Early Week 1 preview: Michigan

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
11:00
AM ET
It's time to wrap up our series that has taken an early look at each Week 1 matchup in the Big Ten. Hopefully, this has helped whet your appetite for the upcoming season.

For previous Week 1 matchups, click here. Last, but certainly not least in our series, is the Michigan Wolverines, whose opening opponent is a team you may have heard something about.

Week 1 opponent: Alabama (at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

Coach: Nick Saban (sixth season, 55-12)

2011 record: 12-1 (7-1 SEC, won BCS title game)

Returning starters: 12 (seven offense, five defense)

About the Crimson Tide: There aren't many secrets when it comes to Alabama. The defending BCS champs play a punishingly physical style with elite defense, have NFL players up and down the roster, and are exceptionally well-coached. If there's any reason for optimism for Michigan, it's that the Crimson Tide will be playing their first game after replacing a number of outstanding starters, including running back Trent Richardson, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, and safety Mark Barron. But Saban's team still return its starting offensive line, led by Rimington Award winner Barrett Jones at center, and quarterback AJ McCarron, who is expected to play a bigger role after having a strong BCS title game performance. While many of the defensive stars are in NFL camps, Alabama is likely to reload on that side of the ball. Linebacker Adrian Hubbard could be the next superstar after a big spring game. The big question is whether there will be any championship hangover, and whether the Wolverines can catch 'Bama before all its new pieces gel.

Random factoid: Michigan is No. 1 on the all-time college football wins list, with 895. Alabama ranks No. 8 with 814. The Crimson Tide claim 14 national championships, while Michigan claims 11.

Series with Michigan: The Wolverines lead 2-1, with every previous game coming in bowls. The last meeting came in the 2000 Orange Bowl, with Michigan winning 35-34 in overtime.

Totally unscientific percentage chance Michigan wins: 20 percent. The Wolverines couldn't have found a more difficult opening opponent, and they're playing away from home to boot. Michigan has some major questions on its defensive line and in its overall depth in the trenches, which could prove highly problematic against the Tide's size and strength. But Brady Hoke and his staff have had all offseason to prepare and will probably be catching Alabama at its most vulnerable point, with so many stars being replaced. Michigan will be a major underdog, probably a double-digit one at that. Yet the Wolverines will have arguably the most dynamic player on the field in Denard Robinson and a veteran offense that could cause the Tide some major headaches as well. Michigan might have to play close to a perfect game to win, but the opportunity is a great one.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12