The countdown to the 2012 ‘Cowboys Classic’ season opener between Michigan and Alabama in Arlington, Texas is slowly ticking down, but the discussion is already ramping up.

With fall practices just around the corner, football is about to take the main stage once again.

At the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Alabama coach Nick Saban acknowledged that the season opener will be a stiff test for the reigning national champion Crimson Tide.

“I think playing a great opponent like Michigan the first game of the season really enhances your players’ sort of work ethic and preparation in the off-season,” Saban said, “because they know they’re going to play a top-notch team right off the bat, and that’s very challenging. That’s kind of been the reasoning behind it, and it’s worked out well for us.

“But we know that Michigan is going to have an outstanding team and it will be a very challenging game for us this year.”

Saban and Alabama are no stranger to facing another ranked team at a neutral site during non-conference play in September.

In 2007, the Crimson Tide faced Florida State in Jacksonville; in 2008, they faced Clemson in Atlanta; in 2009, they faced Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Alabama also just completed a home-and-home series with Penn State.

“We’ve had a lot of national exposure that has really enhanced the development of our program, especially in the early years, by playing neutral-site games against very good national competition,” Saban said.

“Now having the opportunity to go play Michigan in Dallas, and we’re going to come back to Atlanta and play Virginia Tech and West Virginia in the next two years. These are the kind of games we look for national exposure.”

Michigan coach Brady Hoke will take the podium at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago next Thursday. Be sure to stay tuned to for full coverage from Chicago next week.

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