Edson: U-M, Alabama Are On a Collision Course

The calendar says 2016. Under the Die-Hard University of Michigan fan’s guidebook to success, this was the year the Wolverines were supposed to finish among the top two in the Big Ten football race.

But something tells me under the Jim Harbaugh guidebook to success, that 2016 was the year the Wolverines were supposed to finish among the top two teams in the country.

Judging from the steam roller that Michigan has become this season, Harbaugh is right on target.

And to be truthful, I’m surprised by how far and how fast the Wolverines – make that Harbaugh and his staff – have turned the program around.

There are only a handful of dominant teams in college football this season and the two best from what I’ve seen are Michigan and Alabama.

If they do end up meeting for the National Championship, do yourself a favor. Take what the oddsmakers call “the under.” That is, the combined score for the game would be “under” what the Las Vegas line is. For instance, a normal college football line is in the 40s for two teams combined.

So if Michigan won 17-14 and the points over-under line is 42, you win. The combined points would be 31. But I would never, of course, advocate gambling.

My point is that these two teams both have great defenses. Alabama may be a shade better on defense but Michigan has the better offense.

So a game like this would boil down to special teams and which team makes the fewest mistakes. That’s typical of what decides a big game.

But the big matchup in this game would be Harbaugh against Nick Saban.

They both know the secret to winning football games over the long haul is to have dominant offensive and defensive lines. Oh sure, the fans mostly talk about the “skill position” players because that’s who handles the football on every play.

But if you’ve ever watched a football game without following the ball – watching the blocking, tackling and coverage defenses – you see where the real difference is between teams.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a huge advantage to have a Heisman-type player on your team. But I’ll take 2-3 road graders on the offensive and defensive line for every star position player.

Harbaugh and Saban know it and they’ve made a great living off it.

We would be hard-pressed to see a more interesting national title game this year. But first, both Michigan and Alabama have a few obstacles to clear. Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes are itching to spoil the Wolverines’ perfect season. Alabama still has some land minds to navigate.

But make no mistake. Michigan and Alabama are on a collision course… even if it is a year early for nearly everyone except Jim Harbaugh.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.