Laken Litman: What are the chances running back Fitz Toussaint (legal), defensive end Frank Clark (legal) and wide receiver Roy Roundtree (knee) play against Alabama on Saturday? Can Michigan afford to not have those players on the field against the reigning national champions? And if they aren't playing, which Wolverines will fill those roles?
Tom Beaver: Brady Hoke is keeping the outcome of the suspensions a secret, but at this point it would be a little bit of a surprise if Toussaint and Clark played. Clark is less of a key guy than Toussaint. Roundtree is expected to play, though he hasn't practiced full speed as of Saturday. As far as playing the reigning champs, that has no bearing on this game -- except that the Crimson Tide will certainly be a top team in 2012 as well. And U-M would have a tough time beating any top-notch opponent right now without their 1000 yard rusher. Michigan likes sophomore RB Thomas Rawls, but he had a total of 12 carries in 2011. Clark is a good player but wasn't going to be the starter at any rate, that role at rush end goes to Brennan Beyer.
LL: How important is this game for Denard Robinson in terms of his legacy?
TB: It would certainly help on the upside -- a great game would propel him to the head of the Heisman lists. But a less-than-stellar game won't haunt him (other than popping the Heisman balloon) -- with Michigan's brutal schedule and the Big Ten race ahead of him, he'd have plenty other chances to build his senior legacy.
LL: What is they key for Robinson and Michigan's running game as a whole to get through Alabama's stout defense—a unit that was ranked No. 1 in the country last season and didn't let LSU cross the 50-yard line until the second half of the national title game?
TB: The main key is that most of those stellar Alabama defenders are gone. However, we believe U-M would like to get a ground game established, and then make big-play strikes as surprises. So yeah, the running game is key -- and, particularly if Toussaint sits, U-M may have to run Denard more than they'd like this early in the season.
LL: Will this game come down to Alabama's offensive line—which returns four starters from last season including Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones and averages over 300 lbs.—versus Michigan's defensive line? If not, what do you think is the most important matchup that could be the key to the game?
TB: I think so, particularly from Alabama's point of view. I'd think the Tide would love their OL to control the line of scrimmage, so they could ball control and wear out the U-M defensive front -- if they can do that, the game could get away from the Wolverines in the 4th quarter.
LL: What has coach Brady Hoke said the key to beating Alabama is? What does he see as an area Michigan can be successful in exploiting?
TB: Brady hasn't said actually. But I figure for Michigan it'll come down to (i) not turning the ball over, and (ii) keeping the U-M D off the field as much as possible -- meaning not-losing Time of Possession.