The perception surrounding the Alabama football team's choice of opponents in the last two seasons has been less along the lines of national contenders and more along the lines of all-but-guaranteed victories.
Two years ago, Alabama defeated San Jose State 48-3 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Last year, Alabama hosted and beat Kent State 48-7.
The Spartans and the Golden Flashes walked away with hefty checks as consolation; San Jose State reportedly earned a payout of $1.825 million after losses to the Crimson Tide and Wisconsin in back-to-back weekends in 2010, while Kent State -- Saban's alma mater -- reportedly received a payout of $1.2 million.
But when the Crimson Tide opens the season Sept. 1 against Michigan at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the defending BCS champion will do so against a team that's not just in it for the paycheck. Michigan, although, will receive $4.7 million from Cowboys Stadium LP, as stated in the contract for the Cowboys Classic, obtained through an open-records request.
"Michigan has got a really good team," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Thursday on ESPN Radio. "This is going to be a very challenging game for us. We're looking forward to it, I'm sure the players are looking forward to it. They're probably tired of hitting on each other, so it will be an interesting game."
Alabama opened the 2008 season with a 34-10 win over Clemson at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and opened the 2009 season with a 34-24 win over Virginia Tech, also at the Georgia Dome.
Unlike the NFL, college football teams do not have the benefit of being able to play preseason games. While the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns prepare to face NFL opponents in exhibition games as a way to both iron out wrinkles in the playbook and shore up rosters, college programs have two scrimmages during preseason camps. Michigan held its first scrimmage on Saturday.
"I thought it was physical on both sides of the ball, which it was and I think we all were very pleased with," said Michigan coach Brady Hoke, whose team is ranked eighth in the Associated Press top 25 poll. "It wasn't perfect in any way. There were some mistakes and some blown assignments but when you looked overall at the effort, which is the number one thing I'm going to look at, and the toughness we played with, I was pretty excited after watching the tape about where we had been earlier to where we were Saturday."
Saban, whose team is ranked second, held its second scrimmage Saturday.
"The second scrimmage, we can kind of look at it as an exhibition game," said Saban, who led Toledo to a 9-2 record and a share of the Mid-American Conference championship in 1990. "When you play these early games before conference play, you have to do a little bit of experimenting with a team to see what the identity really is of your team.
"Maybe you chose wrong on a few of the personnel decisions that you made, and you kind of adjust."
INJURY UPDATE: Michigan announced that a pair of players will miss the 2012 season for medical reasons. Kaleb Ringer, a freshman linebacker, underwent successful knee surgery and will be redshirted this season. Chris Bryant, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman, suffered a fractured tibia.
After Alabama's scrimmage last Saturday, Saban announced that backup center Ryan Kelly sprained his knee and that running back Eddie Lacy sprained his ankle and knee. Lacy returned to practice Wednesday, per Al.com. Also, freshman receiver Amari Cooper sat out Alabama's scrimmage because of a foot injury.
MOST INFLUENTIAL: SportsBusiness Journal named Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany No. 2 in its list of the top 25 most influential people in college football, behind Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive.
The publication named Saban, who enters his sixth year at Alabama, as the No. 15 most influential person.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.