Michigan-Alabama Preview

The Michigan Wolverines have reclaimed their confidence,

something Alabama did shortly after Nick Saban landed in Tuscaloosa

and started winning national titles.

The eighth-ranked Wolverines have already earned some preseason

acclaim going into Saturday night’s opening showdown with the

similarly pedigreed and second-ranked Crimson Tide at Cowboys

Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Beating a team that has won two of the last three national

championships from a league that has captured six in a row would be

an especially huge statement for Denard Robinson & Co.

”They’re just trying to show the world that they can play,”

Alabama safety Robert Lester said. ”The SEC is such a dominant

conference, and I guess just to get any credibility points, you

have to go and beat a credible SEC team. They’re just trying to

prove themselves.”

Saban and the Tide have some things to prove, too, even as

nearly two-touchdown favorites.

The nation’s best defense a year ago gets quite a test for seven

new starters facing the dangerous Robinson, the kind of

double-edged weapon Alabama hasn’t seen since Cam Newton two years

ago.

This game could do much to support Saban’s contention that

there’s no sense of entitlement with this team, unlike the

talent-laden 2010 group that dropped three games after a

championship season.

”If this team is not successful it is not because of the

character and attitude of the team,” said Saban, who is 18-6

against ranked opponents and 10-4 against Top 10 teams over the

last four seasons. ”It will be because of the lack of experience

the team has in certain positions, and they may make too many

mistakes to win. It will not get compared that way, I am sure,

because this team has done everything the right way.”

So one storied program wants to prove it’s back, the other that

it isn’t going anywhere.

Alabama has been ranked for 65 weeks and counting, the nation’s

longest active streak. Michigan was unranked going into coach Brady

Hoke’s first season before going on to win 11 games and beat

Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

This is the first time Alabama and Michigan have met in the

regular season.

The Wolverines would love to make a statement for the Big Ten,

besieged by Penn State’s sex abuse scandal and encumbered by Ohio

State’s bowl ban. Both teams will get some quick answers about

where they stand.

”I went back and thought about last year at this time,” Hoke

said. ”I didn’t know if we were going to win two games let alone

11, because you don’t know until you get in the real deal as far as

playing games.

”Honestly, we’ll find out. We’ll find out about

ourselves.”

About 32 hours before kickoff, Hoke announced he was suspending

starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and reserve defensive

end Frank Clark for the game. Toussaint pleaded guilty Tuesday to

drunken driving. Clark is accused of taking a laptop from a dorm

room.

The Wolverines will likely use running backs Thomas Rawls,

Vincent Smith, Justice Hayes perhaps along with newcomers Dennis

Norfleet and Drake Johnson against the Crimson Tide.

Without Toussaint, there’s an even bigger burden on Robinson to

try to outrun or outwit Saban’s defenders, who are seldom caught

out of position.

Saban said Robinson has improved as a pocket passer. He has

warned his pass rushers of what can happen if they leave their feet

while approaching him.

”Well, this guy will ball fake you like Michael Jordan and take

off running and you’ll say, `Well, how did that happen?”’ Saban

said.

The swift Robinson can make teams pay for mistakes, as evidenced

by his 30 carries of 20-plus yards.

”He’s fast. You see that on ESPN watching the Top 10 (plays)

week in and week out,” Alabama defensive end Damion Square said.

”He’s a guy that players know of. He has an exceptional arm. He

makes throws that need to be made for his team and he extends plays

and makes big plays a lot. That’s what you want to come and stop –

big plays.”

Alabama counters with the more traditional passer AJ McCarron,

offensive MVP of the BCS championship game.

Tailback Eddie Lacy also makes his starting debut in place of

Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson. He has plenty of help,

though, from big-play threats Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon along with a

veteran offensive line.

Michigan linebacker Kenny Demens doesn’t think there’s any room

for error against Alabama.

”Zero. They’re a great team. They’re disciplined,” Demens

said. ”Any mistake can cost us the game.”

The Wolverines don’t seem bothered by the fact that Alabama is

so heavily favored.

”The game is played on the field,” cornerback J.T. Floyd

said.

Asked if he likes Michigan’s chances, he invoked the three-word

catchphrase that has caught on since Hoke’s arrival.

”This is Michigan,” he said.