Alabama Crimson Tide: Michigan football

SabanAP Photo/Chris O'MearaNick Saban is a major reason the SEC has hoisted the crystal football for seven years in a row.
So you think your team has a chance to reach the national championship game this season. You think this could be the year.

Hold up a second.

While there are always questions of timing and scheduling and the human element to winning college football games and reaching the national championship, there are some surprising similarities between teams that have been able to lift a crystal football at the end of the season and those who have come close.

Some, like talent, coaching and, at least for the past seven years, residing in the SEC, are obvious. But what about what takes place on the field?

Since 2006, when the Southeastern Conference began dominating college football, there have been specific criteria which have fit all of the champions plus three other teams (Florida in 2009, Penn State in 2008 and Ohio State in 2006), all of whom reached the Bowl Championship Series.

The criteria would have even been more streamlined, except Auburn’s defense in 2010 was a statistical tire fire and Florida found a bunch of ways to not score or rush too well in 2006. Had they been better in those areas, almost every statistical category measured by the NCAA would have had a strong baseline ranking for a champion.

While this isn’t foolproof -- again, see Auburn and Florida -- the following criteria could give you an idea as the season goes along how much of a chance your school really has at winning it all.

Rank 38th or better in rushing offense: Every national champion averaged more than 160 yards rushing during its national championship season and all save that 2006 Florida team gained more than 214.4 yards a game on the ground and ranked in the top 16.

Rank 23rd or better in scoring offense: National champions have been able to score a lot, which is even more impressive considering every national title winner since the 2006 season has been in the defense-oriented SEC. Every title team averaged at least 29.7 points a game and only 2006 Florida was under 32 points.

Rank 37th or better in passing efficiency: The national title winners have all been in the upper third when it comes to passing the ball -- again, a mild surprise considering the level of defenses in the SEC. Every national champion had a passer efficiency rating of 133.61 or better and was ranked 37th or better.

[+] EnlargeAlabama defense
AP Photo/Bill HaberThe past seven national champs have been particularly adept at stopping the run.
Have a top 15 run defense: For all the prior criticism of Auburn’s defense in 2010, the Tigers actually fared well here, ranking ninth in rushing defense that season. They did give up the most yards per game of any of the national champions, though, with 109.07. All, too, were ranked in the Top 15. Interestingly, Alabama has been the top rushing defense in the country the past two seasons when it won national titles. Of the seven national champions, four held opponents under 80 yards rushing a game.

Rank in the top 40 in sacks (but don’t rank too high): Surprisingly, none of the national title winners was in the top 10 in sacks, either, but all landed in the Top 40, somewhere between 2.29 and 2.64 sacks a game and somewhere between No. 24 and No. 40. So putting some pressure on an opponent’s quarterbacks -- but not too much? -- should be at a premium when it comes to fielding a title contender.

Have at least one player selected in the first round of the NFL draft following the national title game: This, actually, should not be much of a surprise considering the national champion should have at least some NFL-caliber talent on it to survive the season. Defending national champion Alabama did a good job of this in this past draft with three players in the top 11. The total first-rounders for the Crimson Tide actually dropped from the 2012 draft, which saw four players taken from the school. Every title winner, though, has had at least one the following April.

Have a player score at least 10 touchdowns rushing and/or receiving: Again, this seems like a no-brainer, especially considering how many points a game the national champion teams are averaging. But it also shows if a team spreads it around too much, there might not be that gamebreaker type of player to get a team a score when it was absolutely necessary.

Did not lose a non-conference game in the regular season: Again, not a stunner here. The national champions over the past seven years which have lost games have all lost them within the confines of the SEC. This, though, actually blows up the theory that losing early is better than losing late when it comes to the national polls and winning a national championship considering most non-conference games are played in September and early October. So as you get ready to dig in to conference play, know if your team dropped a game, it could be in real trouble to win a title. And/or if it has a difficult non-conference game (see Georgia vs. Clemson in August and Michigan vs. Notre Dame in September), that game might loom even larger.
Da’Shawn Hand recently narrowed his focus of top schools, and two programs still very much in the mix are Alabama and Michigan.

Da'Shawn Hand
Scott Fink for ESPNDE Da'Shawn Hand will be a big asset to whichever school he ends up at.
The five-star is a talented and promising defender who would be a great addition to either defense, but let’s take a quick look at how he may fit each team.

First thing to consider is that he brings certain attributes that would be coveted by either team regardless of scheme or need. Hand is an intelligent and measured young man who not only puts a premium on education in the classroom, but he can also be a knowledgeable and disciplined player on the field and potentially grow into a strong leader for either unit.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It’s never a surprise to see Alabama football near the top of any ratings. Nick Saban has a proven track record on the field. That has translated to the recruiting trail as he has pulled in top classes year in and year out, finishing in the top three in recruiting in each of the past five years. He's had the top class for the past two seasons.

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- No. 2 Alabama showed none of the signs of championship fatigue against No. 8 Michigan in the first half, jumping out to a 31-7 lead.

The Crimson Tide scored on four straight series after starting the game with a three-and-out.

