TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Somehow, the University of Alabama and Michigan have never played one another in the regular season in their 1,709-game history. The two schools have combined to win 25 national titles, but have only met on the field three times -- all in bowl games.
As the Maize and Blue and the Crimson Tide gear up for their first-ever regular-season showdown Saturday, the differences between the two programs might not as numerous as you might think, though. Common threads still exist.
Take for instance Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges. The 56-year-old assistant coach caught on with Brady Hoke at San Diego State in 2009 and made the trip with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2011 when Hoke was hired to replace Rich Rodriguez.
Before Borges ever coached in the Mountain West Conference, he made a name for himself in the SEC at Auburn, beating up on Alabama in his four seasons on the Plains. He went undefeated in the Iron Bowl from 2004-2007, winning the four games by a combined score of 98-56.
While Alabama coach Nick Saban was a part of just one of those losses to the Tigers, he said on Wednesday that there's a familiarity and respect for what a Borges-run offense looks like.
"We played against him a lot through the years when he was the offensive coordinator at Auburn and did a really good job," Saban said. "He does a lot of shifts and motions and tries to give you new looks, maybe confuse your players, but not really anything to confuse his players because they end up running the same plays. They try to out-flank you and use formation shifts and motions to do that."
Saban went on to describe the way Borges uses the players he has to his advantage.
"He's done a really good job of all those things, and also using the personnel that they have," Saban said. "They've done a good job of using what [Denard Robinson] can do at quarterback, he's a pretty dynamic player and they certainly feature the things that he can do, but still keep the other elements in the offense that keep you guessing."
While there's an awareness for what Borges is prone to do on offense, the same can't be said for Robinson. Alabama hasn't faced anyone similar to Robinson since Cam Newton in 2010.
To help simulate Robinson's presence, Alabama has relied on backup quarterback and former running back/wide receiver Blake Sims to help them become acquainted with Robinson's style of play.
"Blake has done really well," UA linebacker Trey DePriest said. "Blake's known for his shifty moves and stuff and he's already kind of quick. He's been really good in practice."
DePriest said Sims is "the best guy for the job," to get them ready to stop Robinson. He said Sims has good moves and when he jukes defenders he calls it "The Chicken," though he "never really understood the concept."
Sims can call his fake-outs The Chicken so long as they get the defense ready for what's coming Saturday. What he can't do like Robinson, though, is fail to tie his shoes. There won't be a 'Shoeless Sims' in Tuscaloosa on Saban's watch.
"Coach Saban ain't having that," DePriest said.
Alabama might be aware of Borges' play-calling tendencies and Sims can do his best Denard Robinson impersonation, but when the two schools kick off in Arlington, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium, everyone knows what they're getting when No. 16 touches the ball for Michigan.
"It's obvious: his speed, his feet, they move so fast," DePriest said of Robinson. "Everybody has to stay disciplined, keep contain, stay in the pass-rush lanes."
UA safety Vinnie Sunseri's dad, Sal, was an assistant coach at Alabama this time last year. Now, he's the defensive coordinator at Tennessee. With Vinnie playing Michigan on Saturday, Sal facing N.C. State and brother Tino, a quarterback at Pittsburgh, going against Youngstown State, the Sunseri family will be busy. Luckily for Vinnie, mom picked the trip to Dallas.
"Mom's coming to my game," Vinnie said with a laugh. "She has Tino at Youngstown State, dad at Atlanta, sister playing volleyball at Tennessee and me in Dallas.
"I won this one. I told her the rest of the ones she has to go see Tino because it's his senior year."
Saban said there were no injuries, or any news for that matter, to report after Wednesday's practice. He said that the three players with injuries -- wide receiver Amari Cooper, running back Eddie Lacy and center Ryan Kelly -- were back at practice and added that "those guys are all ready to play."
Saban on Michigan linebacker Kenny Demens: "He's a really good player. They play hard on defense. They play with a lot of toughness up front. Last year … their down guys were really quick and penetrated a lot. Their linebackers are very good, very instinctive and especially play the run extremely well. He's an outstanding player and probably one of their best football players and somebody we'll have to get blocked and finished on because these guys don't stay blocked very long."