On September 1st, 2012, the Michigan Wolverines will square off against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Texas Stadium. Leading Michigan out of the tunnel will be second-year coach Brady Hoke. Opposing him, three-time BCS champion coach Nick Saban.
At first glance, comparing the two rightfully seems difficult. Hoke has continually improved his status as a college head coach, but his newly acquired Michigan job marks his highest profile achievement thus far.
Hoke is responsible for leading the resurgence of his alma mater, Ball State (2003-2008), and also created a new standard of football at San Diego State (2009-2010). The Aztecs improved from 4-8 to 9-4 in his final year before departing for Michigan.
On the other hand, Saban has repeatedly experienced the highest level of success at the collegiate level. After guiding LSU to the 2003 BCS Championship, his coaching career turned professional. His resume even includes working under current New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick when Belichick worked in Cleveland.
Saban was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He ultimately returned to NCAA football by taking the Alabama job in January of 2007 and has led the Tide to two of the last three BCS Championships.
Last year, Michigan reached a BCS game and beat Virginia Tech 23-20.
Although both programs won BCS games in 2011, the 2012 season opener has a bit of a David and Goliath feel to it.
Hoke has restored energy and passion to the Wolverines. Assisted by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Coach Hoke has Michigan sporting some authentic confidence and toughness. The Wolverines team has the feel of an up-and-comer, and stand poised to attempt to take down a giant.
Across the field, the Tide stand restocked with fresh talent and eager to defend their title. Nick Saban's continued recruiting excellence has afforded Bama consistency from year to year. Even without major talents like LB Courtney Upshaw and RB Trent Richardson (both NFL first-rounders), Alabama remains the team to beat in college football.
The Wolverines under Hoke are essentially trying to replicate Saban's model and enjoy high-level consistency in the immediate future. Michigan's staff has increased its recruiting emphasis on defensive talent, as well as stressing toughness and energy to their players.
Nick Saban has helped his team learn the true meaning of grit. Alabama has every reason to be confident following their dominant 21-0 performance against LSU in the final game of last season. The Crimson Tide are a force to be reckoned with.
Ultimately, it would be generous to include Michigan's Brady Hoke with Bama's Nick Saban in the same conversation. Saban has already achieved the most BCS championship victories of any coach in history.
However, Hoke appears to have a good enough grasp on the ways to achieve success for his program. His first year in Ann Arbor proved as much, as Hoke led the Wolverines to an 11-2 finish. He will look to take the next step in 2012 and return Michigan to its storied dominance.
A new chapter in each coach's career will begin to unfold on September 1st. For Hoke, the opener has the potential of a springboard into a memorable 2012 season. For Saban, a chance to further the obvious gap between his program and the rest of college football.
Texas Stadium offers the perfect battlefield for each coach to test the will and talent of his program. And you can bet that the Big Ten, SEC and the rest of college football will tune in to see if Goliath might fall.