Friday, July 13, 2012

#8 Michigan

Brady Hoke led Michigan to a great season last year that ended with an overtime victory in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. Compiling an 11-2 record and ending the losing streak to Ohio State made the expectations for this year's squad to not only win the Big Ten, but compete for a BCS Title as well. The Wolverines are in the Legends division of the Big Ten and will have to compete with the likes of Michigan State and Nebraska if they wish to win the division. With 13 offensive and defensive starters returning plus their kicker and punter, they will be a formidable opponent for anyone they face.

The Wolverines return 6 starters on an offense that was ranked 42nd in total offense, 93rd in passing, and 13th in rushing. Returning quarterback Denard Robinson will lead the attack and need to look to improve on his passing numbers from last year. Robinson threw for 2,173 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. His inaccuracy with his passes cost them the Iowa and Michigan State games and almost cost the the Notre Dame game. While he may not be the greatest passes in the world his running ability is unmatched by anyone in the game today. Robinson led the team in rushing by running for 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. He was a Heisman front runner until his lack of a passing game began to hurt his performances. Fitzgerald Touissant was also a thousand yard rusher last year running for 1,041 yards and 9 touchdowns. Touissant will look to carry the ball more this year to try and alleviate some of the physical pounding Robinson took. While the receiving corps has experience, they are only returning one starter in Roy Roundtree. Roundtree had 19 receptions for 355 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. Jeremy Gallon was the team's second leading receiver last year and will look to expand on his 31 receptions for 453 yards and 3 touchdowns from last year. Jerald Robinson looks to fill the third wide receiver slot and had no significant playing time last year. Michigan still uses a tight end and Brandon Moore looks to do more than his 1 reception for 9 yards he had last year. He was primarily used as a blocking tight end last year when he did play. The offensive line returns 3 starters in right guard Patrick Omameh, right tackle Michael Schofield, and left tackle Taylor Lewan. Ricky Barum will take over the center position and true freshman Kyle Kalis looks to be at the left guard position. If Denard Robinson can make Michigan have the threat of a passing game, their offense will be vastly improved from last year.

Michigan's defense was vastly improved over the one that former coach Rich Rodriguez had during his tenure in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines' defense ranked 17th in total defense, 39th in rushing defense, and 16th in passing defense. The Wolverines return 7 starters on defense and will rely heavily on their linebacking corps to manage the defense until the young defensive line shapes up. The defensive line only has one returning starter in defensive end Craig Roh. Roh had 32 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks last year. Brennen Beyer will play at the other defensive end after seeing action in 11 games last year and registering 11 tackles. The defensive tackles will be William Campbell and Jibreel Black who last year combined for 32 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. The strength of this defense will the linebacking corp led by Jake Ryan at the Sam, Kenney Demens at the Mike, and Desmond Morgan at the Will. Demens led the team in tackles last year with 94 as well as registering tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Morgan had 63 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 sack after becoming the starter in the 7th game of the season. Ryan had only 37 tackles but led the team in tackles for loss with 11 as well as getting 3 sacks. The secondary returns all 4 starters with corner back J.T. Floyd,  corner back, Blake Countess, strong safety Jordan Kovacs, and free safety Thomas Gordon. Kovacs was the second leading tackler on the team with 75 and also had 8 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Gordon was the third leading tackler on the team with 67 and included 1.5 tackles for loss. Floyd held down his side of the field and registered 48 tackles. Countess had 44 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. The Wolverines will need to improve their pass rush though and try to get more than the 30 they had last year. If they can do that and hold the fort while the defensive line gels, they will be one of the better defenses in the nation by the end of the year.

Michigan has a rough non-conference schedule to start the year. The marquee matchup of the opening weekend will be Michigan against Alabama in Cowboys Stadium. After they play Alabama, they return home to face the triple option running Air Force Falcons before getting a breather against UMASS. A night game at Notre Dame will be their last non-conference matchup before getting a bye. Michigan then goes to Purdue before getting back to back home games against Illinois and Michigan State. Back to back road games follow with trips to Nebraska and Minnesota before coming home for two more games. The final homestand sees Michigan playing Northwestern and Iowa before the big showdown at Columbus against the Buckeyes. I see Michigan going 10-2 or 11-1 with this schedule. I think they will lose to Alabama in a game that will be close early and I think they lose either at Nebraska or at Ohio State. One conference loss should be enough to help them win the Legends division and send them to the Big Ten Championship Game. I think that Michigan will win that and head to the Rose Bowl in Brady Hoke's second year.

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