Michigan, Alabama aiming to make big statements

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The Michigan Wolverines have reclaimed their confidence, something Alabama did shortly after Nick Saban landed in Tuscaloosa and started winning national titles.

The eighth-ranked Wolverines have already earned some preseason acclaim going into Saturday night’s opening showdown with the similarly pedigreed and second-ranked Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Beating a team that has won two of the last three national championships from a league that has captured six in a row would be an especially huge statement for Denard Robinson & Co.

“They’re just trying to show the world that they can play,” Alabama safety Robert Lester said. “The SEC is such a dominant conference, and I guess just to get any credibility points, you have to go and beat a credible SEC team. They’re just trying to prove themselves.”

Saban and the Tide have some things to prove, too, even as nearly two-touchdown favorites.

The nation’s best defense a year ago gets quite a test for seven new starters facing the dangerous Robinson, the kind of double-edged weapon Alabama hasn’t seen since Cam Newton two years ago.

This game could do much to support Saban’s contention that there’s no sense of entitlement with this team, unlike the talent-laden 2010 group that dropped three games after a championship season.

“If this team is not successful it is not because of the character and attitude of the team,” said Saban, who is 18-6 against ranked opponents and 10-4 against Top 10 teams over the last four seasons. “It will be because of the lack of experience the team has in certain positions, and they may make too many mistakes to win. It will not get compared that way, I am sure, because this team has done everything the right way.”

So one storied program wants to prove it’s back, the other that it isn’t going anywhere.

Alabama has been ranked for 65 weeks and counting, the nation’s longest active streak. Michigan was unranked going into coach Brady Hoke’s first season before going on to win 11 games and beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

This is the first time Alabama and Michigan have met in the regular season.

The Wolverines would love to make a statement for the Big Ten, besieged by Penn State’s sex abuse scandal and encumbered by Ohio State’s bowl ban. Both teams will get some quick answers about where they stand.

“I went back and thought about last year at this time,” Hoke said. “I didn’t know if we were going to win two games let alone 11, because you don’t know until you get in the real deal as far as playing games.

“Honestly, we’ll find out. We’ll find out about ourselves.”

About 32 hours before kickoff, Hoke announced he was suspending starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and reserve defensive end Frank Clark for the game. Toussaint pleaded guilty Tuesday to drunken driving. Clark is accused of taking a laptop from a dorm room.

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