But it's worth watching what nonconference schedules across the country will look like in the future. Come 2014, strength of schedule will play a role with the playoff selection committee. Will conferences truly beef up their opponents? More likely, they'll try to manipulate the system the way college basketball teams sometimes exploit the Ratings Percentage Index. The goal: Beef up the bottom teams so their strength of schedule is more palatable to the conference's elite programs when they play. There's a science in gaming the system. Considering how the 12th game has gamed fans, bet on manipulation.
Alabama has more road graders than the state Department of Transportation and should have the most formidable offensive line in college football this season. Four starters return from a group that allowed only 17 sacks in 2011. The Tide did lose a center but will replace him with 6-5, 302-pound left tackle Barrett Jones, who simply won the Outland Trophy and probably would have been a first-round NFL draft choice had he come out after his junior season. Jones and 320-pound senior Chance Warmack, an All-Southeastern Conference second-team choice, should be the best center-guard tandem in America. On the right side, 6-6, 335-pound tackle D.J. Fluker steamrolls defenders, and guard Anthony Steen is as strong as they come. Meanwhile, filling in at Jones' left tackle spot will be Cyrus Kouandjio, a 6-6, 322-pound sophomore from Australia who played seven games a year ago before injuring a knee.
There can be no overestimation of how many times Robinson will be in front of the media over the next five weeks, and no way to overstate how important the game against Alabama will be for Robinson personally, for Michigan as a team and for the Big Ten as a league. The reason, of course, is that Alabama, once again, is the symbol of big-time college football, a byword for all the positives and negatives of the sport. It is why Nick Saban's face is on every magazine and most episodes off College Football Today, and also the reason his name comes up in a negative light from an attention-seeking, ax-grinding agent.
Offensive lineman Byrd Williams, a senior on the 1966 team, recalled recently how disappointing it was that Alabama wasn’t voted No. 1 in either The Associated Press rankings or coaches’ poll. The Crimson Tide (11-0) was No. 3 behind No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State. For the team, it was a bit of a realization that even Bear Bryant, college football’s greatest and most influential coach, couldn’t always sway everybody within his sport. For the team, it was a bit of a realization that even Bear Bryant, college football’s greatest and most influential coach, couldn’t always sway everybody within his sport. "The fact that we didn’t win in 1966 might’ve hurt Alabama in 1967 an ’68," Williams said while on vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyo. "The truth is, we had great faith in Coach Bryant, and we always believed that if we did everything he told us to do, we would win the national championship."
One storyline that Crimson Tide fans will want to keep an eye on as the basketball season approaches is how freshman Devonta Pollard fits in with Alabama’s system. Pollard, a five-star prospect from Mississippi, committed to Alabama on June 1 and was the Tide’s lone signee for the class of 2012. But already, Pollard is showing why he was so highly touted out of high school. "He’s really athletic. He’s living up to all the hype," Steele said. "He’s going to play a huge part. Obviously as a freshman it’s going to be tough, but before the year’s over with he’s going to be a real big part of our success so we’re glad to have him." "Just the athleticism," Eblen said. "He’s active, high-flyer, around the rim. He’ll definitely be a contributor early." And it didn’t take long for him to open some eyes around the team. "I remember the first day he came and played pickup, and somebody missed a shot and he came and just dunked it back from a couple steps inside the free throw line," Steele said. "It reminded me of Tony Mitchell a lot, but even more athletic, if you can imagine that."
1. Can the team turn the BCS title flop into a viable source of motivation? LSU fans are still asking "What happened?" in the Tigers' 21-0 loss to the Crimson Tide at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and they might keep asking into the 2012 season. Where was the dominance? Where was the running game? Where were the big defensive plays? Where were the answers? There still has been no insightful, encompassing answer from Coach Les Miles beyond the fact they played poorly and were beaten by the better team. Having to play a team they earlier defeated in a second game for the title should not be underrated, but all that is really left for LSU is to turn the loss into something positive for this season.
Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden is making an official visit to LSU this weekend and might transfer to the Tigers program, a source close to the situation said Sunday. A 6-feet-3, 214-pound junior from Orchard Lake, Mich., Bolden is one of several Penn State players considering transferring after the NCAA handed Penn State severe penalties in wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
One of the more interesting transformations in the intersecting histories of the two programs is Gene Stallings. Stallings was 27-45-1 at Texas A&M; there are only three Aggies coaches who spent more than one year in College Station and ended their tenure with a worse winning percentage. Stallings, of course, would eventually head to Tuscaloosa and win Alabama's first national title in 13 years for the Tide, the first since another former A&M coach by the name of Bear Bryant walked the sidelines at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Stallings won four division titles and conference championship to go along with the national honors in 1992 before leaving somewhat controversially after the 1996 season, with rumors saying he clashed with the new administration.
Defensive tackle Brian Schaefering indoctrinated Richardson on his first run in team drills, tossing him to the ground near the line of scrimmage. But he popped back up with some extra fire in his belly and ripped off two straight runs to the left for about 5 and 10 yards. "Oh, yeah, most definitely [I'll get tested] and that's how it's going to be," he said. "It's a contact sport and I love contact. So when it comes down to it, you've got to expect that, especially when you're the first pick of the draft and you're for the Cleveland Browns. There's a lot of tradition here as far as running backs, just the whole football program. Defenses, they're always turned up, so when you're getting checked by them every time, it's going to make you better on game day."
Rookie running back Trent Richardson ran with authority and zest during his first NFL practice in pads. "Everybody was getting their sea legs back," Richardson said. "Good thuds up ... if you don’t love contact, you’re in the wrong sport. "I think when I get in the full pads, it’s a whole other me." Richardson became the Brown’s No. 1 running back the moment he was claimed at No. 3 overall in the draft. "It’s only pressure if you make it pressure," he says now, three months after the draft.
Though some thought the Jets would respond to McElroy’s comments by getting rid of him (and it would have been hard to blame them), he ultimately could be getting a cold plate of scram, coming at a time when it’s far too late to become ensconced with a new team for the coming season.
"The rookie year was just a complete learning experience, just coming in, being familiar with my teammates, getting comfortable with my coaches, the organization, the playbook and everything else. I learned the playbook last year and this offseason, just studying it and watching film. Your second year in the NFL, I think you grow a little bit more. It was similar to your freshman year in college. My freshman year, I did some good things. My sophomore year, I grew into a better player by learning offense and learning how to read defenses. I just think your second year in the league you grow more as a player and I think that could bring some more success."