This is the game that has the potential to be our first big upset of the year.
When the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide take the field on Saturday against the Michigan Wolverines, it will be the first time we've seen them since they throttled LSU last January with the BCS championship on the line.
But we haven't seen the second-ranked team in the nation in months; we don't know anything about its cohesion or its mentality or whether or not it will show up for Saturday's matchup expecting to win, only to get burned by its own complacency.
Then again, we also haven't seen Michigan, the No. 8 team in the nation, since it scored an overtime win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. The Wolverines, too, could enter this game without any idea how to overcome the reigning national champions.
Or, they could come in with a huge upset up their sleeves. Here's where and when to watch it happen.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX
When: Saturday, September 1 at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN3
Betting Line (via Bovada.com): Alabama -14
Alabama Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- Wide receiver Amari Cooper is probable for Saturday's season-opener, despite a foot injury.
- Running back Eddie Lacy is probable for Saturday's game as he recovers from a sprained ankle and knee.
- Wide receiver Bradley Sylve is questionable for Saturday's game after breaking his hand in practice.
- Defensive back Jarrick Williams is out for the season after tearing his ACL in practice.
- Wide receiver Chris Black is out until mid-November after injuring his shoulder in practice. He will have surgery and is projected to miss three to four months.
Michigan Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- Wide receiver Roy Roundtree is probably for Saturday's season-opener as he recovers from knee surgery.
- Linebacker Kaleb Ringer is out for the season after having knee surgery.
- Defensive end Chris Wormley is out for the season after tearing his ACL.
- Offensive lineman Chris Bryant is out for the season after fracturing his tibia.
- Linebacker Antonio Poole is out indefinitely after after injuring a pectoral muscle.
- Defensive end Frank Clark has been suspended indefinitely due to a charge of second-degree home invasion.
- Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has been suspended indefinitely after a drunk-driving arrest this summer.
AP/USA Today Top 25 Poll Implications
The stakes couldn't be higher for either of these teams. Alabama, despite beating LSU for the national championship last season, enters this season ranked behind LSU at No. 2 in the Coaches' poll and ranked second (behind USC) in the AP poll.
An opening-week loss would do nothing to bolster the Crimson Tide's hopes of resuming the top ranking; a win over a top-10 opponent in Week 1, however, would work wonders.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, aren't expected to beat the second-best team in the nation, but a loss would likely still drop them out of the top 10. A win, however, would be a massive statement from a team looking to restore the Big Ten to glory.
What They're Saying
The fear for Alabama is showing up to this game overconfident and subsequently ending the first week with their first loss. Head coach Nick Saban isn't worried about that happening. He thinks his guys have had the right attitude as they prepare for an epic Week 1 clash.
Saban told Andrew Gribble of the Mobile Press-Register:
I thought the players have had a really good attitude the last couple of days about preparing for this game. They’ve done a really good job of practicing, good effort, finishing ... This is a great opportunity for the players to play against a great, traditional team like Michigan, who has a very good team and a very challenging team to compete against this year.
But apparently, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. disagrees with Saban.
Rumors are swirling that the boxer, who was released from jail earlier this month, bet a whopping $3 million that the Wolverines will cover the spread versus Alabama, according to Don Kausler Jr. of The Birmingham News.
USA Today reports, via Kausler, that the Grand Rapids native placed more than $2.9 million worth of bets in various Las Vegas sportsbooks.
Now that is confidence in the underdog.
Alabama Player to Watch
A.J. McCarron didn't always command respect from his Alabama teammates. It took a while for him to develop into a signal-caller they trust.
According to TideNation's Alex Scarborough, the problem was that, at first, McCarron tried too hard to force himself into a leadership role—he did, after all, want to be the starting quarterback. But once he started to understand that being a leader is about being a team player, he became a national champion.
The more McCarron involved his teammates, according to Scarborough, the more free reign Saban awarded him—and now, the coach has all the faith in the world in his quarterback. Saban told Scarborough:
A.J.'s one of those guys that knows what everybody's supposed to do on every play. … He knows who is supposed to block everybody on every pass pickup and protection. He knows how the guys are supposed to run the routes and what the depth is supposed to be and when they don't do it the right way.
Last season, McCarron proved just how much he knew to the tune of 2,634 yards, 16 touchdowns, only five interceptions and, of course, a national title. This year—just his second as the starter—he'll attempt to do it again.
Michigan Player to Watch
Last season, finding a way to stop Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson proved to be a nearly impossible task—as evidenced by Michigan's 11-2 record in 2011, which included a six-game winning streak to start the season. The dual-threat quarterback led the Wolverines in both passing yards (2,173) and rushing yards (1,176), but like many a rushing quarterback, he's had his share of injuries, which have hindered him in the past.
According to Wolverine Nation's Michael Rothstein, Robinson missed time in four games due to injury last season. Unsurprisingly, the Wolverines lost two of those games, versus Michigan State and Iowa.
There's substantial pressure on Alabama to pull out a win in this one, but there's more pressure on Michigan. Even after opening its season with a night road game versus the unofficial best team in the nation, the Wolverines will have to do the night-road-game thing two more times before the season is over: at Notre Dame and at Nebraska.
This is an incredibly tough draw for both of these teams, and a loss—even this early in the season—will be devastating to either of their BCS hopes.
Prediction: Alabama Wins
I don't think this is going to be a blowout, by any means—Michigan is going to make this into a game. It's already the season opener, but nothing gets adrenaline pumping like the opportunity to knock off the defending national champs.
But Alabama is too good to drop the season opener, and it will be able to withstand the scare. With elite coaching and a veteran quarterback, the Crimson Tide will be able to pull this one out.