"We teach multiple guys how to do these roles and see what mix and matches the best," Saban said. "But I also think you have to be conscious of how many reps you’re going to get in practice, especially during the season, and if a guy has too many multiple roles, is he going to get enough reps in that role to be effective in the game?" Saban looks for certain qualities in a Star. "You can be a really good Star and not have the long speed to be a good corner," he said. "Long speed being that if a guy runs a takeoff on you, you have to run and not get out run when the ball is in the air. "If you have really good quickness and cover ability, the slot guy (receiver) has a hard time beating you in that position, because he's closer to the safeties, he's closer to the middle of the field. So a good tackler, a good blitzer, a good cover guy on a slot player, which is different than a good cover guy on an outside player."
Alabama coaches aren’t searching for the best players right now. Remember, a true freshman who didn’t go through spring training may have been on campus all summer, but he didn’t get on the field until earlier this month. "Here, it’s which guys do you choose to continue to coach and develop and try to get ready for halfway through the season, knowing that he’ll be a better player, have a role and make a contribution," Saban said. And a guy with three national championships, including two in the last three years, pretty much has his system down and this is easy, right? "Those decisions are always difficult," Saban said.
Lesser-known wideouts like Kevin Norwood, who had a career-best four catches for 78 yards in the national championship game, and Kenny Bell are joined by much-touted newcomers. McCarron is standing by his targets. "The rest of the country might not know what they can do, but I know," said McCarron, who capped his first season as starter with MVP honors in the BCS championship game. "That's all that matters to me. It doesn't matter how many top 10 plays we get on ESPN. I know they're making plays for me. "One of the proudest things for me is it's not only one of the most skillful groups of receivers we've had since I've been here, but they're really good off the field. They're all levelheaded guys."
David Romer, a professor of political economy at the University of California, Berkeley, published a paper in 2005 on the statistics of punting that has become the gospel for the antipunting faction. Romer, who analyzed data from N.F.L. games from 1998 to 2004, determined, among other things, that teams should not punt when facing fourth-and-4 yards or less, regardless of field position. "Of course, there are times when punting is a good idea," Romer said in an e-mail message, "just not nearly as many as football coaches seem to think." Brian Burke, the publisher of advancednflstats.com, said teams should go for a first down when they faced fourth-and-1, or when it was fourth down from the opponent’s 35 to 40. Burke also said that he believed that teams should try to score a touchdown when facing fourth-and-goal from the 6 or closer, assuming a last-second field goal is not called for. "If everyone agrees out of fear or ignorance to sort of play ultraconservative, nobody really has an advantage," Burke said. "There’s no development, no evolution. Coaches have strategies that are generations behind where the sport really is. It’s going to take someone to stick their neck out."
As a true freshman, Will Hagerup wasn't just good -- he put together the second-best punting season in Michigan football history. Big things were thought to be on the horizon for the kid with the golden leg. But as a sophomore last year, he was suspended four games, led Michigan to a last-place finish in net punting in the Big Ten and averaged a scant 25 yards per attempt in the Sugar Bowl. Now, coach Brady Hoke has declared there is an open competition for the starting job between Hagerup and sophomore Matt Wile -- a battle that, as of last week, Hagerup appears to be losing. So, what is driving the curious case of Will Hagerup? Hagerup, asked that very question, says it starts with that four-game suspension to begin last season. "Missing the first four games was very disappointing for me," said Hagerup, who also was suspended for one game as a freshman. "I never could really get that consistency going. Never had that one game where I really got back into things. And I think that’s what's big in the nonconference games, is to get your step back a little bit.
Brady Hoke’s leadership. Denard Robinson’s talent. An improved defense and the first win in a BCS bowl since 2000. Michigan has restored some of its lost luster and just three years after losing a school-record nine games, college football’s winningest program is nationally relevant again. When he was hired to replace Rich Rodriguez, Hoke scoffed, “This is Michigan for God’s sake,” after being asked about the Wolverines slipping. Nineteen months later, he couldn’t fathom the idea that more people hold the program in a higher regard now than they did during the Rodriguez era. “I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t respect whenever anyone says, ‘This is Michigan,’ ” Hoke said. “This is Michigan football — it’s 11 national championships and 42 Big Ten championships.”
When Michigan players carried Lloyd Carr off the field after beating Florida in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, it was a breathtaking moment to close the coach's career and finally a chance to feel good after what had been a devastating season of high profile losses. It was also the first bowl win in five years for the Wolverines, and the biggest win against a non-conference opponent since beating Alabama in the Orange Bowl eight years earlier. Outside of that moment, the Wolverines struggled mightily during the rest of the decade when it came to facing big-named teams from outside the rust belt. This season, U-M again matches up with Alabama, this time in the season opener, and the game looms large. If Michigan wants to be a championship caliber program again, beating Alabama would be a major first step.
Within the next three to four months, Hancock expects a revenue-sharing formula to be formally decided. The conference commissioners agreed in principle in June over how the playoff money will be divided. "Everybody realizes that this new revenue -- whatever amount it is -- is being driven in large part by who can potentially be in the games," Hancock said. The model could be based in part on conferences' past performances. "There will also be a significant share just to the (playoff) participants," Hancock said.