Alabama enters the season as college football's defending champions, but once the ball is kicked off against Michigan, that becomes a memory and the team will focus on the task at hand. And it will be a tough one against the eighth-ranked Wolverines.
The Crimson Tide ranked second in the nation in both major polls, behind USC in the AP Top 25 and behind rival LSU in the USA Today rankings. So the returning players should have a chip on their shoulder as they attempt to win back-to-back national titles.
Let's take a look at the biggest keys to success for Alabama against Michigan. If the Tide can accomplish all three, they should start the season with a statement victory.
Test Eddie Lacy Early
Lacy has been dealing with an ankle injury that could limit his preparation for the game. The Crimson Tide have to find out right away how effective he can be by giving him a lot of early carries to see how he holds up.
They have plenty of options behind him, but none have separated themselves from the pack like Lacy did as Trent Richardson's backup last season. If he's unable to get back to full strength, it's better to find that out early in the first quarter than after halftime.
One thing Alabama doesn't want is the game to turn into a shootout. It wants to control the pace of the game on the ground. Whether it's Lacy, Jalston Fowler, T.J. Yeldon or another back, it's vital that the Crimson Tide establish their ground dominance right away.
Attack Denard Robinson
It's no secret for any team that faces Michigan this season that containing Robinson is the biggest key to success. The dynamic, dual-threat quarterback can win games by himself if the opposing defense doesn't respect his play-making ability.
The Crimson Tide lost several key contributors on defense, including defensive backs Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, so the defense must make sure the amount of time he has to make decisions is limited while some of the fresh faces work their way into the lineup.
Robinson accounted for 36 touchdowns last season, but he didn't face a defense on the same level as Alabama's. As long as Adrian Hubbard and Co. can make sure he's constantly trying to fend off pressure, the Tide should be able to control him.
Who will win the season opener?
Avoid First-Half Turnovers
No single play leads to more upsets than an ill-timed turnover in the first half. Not only does it usually provide the underdog with great field position, but it would give the Wolverines a huge confidence boost to overcome any lingering uncertainty.
That obviously puts a lot of pressure on AJ McCarron to protect the football. He did a great job of that last season, throwing just five interceptions in 13 games. Those smart decisions must continue, even if he's asked to take to the air a little more.
Alabama has enough talent to win the game, and do so pretty handily. That said, Michigan has plenty of motivation as well, so the Tide can't be overconfident. If they stick to the script that helped win last year's title, including an emphasis on ball control, a victory will be the result.