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Alabama doesn’t miss a beat on defense

Successors shined in win vs. Michigan

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2012

Who will be the next college football champion? Quite possibly, it will be the same as the last champion.

There were few lasting lessons to draw from the sport's opening weekend. Only two games pitted ranked opponents against each other. There were no real upsets to be found among the top teams Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The most emphatic statement, though, came from No. 2 Alabama in its 41-14 thrashing of No. 8 Michigan in Dallas.

The Crimson Tide offense was efficient in the opening half, scoring on four of its first five possessions. It did its job, arguably a bit better than it usually did last year. It was a welcome sign for Alabama.

But the lasting impressions came thanks to a defense coming off the best collective season of the young century.

Alabama yielded 8.15 points a game and 183.6 yards a game last year. Both are the sport's best figures since at least 2000. It also lost the majority of its starters.

Their replacements merely bottled up Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who had just 27 yards and a score on 10 carries. He beat the Crimson Tide secondary for a long touchdown pass only after Alabama built a 34-7 lead and tossed two interceptions, one of which the Tide returned for a score.

It would be an overstatement to describe it as a masterpiece. The Wolverines might not be quite a top-10 team just yet. The divide between them and the defending national champ was noticeable.

Nonetheless, it was a healthy reminder the Crimson Tide doesn't take huge steps back under Nick Saban, regardless of a talent exodus. Alabama is 49-6 over the past four years plus a game and has spent exactly three weeks outside the top 10 since entering it in September 2008.

No, not much was learned this weekend. But Alabama issued a reminder it will not cede its place at the top easily after last season's title.

WEEKEND RISERS

• Clemson. Despite a well-earned reputation over the years of stumbling when expectations are highest, the Tigers secured a 26-19 victory over Auburn in Atlanta. To make the feat more impressive, Clemson did it without suspended receiver Sammy Watkins. Tailback Andre Ellington (231 yards) and wideout DeAndre Hopkins (13 receptions) were vital in securing a reputable nonconference win.

• Ohio. Let's be clear about something: The Bobcats' 24-14 victory at depleted and scandal-ridden Penn State was not a massive upset. Ohio won 10 games last year, is deep and experienced, doesn't face the projected top three teams from the opposite division in the Mid-American Conference and will play only one more bowl team from 2011 (Marshall). An unbeaten season is on the table in Athens.

• Taylor Martinez. The Nebraska junior's erratic play occasionally has provided amusement the past couple of years, but he threw for 354 yards and five touchdowns in the Cornhuskers' rout of Southern Mississippi. If Nebraska is to outlast Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten's Legends Division, Martinez needs to minimize mistakes. Saturday was a sign he might be progressing on that front.

WEEKEND DECLINERS

• Pittsburgh. The Panthers' first game under Paul Chryst (their sixth coach, either full-time or interim, since December 2010) was a thorough dud, a 31-17 thrashing at the hands of Youngstown State. Considered a dark horse preseason Big East pick, Pittsburgh instead absorbed one of the week's most humbling losses.

• Houston. Just nine months ago, the Cougars held hopes of earning a BCS bid. Then they lost in the Conference USA title game, lost their head coach (Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M) and lost their quarterback (Case Keenum's eligibility finally expired). Saturday, they lost at home to major college football newcomer Texas State 30-13.

• Savannah State's pride. The Tigers received $385,000 to open the season at Oklahoma State. The price of doing so? An 84-0 loss to the Cowboys. To make matters worse, Savannah State heads next week to Florida State, which pummeled Murray State 69-3 in its opener.

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