It's the highlight of Week One across the country. The Wolverines are back in the national spotlight against the defending national champions: Alabama. The college football world is excited to see this one for a number of reasons, and it will be a great opportunity to see if Michigan has really stepped back into their prime and if Alabama can stay poised and focused, being dubbed the favorite by most media.
This is the first time since 2006 (against Ohio State) that Michigan will be part of a top 10 match up. As we all know, they lost their last opportunity. As for Alabama, playing in the SEC has brought this game more down to Earth for Nick Saban's squad. That is one of the obvious advantages for the Crimson Tide.
Here are the keys to the game:
The Wolverines will head into this game as the under dog, but anybody who knows anything about college football could tell you the words "favorite" and "under dog" mean absolutely nothing on the field in a game like this. For Michigan, it comes down to their poise and execution. The big play would be nice, but this Alabama defense is considered to be the toughest in the nation. In other words, don't be putting your hopes on huge, timely plays to swing momentum.
Here are my two keys for Michigan.
1) Sustained Drives
One of the big deals heading into last year was Michigan's inability to sustain drives in previous seasons. That just wasn't the way the offense was run. But Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges made it a point to instill that part of the game back into their system. It isn't the conventional offense doing so, but that didn't seem to tinker with the results. Michigan was a better team when they could sustain a long drive. That can't change against Alabama.
In a perfect world, every Wolverine possession will last about 5 minutes, ending a score. But in reality, they are facing the Crimson Tide defense, who simply won't allow that to happen very often at all. If Robinson can execute through the air just enough to force to defense to respect his arm, this coaching staff has faith in the Running Backs and Offensive Line to pound that ball on the ground.
2) Mix It Up
If an offense like the one Alabama will be showcasing catches on to any type of pattern in a defense, they will exploit it and make something big out of the tiniest of flaws. This is why Michigan can't be consistent with the looks they give the Crimson Tide on defense. It has be a steady dose of pressure, but it can't come from the same position every time in the same formation. Greg Mattison does a great job with this concept, but it will take 60 minutes of near perfection in order to keep Alabama guessing on offense.
The Crimson Tide are trying to get on the fast track to defending their national title, and it starts with a bang against Michigan. Most college football fans outside of the SEC wouldn't necessarily express pleasure for the conference, but you can't deny that it is the strongest conference in the nation right now, and it does play in Alabama's advantage.
Here are my two keys Alabama.
1) Control The Line
Every season, Alabama seems to have one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the game. They do an incredible job with recruiting and then turning those players into everything they can be. On the other end, Michigan has a relatively young line on both sides of the ball, and there isn't much depth. That is Alabama's greatest on-field advantage for Saturday. If Alabama can do what they are supposed to up front, it will be a long night for the Wolverines trying to deal with those big boys.
2) Single Out Denard Robinson
While we can hope and pray that the flaws of old for Denard Robinson are just a thing of the past, we haven't seen anything in live action to prove that is true. As of right now, "Shoelace" is still an inconsistent passer who can create for himself on the ground. Without Fitz Toussaint in the backfield, we could be looking at the Denard Robinson Show.
Alabama has a very good defense at every level. They will be able to bring pressure and still keep coverage. Turning Denard into a one-dimensional player is the best thing they would be able to do for themselves. Any team that wants to have success against the Wolverines this season will have to be able to make Robinson throw often throughout the course of the game.
Most charts favorite Alabama by double digits in this Week One match up, but I don't think they are giving enough credit to Michigan's defense. No matter who wins, it will be a close game, likely going down the final couple of possessions.
In the end, I think Alabama will pull this one out, 24-20. I don't expect this to be a back-and-forth game. Traditionally, Michigan does not get off to great starts in these high volume games, usually sticking around to make a late-game run. It will likely look like a much different game after halftime, especially on defense, but I think Alabama has too many weapons to use against Michigan for this one.
Note: Michigan RB Fitzgerald Toussaint is suspended for this game.