Friday, August 31, 2012

Game of the Week. Can Michigan Beat Bama?

Does Michigan have any chance to upset Alabama in Dallas on Saturday in the game of the week--maybe even the game of the month? At best, an outside chance. If these two played ten games Bama would win eight or nine.

No question, Bama is the better team, both in talent and coaching, with Nick Saban, arguably the nation's best, at the helm. Early in the year, he was good enough to guide the Tide to a national championship over LSU with a little prep time.. But he's been getting ready for Michigan for months, ever since spring practice. So Bama will be well-prepared. Michigan's second-year-coach Brady Hoke has also had plenty of prep time but that doesn't matter. He's not in Saban's class.

Bama's biggest edge is on defense. In college football there's none better. However, this defense is not quite as Gibraltar-like as last season's, which may have been the best in the last decade, particularly at stopping the run. Bama lost some of those starters, but a solid nucleus returns. Running on last year's team was just about impossible. It won't be any easier this season, with Jesse Williams heading a three-man wall. Compare this corps of linebackers to last year's and, if you can believe it, they're faster and more athletic.

Of course, this is bad news for Michigan, whose best chance of winning lies in electrifying QB Dennard Robinson, who's on the top 10 list of Heisman candidates, having a super game. A nifty ball-handler and a shifty, speed-demon, he weaves through and outfoxes defenses, behind the blocking of towering tackle Taylor Lewan. Good luck getting the best of this tough Tide crew. As a passer, Robinson is no Tom Brady, but he might do some damage with a crisp short-and-medium pass attack.

Bama's other real plus is its awesome offensive line, anchored by center Barrett Jones, maybe the best blocker in college, and featuring a legion of future top draft choices. They'll pulverize Michigan's ordinary D line, which was hit hard by graduation. Bama has no dazzling RB, like Trent Richardson, this season but a journeyman could look like a Heisman-hopeful behind this line.

In Michigan's favor is that Bama isn't a scoring machine. With unspectacular QB AJ McCarron running the offense, it rarely gets out of second gear. But it does efficiently eat up time and doesn't make too many mistakes. What could also help Michigan is coach Hoke lifting the indefinite suspension of first-rate RB Fitz Toussaint, who was nailed on a DUI charge. Will he play Saturday? Hoke is saying it's a game-time decision.

Besides QB Robinson turning into Superman, what does Michigan need for an upset? Probably a crippling case of nerves by Bama's new players, which would translate into poor performances and critical errors. Don't count on Tide newcomers or any of its players succumbing to jitters. Saban teams are too savvy to beat themselves.

What Michigan does have a chance to beat, though, is the14-point spread. That would be no surprise. But a Michigan victory over this mighty Bama unit would be.