The first game of every season is the most important. It sets the tone for everything that comes after it, good or bad. Alabama and Michigan are both ranked in the top 10 of both polls and are coming off spectacular seasons.
For Alabama, 2011 was the kind of season the program has grown accustomed to under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide dominated SEC rival LSU in the BCS Championship Game by a score of 21-0 to capture their second title in three years.
Saban has restored order to the Crimson Tide after that decade of mediocrity between 1997-2006 which saw them go through five head coaches and only one conference championship.
For Michigan, last year was the saving grace for a program that completely fell apart under Rich Rodriguez. Head coach Brady Hoke was not a popular choice when he got the job in January 2011, but he turned out to be exactly what this program needed.
The Wolverines won 11 games for the first time since 2006. Their victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl was their first BCS win since, ironically, 1999 against Alabama.
But all that is in the past. Both teams being in the national spotlight again has certainly helped increase the anticipation for Saturday's game in Dallas, but it doesn't tell us anything about what to expect from this game.
For instance, the Crimson Tide will have a very different look this season. They are still loaded with talent—Saban is arguably the best recruiter in the country—but they lost 17 players from last year's team, with eight of them being drafted to the NFL.
Michigan did lose three players to the NFL Draft, but the Wolverines retained game-changing quarterback Denard Robinson and have a strong foundation on defense to play with a team like Alabama.
That is not to say the Wolverines are yet at the same level as the Crimson Tide—they aren't—but this matchup will show exactly where both programs stand right now. It is why the game takes on even more significance for both sides.
You want to see just how well Hoke's revival of the Michigan program is going against a team like Alabama. You also want to see how Saban is going to handle having to replace so many significant players from a championship team.
This game is the perfect showcase for both Michigan and Alabama as the programs look to send a message to the rest of the college football world right out of the chute.
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