Kickoff isn’t until 7 p.m., but here are six points to consider as 14-point favorite Alabama faces Michigan at Cowboys Stadium.
1. Young defense: We all know the Crimson Tide lost six guys to the NFL draft, and although Alabama has plugged in talented guys, there’s plenty of inexperience. Michigan probably isn’t the best opponent for Alabama’s young defense to play in the opener. Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson is a bit unpredictable, and it’s up to the Tide to remain disciplined — even if Robinson produces the occasional big play.
2. If McCarron goes out: Alabama doesn’t have the same depth at quarterback as it does at other positions. Junior AJ McCarron is the unquestioned leader of the offense, and if he goes down, Alabama will turn to redshirt freshman Phillip Ely. He redshirted last year after leading Plant High in Tampa, Fla., to a state championship in 2010. Although Ely seems talented, he might be a little out of his element if he were put in the action this quickly.
3. Missing running back: Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has suspended starting tailback Fitz Toussaint and backup defensive end Frank Clark after their summer arrests. ESPN’s Todd McShay said Toussaint is good at making defenders miss in small spaces and will be missed today.
However, he struggled last year against good defensive teams such as Virginia Tech (13 rushes, 30 yards), Michigan State (2-7) and Iowa (16-58). Thomas Rawls (5-10, 218 pounds) is bigger than Toussaint (5-10, 202), although he carried the ball only 13 times for 79 yards last year.
And, by the way, I’m sick and tired of hearing how impressive and wonderful Hoke is for suspending an OK running back for this game. Just nominate him for sainthood already and stop talking about it. Geesh.
4. The kicking game: We haven’t talked about it much at all in the preseason, but Alabama still doesn’t seem settled on who should kick semi-long field goals. In the past two seasons, that’s been Cade Foster, and he did well with it in 2010, making 7 of 9 field goals. Last year, he made 2 of 9. Nick Saban’s depth chart shows both Jeremy Shelley and Foster scheduled to kick, but how will Foster handle his chances?
5. Freshman additions: Two freshmen have a chance to make a big difference for Alabama’s offense — running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper. Both shined in preseason practice, and for their first college game, they’re getting a huge stage. How much of a difference will they make?
6. Eddie Lacy’s chance: He is considered one of the offense’s leaders and enters the season with plenty of experience. But he hasn’t started a collegiate game, and the most carries he has had in one contest is 13 against Arkansas last year. How will he handle getting, say 25 rushing attempts?