The coach matters, you know.
Nick Saban doesn't lose these games. Perhaps that's a very facile and non-analytical way to look at this matchup, but it's the one I keep coming back to. When you give Nick Saban an entire offseason to prepare for a big game at a neutral site, he wins.
Clemson and Virginia Tech were the clearest examples of this, teams that were clobbered by the Tide en route to undefeated regular seasons. If you throw in nonconference teams that were the first significant opposition Alabama has faced, two wins against Penn State in the last couple of season have to be added to the record.
And while Alabama might be down a step or two on defense this year -- they only return four starters -- it's hard to see the kind of meltdown that would allow an up-and-down Michigan defense lacking its best running back to pull off an upset. A Nick Saban defense that has taken a small step backwards is still better than most of the defenses that are going to take the field in college football in a given season.
The Tide's offense isn't exactly shabby, either. It might not have the flashy playmakers like Julio Jones and Mark Ingram, but it has a steady leader in the form of A.J. McCarron. In an offense that calls on the quarterback to make plays but doesn't rely solely on the passing game, McCarron does just that -- he was 25th in passing efficiency in the nation last year and in the top third of SEC quarterbacks.
There might be some other games where the losses on defense will catch up to Alabama, but this won't be one of them. The head coach will make sure of that.
Alabama 34, Michigan 24