You could almost sense Alabama senior center Barrett Jones was rolling his eyes when asked about preseason billing that ranked the Tide's O-Line the nation's best and Jones one of three preseason All-Americans ...
"Honestly, all that stuff, it means nothing to me because it's all based on last year, and based on potential, and we really haven't proven anything this season," Jones told TheWolverine.com. "We have high expectations, but I don't put any stock in what's being written or said by anyone outside of our locker room. It's about how we go out and perform.
"I do believe we have the chance to be a great offensive line. We have talent, experience, chemistry, but we've yet to prove ourselves."
The Outland Trophy winner last season as the nation's top offensive lineman, Jones moved from left tackle to center this season to fill a void, and because he has bought into the selfless team attitude coach Nick Saban preaches.
"Our team philosophy is we're going to put the five best linemen on the field, and if you look at the way Cyrus [Kouandjio] was developing, it was pretty clear he was one of our five best, but he's a tackle, so it made a lot more sense for me to move to center than anyone else," said Jones, who is the lightest linemen among 'Bama's starting five at 6-5, 302 pounds.
If Alabama is to dominate the Wolverines as so many are forecasting (Vegas has UA a 12.5-point favorite), then the Tide's offensive line will have to blow Michigan's defensive line off the ball, and that is the expectation considering 'Bama returns four of five starters, three - Jones, senior left guard Chance Warmack (6-3, 320 pounds) and junior right tackle D.J. Fluker (6-6, 335 pounds) dubbed preseason All-Americans by a variety of media outlets - while U-M is replacing three starters up front.
"We're not like our fans or the TV guys out there - we're not buying into our own hype, and we're certainly not disrespecting Michigan," Jones said. "Any team can beat you on any given day and we've been preparing for an opponent that will give us their best shot for four quarters."
If there is one advantage U-M's defensive line may hold, it is that the Crimson Tide have not been able to study up much on the Wolverines that will be playing the most snaps - senior defensive tackle Will Campbell, redshirt junior nose tackle Quinton Washington and junior weakside end Jibreel Black were not 2011 regulars.
"You have to study the scheme more than you study personnel," Warmack told TheWolverine.com. "When I watch the Michigan film, I see a front seven that is extremely physical, disciplined and knows how to attack on blitzes. All of those things are going to be the same this year, and then our coaches have dug up film on the guys we're going to see.
"I have nothing but respect for Michigan, and its defensive line. You hear all this stuff on television but we're not taking them lightly."
The Maize and Blue actually represent a significant barometer for the Crimson Tide to prove they haven't been slacking off all summer. In 2010, a year after UA won the national title, it dropped three games, and 'Bama was accused of feeling entitled while becoming complacent. The Tide players have heard the same charge this August, and understand there is no better moment to make a statement than Saturday.
"Just like any team in college football, you have to start from the ground up, and each week is another opportunity to go out there, play your best football, and beat the team opposite you," Warmack said. "Michigan is the same way. They want this game just as much as we do, and they don't care that we're the defending national champion, and we don't care either. That's in the past, and our focus is on one step at a time."