September 01, 2015

(AP) - When it comes to running the ball, few teams in the country can match the recent successes and lineages boasted by Wisconsin and Alabama.

Next to step out of the shadows Saturday night are two juniors: Corey Clement for the No. 20 Badgers and Derrick Henry for the third-ranked Crimson Tide.

After biding their time behind big-name stars, Clement and Henry are poised to take over in their respective backfields when their teams meet in a marquee season opener in Arlington, Texas.

''This is something that I've prepared for, especially taking two years just to get this primary role,'' Clement said. ''I feel as if I'm ready.''

He better be with the Tide's formidable front seven standing in the way.

Then again, perhaps no tailback had a better view last year of the lengths that defenses will go to stop a strong runner than Clement. He was the backup to Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon, a first-round draft pick for San Diego.

Gordon seemingly got stronger as the season wore on, even with all the extra attention. This offseason, Clement prepared mentally and physically for more carries, including the arduous task of climbing up and down the Camp Randall stairs while holding on to a 50-pound weight.

The affable Clement has bulked up his 5-foot-11 frame. He was used to getting 15 to 17 carries a game last year, but that was typically toward the end of games.

Clement said he ''kind of got tired toward the end because (Wisconsin) would just run, run, run to drain the clock out.''

Now, Clement will be counted on to set the tone. Ideally, he's hoping to get 20 to 25 carries.

That should not be a problem for new coach Paul Chryst, who was the Badgers' offensive coordinator before a three-year stint as the coach at Pittsburgh.

''This team has obviously been a very, very strong running team but I think Paul has always been a guy that has been able to create balance with what he does,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

As it is, Clement has already had the kind of start to his college career that backs at many other schools would savor, running for nearly 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns in his two years in Madison. He had 949 yards rushing and nine scores on 147 carries last season.

He'll be running behind an offensive line in a state of flux after Chryst was forced to mix and match all through training camp because of injuries. Junior Walker Williams will get the start at right guard, while sophomore Hayden Biegel will start at right tackle.

''You just have to act natural and just do whatever you see. Sometimes the hole is not going to be there, sometimes it is, and this is not a game where every run has to go for a home run,'' Clement said.

Henry was even better than Clement in 2014, running for 1,025 yards and 11 touchdowns on 172 carries. He served as the backup to T.J. Yeldon, a second-round pick of Jacksonville.

Henry outrushed Yeldon by just 13 yards, but Yeldon turned into one of the program's top five rushers in just three years. Yeldon succeeded Eddie Lacy, who succeeded Trent Richardson, who succeeded Mark Ingram.

Then again, the 6-3 Henry is used to the spotlight himself. He set the national high school record for career rushing yards.

''Oh yeah, he has the respect. Derrick is a great running back, man. He has great size but most importantly, he has speed,'' tight end O.J. Howard said.

The key stat for Alabama is 140 yards rushing. The Tide are 69-3 since 2008 when rushing for at least that total, with the losses coming against Auburn in 2013, and Mississippi and Ohio State in 2014.

Being able to depend on a strong running game again will be imperative for Alabama, which is still dealing with an unsettled quarterback situation. Saban has yet to name a starter, choosing between Jake Coker, Cooper Batemen and Alec Morris.

The Crimson Tide are hardly alone in keeping a tight lid on which quarterback will take the field in the season opener. It's not even uncommon at Alabama except that there are apparently three guys, not just two, still in the mix just days ahead of this game.

One of them will be getting the good news at some point this week.

''I'd like to let him (the winner) know three months ago,'' Saban said. ''It's not about what I like, it's about what we need to do for our team right now and making a decision for our team. We're going to make the decision when we think it's the right time to make the decision for this group of guys.

''Like I said, I would have liked to have made it three months ago.''

Saban said each candidate has gotten a segment of practice so they can get repetitions based on what they'd run in the game. He said they haven't tried to divvy the reps equally three-way.

''We're going to manage it internally like we manage it,'' Saban said. ''I'm hopeful that one of these guys does a great job. Look, I'm confident in these guys. I'm confident that they can play well in this game.

''And I just would like to see somebody win the team over, which may not happen until they play.''

It's not just a mystery for reporters and fans. It also forces Wisconsin to at least do some preparation for three fairly different quarterbacks when only Coker has attempted a college pass. Chryst figures the Badgers will just have to make some in-game adjustments.

''We kind of knew going in that there was going to be a number of different possibilities, and therefore, I think it allowed us to focus on really what we know of Alabama and what they do,'' Chryst said. ''In every game, there's going to be certain adjustments that need to be made, whether it's something different than what you saw to be with a player that we know.''

There is no quarterback controversy for the Badgers after Chryst anointed Joel Stave the starter in the offseason, a welcome change for the senior after two training camps of uncertainty under Gary Andersen. Stave is 21-7 as a starter, and his 58 percent completion percentage is fifth-best in school history.

These storied programs are meeting for the first time since Wisconsin's 15-0 victory in 1928.

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