Stat of the half: Michigan made it look better with a late touchdown in the second quarter, but Denard Robinson's day under center has not gone well so far. The senior quarterback had allowed more interception yards than total passing yards before a 71-yard pass that set up the Wolverines' lone score.

Player of the half: Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner didn't let a pass by him against Michigan, intercepting one and batting down three more.

What's working for Alabama: The offensive line has had no trouble with the Wolverines. They've cleared the way for 139 yards rushing and given AJ McCarron enough time to compose a sonnet every time he drops back.

What's not working for Alabama: Getting nitpicky, but Alabama isn't winning the penalty battle the way coach Nick Saban would like. The Tide have committed five penalties for 35 yards.

Watch: Alabama-Michigan preview

September, 1, 2012

Previewing the big showdown between Alabama and Michigan at Cowboys Stadium.

Watch: Tide offense vs. U-M defense

August, 31, 2012

Michael Rothstein from WolverineNation and Alex Scarborough from TideNation breakdown what Michigan’s defense will try and do to stop AJ McCarron, Eddie Lacy, and the Alabama offense.

Roundtable: Alabama, Michigan recruiting 

August, 30, 2012
Every other week, TideNation’s writers will answer a handful of questions that address a pressing topic regarding the Alabama football program. And with every Roundtable, we’ll see out the opinions of a guest. This week’s contributor is WolverineNation recruiting writer Tom Van Haaren.

Question: Alabama and Michigan kick off the 2012 season in Dallas on Saturday. What would a win do for recruiting?

Greg Ostendorf:
Alabama has become accustomed to not just playing in national spotlight games early in the season, but winning those games. That has paid dividends on the recruiting trail. It also doesn’t hurt to have won two national championships in the last three seasons. However, Michigan’s 2013 class is currently ranked higher than Alabama’s, so a win over the Wolverines on Saturday, especially if it’s in convincing fashion, could slow down the momentum for Brady Hoke and remind recruits of the SEC’s dominance during the last decade.

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Comparison: QBs McCarron, Robinson

August, 30, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron and Denard Robinson could not be two more different quarterbacks.

One lives and dies with the pass, the other is as comfortable running with the ball as he is throwing it.

But who is best; who does more with the ball: Robinson or McCarron?

No one doubts Robinson holds the edge in celebrity, but is he that much more effective a quarterback than his SEC counterpart?

With the help of the ESPN Stats and Information Department, let's break down the two quarterbacks in terms of passing, rushing and clutch situations:


Throws of 15 or more yards (career)

• Robinson has not improved much throughout the years on these passes. In 2011, he completed 38.1 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

• McCarron was 5 of 9 for 105 yards on throws of this distance in the BCS National Championship Game


Robinson’s long runs

• Robinson leads the FBS with 102 rushes of 10-plus yards since 2010. Robinson has had at least one such run every game during the last two seasons, including seven games with at least five such runs. A.J. McCarron has one rush of 10-plus yards in his career.
Most 10+ Yard Rushes Since 2010:

Denard Robinson, Michigan – 102

Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky – 91

LaMichael James, Oregon – 91
Robinson Designed Running Plays:

Clutch situations
In the red zone (2011):

Fourth-quarter passing (2011):

Third-down passing (2011):

Against the blitz (2011):

• McCarron completed 60.9 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interception against the blitz when facing SEC opponent last season, including 8 of 13 passes against LSU in the BCS National Championship game.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Somehow, the University of Alabama and Michigan have never played one another in the regular season in their 1,709-game history. The two schools have combined to win 25 national titles, but have only met on the field three times -- all in bowl games.

As the Maize and Blue and the Crimson Tide gear up for their first-ever regular-season showdown Saturday, the differences between the two programs might not as numerous as you might think, though. Common threads still exist.

Take for instance Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges. The 56-year-old assistant coach caught on with Brady Hoke at San Diego State in 2009 and made the trip with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2011 when Hoke was hired to replace Rich Rodriguez.

Before Borges ever coached in the Mountain West Conference, he made a name for himself in the SEC at Auburn, beating up on Alabama in his four seasons on the Plains. He went undefeated in the Iron Bowl from 2004-2007, winning the four games by a combined score of 98-56.

While Alabama coach Nick Saban was a part of just one of those losses to the Tigers, he said on Wednesday that there's a familiarity and respect for what a Borges-run offense looks like.

