the projected Michigan front, coming in just six pounds lighter on average.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is a serious threat that 'Bama will have to deal with. But, he lost his top two receivers from last season, a season in which he only completed 55 percent of his passes, averaged less than 200 yards per game through the air and threw 15 interceptions.
The Wolverines are going to have to run the ball if they want to stay in this game. Suspended running back Fitz Toussaint's status has yet to be revealed by head coach Brady Hoke, making matters even that much worse.
If Michigan cannot forge a consistent ground attack, Alabama will quite honestly run away with this game. While it is true that the Tide is reloading on defense, so to speak, this is a defense that allowed a mere 72 yards per game on the ground last season. Good luck with that, Mr. Robinson.
When this game finally becomes a reality Saturday night, the overall experience and size of the lineman will be the difference. Saban is going to expose this significant advantage that he has as the Tide will, quite possibly, run the ball over 50 times before it's all over.
By using fresh backs mixed with play-action and roll-out passes, the Tide will control time of possession, meticulously marching their way up and down the field. There will be nothing Michigan can do to stop them.
On the defensive side, the Tide will use their size and speed to shut down the Michigan ground game, forcing Robinson into tough yardage and long passing situations that will allow the 'Bama secondary to stalk him like a cheetah does a wounded gazelle.
Michigan has a very good football team and will surely come into this one prepared. They will also play a good game, making the most out of every opportunity that they will be fortunate enough to come across.
But, this game is going to be won in the trenches, and no one likes winning in the trenches more than Nick Saban. Michigan simply cannot compete with the Tide up front, and Alabama will win this game going away because of it.