The Big Ten needs some good news. On the field, Ohio State won the national championship in 2002 and was beaten handily in 2006 and 2007 by SEC teams in the big game. Other than that, the league has not really challenged on college football’s highest level in some time. The B1G has also lost eight of the last nine Rose Bowls in which it played. Meanwhile, the conference that many Big Ten fans loathe — the SEC — has piled up six consecutive national championships by four different schools. Off the field, the recent league landscape has been filled with scandals and coaching changes.
The Michigan Wolverines have a huge opportunity on Saturday night to make a statement that their program and their league are headed back to an elite level. Brady Hoke’s bunch gets a chance to knock off Alabama, an SEC power that has won two of the last three national championships. The Crimson Tide are ranked in the preseason top five despite losing five of the top 35 overall picks in the NFL Draft — Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. Nick Saban’s crew also lost nose tackle Josh Chapman and defensive back DeQuan Menzie to the NFL, so electric Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson should be able to make plays against an inexperienced Bama group. Mr. Shoelace has accounted for 68 Wolverines touchdowns over the last two years, and he could be a nightmare matchup for the rebuilt Tide defense.
The Michigan defense will face a fairly predictable Alabama offense, although the Tide may have the best O-line in the country. The Wolverines have a solid back seven, including an excellent secondary, but the key to beating the defending champs will be the play of the defensive front. If they can keep the Tide running game in check, Michigan should be able to keep the game close and look to win it late.
The stakes could not be higher with two top 10 traditional powers meeting at Cowboys Stadium with the entire college football nation watching. This is not just another January bowl game, but instead a chance for a B1G team to take down the cream of the crop in the SEC. Michigan’s task of beating the juggernaut Alabama program will be difficult, as Nick Saban and his staff always have the elite talent on their roster ready to play. The Wolverines will not only be playing for themselves, but also for the pride of a conference looking for positives. A UM victory would be a catalyst for the Big Ten on the field, and it would be the league’s top win since the rival Buckeyes won it all in 2002.
--By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)