Season Opener Not A Tide Gimme

Here we go, Bama, here we go! Just a week now until some male Alabama cheerleader picks up a megaphone and attempts to elevate the passion of the most passionate fans in college football.

No additional stimulus needed. Alabama opens the season a week from today with the nation's number one non-conference game of the year. The Crimson Tide will take on the Michigan Wolverines in Cowboys Stadium (don't you wish you had a nickel for every time you heard a radio talk show host call it JerryWorld?) in Arlington, Texas.

Bama is ranked second in the nation in most pre-season polls and Michigan comes in at eighth.

The Tide has done well in season-opening games under Coach Nick Saban. In fact, Bama has been perfect, 5-0 in his previous seasons. Some of those were gimmes – Kent State last year (48-7), San Jose State in 2010 (48-3), and Western Carolina in 2007, his first season, (52-6). But there have also been two openers at neutral sites against teams ranked in the top ten.

In both 2008 and 2009, Alabama played in season-opening games at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, disposing of ninth-ranked Clemson, 34-10, in 2008, and seventh-rated Virginia Tech, 34-24, to start off the undefeated 2009 national championship season.

You can't win them all if you don't win the first one. Saban has won them all only one time, but in the last four years (following his first season), the Crimson Tide has won 48 games and two national championships.

Both Alabama and Michigan come into the opener with four-game winning streaks, including victories over their primary rivals and bowl wins in New Orleans. Last year the Tide was 12-1 and the Wolverines were 11-2, including a 40-34 win over Ohio State and a 23-20 overtime win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Bama's finish was more historic with a 21-0 victory over LSU in the BCS National Championship game.

By any standard, Alabama and Michigan are two of the heavyweights of college football. Michigan is the all-time college leader among major colleges in all-time football victories (895) and winning percentage (73.6). Because of capricious NCAA penalties that deprived Alabama of 29 victories, the Tide ranks sixth (rather than third) in winning percentage at 71 per cent and eighth (rather than fifth) in all-time victories at 814.

One has to think that defense will be the key in the Alabama-Michigan game. Last year the Tide had perhaps the finest defense in modern college football history, but many of the top performers on that squad have moved on to the NFL. This Alabama defense will have to show incredible discipline because Bama is facing that most difficult of quarterbacks. Michigan's Denard Robinson is one of those guys who can make plays with his arm and with his feet, and if the rush doesn't force him into a quick decision he's particularly effective.

Michigan can expect Alabama to bring a running game. The question is, which runner? Bama will be a better team if Eddie Lacy is ready to go, but even if he isn't the Wolverines have to contend with more than capable runners operating behind a big, talented, experienced offensive line. And if Michigan elects to sell out to stop the run, Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron has shown that he can get the job done.

Already the game has been analyzed and re-analyzed, and most expect the Crimson Tide to win the game, perhaps even dominate. But there is a reason they play the games. Michigan has good football players and – as every team that plays Bama – great motivation. But there is no reason to expect Alabama to not be motivated for Michigan, too, and the Tide has good players.

A reasonable expectation is that this will be an exciting game to open a season of great expectations.

Here we go, Bama, here we go!

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