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University of Alabama coach Nick Saban took to the SEC teleconference on Wednesday morning and spoke about his team heading into Saturday's showdown against No. 8 Michigan. Here's some of what the sixth-year coach had to say:
  • Opening statement: "First games are always really exciting for everyone. Everybody is certainly tired of practicing against each other. We're really looking forward to the opportunity we have to play a really good, well-coached Michigan team. They have a fantastic player playing quarterback and it will be very challenging for us to contain him. ... In first games you like to see where you are. … It's always exciting for us to have a challenging game in the home opener. That really excited the players throughout the year and not just this week."
  • On Michigan coach Brady Hoke: "Their staff does a great job, he's obviously done a great job. He was a great coach when he was an assistant at Michigan, which is when I knew him. He did a really good job at San Diego State. Their team is fundamentally sound in everything they do. They have a really good scheme defensively in terms of the things they do. Offensively, they have a really good scheme that features the players they have. They do a great job on special teams. They do an outstanding job and that's got to be, to some degree, a reflection of his leadership."
  • On focusing on the process, not the result: "We're process-oriented in what we do. We're trying to make this team as good as we can make this team. When you lose 25 percent of your team every year in college football so you have a whole different team, a whole different mindset, a whole different chemistry, character, strengths, weaknesses, things that you have to do to work hard to try to get young players to have the maturity they need to have to play winning football."
  • Finding leaders on defense: "The important thing for leadership is how they do it in a game. Coaches can always affect practice, in my opinion, the tempo of practice, the energy, the enthusiasm. Leadership can help that. We have had a few guys on defense step up and show some leadership. Them continuing to do that in game-like situations is going to be critical."
  • Different identity on defense: "The biggest thing about this defense … is when you have a lot of new starters is the experience they have we had last year that we don't have this year. How these guys mature, how they focus -- when you lack college experience sometimes you make more mental errors. What's the consequence of that going to be? To me, that's the biggest thing I worry about when you have a lot of inexperienced players, you don't have a lot of starters coming back. It doesn't mean they're not capable, it just takes a little time for them to develop. Sometimes make the mistakes in practice and you correct them, but they always seems to have a greater impact when they make them in the game. Hopefully we'll be able to minimize that and play well as a unit."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama defense has been asked about it all week: How do you stop Denard Robinson? How do you keep one man with so much talent down?

While coach Nick Saban and the rest of the defense conceded Robinson is a man to be reckoned with, cornerback Dee Milliner said it comes down to discipline.

"It's tough when you have a guy like him that's a run-pass quarterback back there," Milliner said. "If you don't contain him or you mess up on the line, he can take it the distance himself."

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama defense is making no bones about it: They plan on knocking the bronze off Denard Robinson's Heisman campaign.

The Crimson Tide want to get to the Michigan Wolverines' indomitable quarterback and make their presence known from the opening snap when the two schools meet in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.

Defensive end Damion Square already has a plan laid out. He can even tell you the way it will happen.

"Bootleg. Sack. First play," Square said with a smirk. "13-yard loss."

There wasn't any hesitation in Square's voice. It's something he's thought about often.

"No doubt about it," he said.

The Alabama defense will have its hands full with Robinson, who enters the season as a potential candidate to win the Heisman Trophy. The senior quarterback is a play-maker on offense, a threat throwing the ball or tucking it down and taking off in a sprint down the sideline. Last season, Robinson led the team in passing and rushing. He threw for 2,173 yards and rushed for 1,349 more. He combined to score 36 touchdowns.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The time for talk is over. Game week at the University of Alabama has arrived after more than six months of waiting, speculating and pontificating to the point of exhaustion. There wasn't enough air in the room for it to last any longer.

Conjecture and analysis will finally begin to give way to actual evidence and statistics. Practice and scrimmages will surrender to the real thing.

Six days is all that separates the Crimson Tide from the first bout of their title defense. The No. 8 Michigan Wolverines await in Arlington, Texas, for what could be the most hyped season opener Alabama has been a part of since before most college-age students were born.

But the hype, to this point, has been absent in the coaching rhetoric. Nick Saban has mentioned the game in passing. Brady Hoke, too. It's hard to talk match-ups when you don't know who half your starters are on defense, as is the case with Alabama, or which players will return from suspension, as is the case with Michigan.

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Video: Tide vs. U-M biggest early game

August, 26, 2012

Kirk Herbstreit, Todd Blackledge and Scott Van Pelt look at some big early season match ups in college football.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Behind the green fence and inside the high walls of the indoor practice facility, there's something taking shape. The University of Alabama, fresh off a national championship in January, is tuning up for another run to the BCS in secret.

[+] EnlargeAlabama
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDamion Square (92) said the depth for Alabama during preseason camp is impressive.
The Alabama defense lost three-quarters of its starters from a season ago, the offense its leading rusher and top three receivers. The new faces are familiar, yet unknown. A bevy of four- and five-star recruits appear to be ready to make an impact, but their roles are still a mystery.

Damion Square has seen what's coming, but like everyone around the program, the defensive end treats the matter as if it were information only accessible to those with the highest clearance. In other words, those drawing up the game plan to beat Michigan in Week 1.

"Some of these guys are a secret," Square said. "Some guys don't know exactly what we got over here at the university. They're kind of downplaying, but I know what we have and I know what it looks like. I know that we got something real special here."

When H-Back Brian Vogler walked into the media room on campus Wednesday, he brought up Michigan five times, all without giving so much as a hint of what to expect against the Wolverines.

"The things that we can do in the passing game are ... it's hard to explain," he said. "I guess you guys will see during Michigan."

The world will get its first glimpse of Alabama on Sept. 1 against the Wolverines. Preseason polls rank UA anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3. But with so many players gone from a year ago, the number of questions outnumber the number answers available, like who will start at safety, linebacker or defensive end? Who will start at receiver, H-Back or on special teams?

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Scout's Take: Atlanta Opening Regional
National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss top performers from the Nike's The Opening regional camp in Atlanta.