ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — C.J. Mosley and his Alabama teammates have never embraced the label of defending BCS national champion. Neither has coach Nick Saban.
This is the 2012 Crimson Tide, a group already establishing that it too will be a championship contender.
“We made a great statement. But we’re not the defending champs,” Mosley said. “That was last year’s team. That’s what coach put in our heads two days after the championship game.”
In what was considered the marquee matchup of college football’s opening weekend, the second-ranked Tide had a dominating 41-14 victory over a Michigan team with Denard Robinson coming off an 11-win season capped by a BCS bowl victory of its own.
Alabama showed it can still dominate defensively even after three starting defenders from last year’s title team were first-round NFL draft picks. The Crimson Tide manhandled the eighth-ranked Wolverines while doing quick damage to the Heisman hopes for Robinson, the dual-threat quarterback who was mostly contained.
“The whole summer and camp we talked about setting an identity for this defense,” said Mosley, the junior linebacker who returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown. “Everybody was talking about 2010 and 2011. … We came out with great intensity and great tenacity. We showed the world what the 2012 defense is going to do.”
And the Crimson Tide can still run the ball after Trent Richardson was the third overall pick by the Browns. T.J. Yeldon, one of four running backs to share the load, became the first Bama freshman with a 100-yard game in his debut. He ran for 111 yards with a touchdown on 11 carries.
“It was definitely a step in the right direction. We have high hopes for this team,” senior offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “This kind of shows the nation this is not the complacent Alabama people were expecting. We’re hungry and we’re playing for the national championship.”
Alabama is intent of avoiding another letdown like the 10-win season in 2010, the last time after a championship season.
Jones started all 14 games as a freshman on Alabama’s 2009 championship team, and is among several players who were part of that title and the year that followed.
There appears to be no complacency or sense of entitlement this time.
For Michigan, which trailed 31-0 before Robinson threw a 71-yard pass to set up his 6-yard TD run just before halftime, there have to be concerns.
Second-year coach Brady Hoke long referred to the Alabama game as a measuring stick for his team. He’s got to hope that this isn’t really Michigan after the worst season-opening loss ever for the Wolverines.
“I would think we’re on the short end of the measuring stick right now,” Hoke said. “I mean, we’ve got a lot of things that I know we can do better. I’ve seen us do it better, and we’ve got to go back to work.”
Michigan, which obviously can still recover to contend for a Big Ten title and possible Rose Bowl bid, plays its home opener Saturday against Air Force.
Without suspended running back Fitzgerald Toussaint behind him, Robinson accounted for 227 of the Wolverines’ 269 total yards. But he was only 11-of-26 passing with two interceptions and got most of his 200 yards on just two throws (the 71 yarder and a 44-yard TD to Devin Gardner). He needed 10 carries for his 27 rushing yards.
“We’ve got to try to move forward because we’ve got a goal, and that is to win the Big Ten,” Robinson said. “And in order for us to win the Big Ten, we can’t let Alabama beat us twice.”
Alabama, which has even bigger goals, had scored 70 consecutive points over three games before Michigan finally got in the end zone. The Crimson Tide scored the final 18 points in their 2011 regular-season finale against Auburn before the 21-0 victory over LSU in the BCS championship game.
While Saban believes his latest talented and tenacious team took a step toward creating its own identity, he already sees room for improvement going into the home opener Saturday against Western Kentucky.
AJ McCarron, the second-year starting quarterback, was 11-of-21 passing for 199 yards with two touchdowns. Saban said the Tide has to throw more effectively, though it’s not anything he blames on McCarron.
“In the passing game, we just need to clean it up, clean up the protection,” Saban said. “And if we’re going to be the kind of team we’re capable of, we’re going to have to be able to create balance on offense, because AJ’s really too good of a quarterback for us not to utilize his talents in throwing the football.”