Michigan, as I wrote earlier today, has been given renewed hope by Brady Hoke. After a disappointing 7-6 2010 season, he came in and led the Wolverines to an 11-2 season in 2011, capped off with a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech last night in overtime.
Not the prettiest win in Michigan's history, but a Sugar Bowl victory over a higher-ranked team is a victory no matter how you look at it. The bowl win puts Michigan in a good spot for preseason rankings.
Teams that return in 2012 to be national contenders are Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia (favored to win the SEC East), LSU, Oklahoma and Michigan.
Alabama loses Trent Richardson, and Fox Sports has five 'Bama players projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft. Oklahoma State loses Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Stanford loses Andrew Luck.
Michigan keeps Denard Robinson (likely a preseason Heisman favorite alongside Matt Barkley), and opens the season against the Crimson Tide. The Tide will have some key personnel losses on defense, and Michigan will have the first opportunity to capitalize on those losses.
Even if Michigan loses to 'Bama, they aren't out of the picture. Michigan will have games against Notre Dame, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and most likely a B1G Championship Game at the end of the season.
If the Michigan offense can hang some early points on 'Bama, the Wolverines may get in the heads of the relatively youthful Tide defense. Remember, there are only a few Tide players on the team that remember why 2010 went so badly for Alabama.
Michigan has to hope that they can be the ones to fire up the Tide by handing them a season-opening loss on national television. Whoever wins that game will enjoy the LSU-Oregon type of attention from 2011's season opener.
Michigan's only losses in 2011 came from Michigan State and Iowa on the road. In 2012, both those teams travel to the Big House.
If Michigan takes care of business at home, then they become the favorite outside the SEC for the BCS title game.
Four of the teams I mentioned as contenders are out of the SEC. Unless another ridiculous year of everyone losing happens, only one of those will be in the title game next year.
So, in short, can Michigan make the title game next year? Yes. A victory over Alabama would certainly help them out, but a title game rematch against an SEC team (even the Tide) would not be out of the question.
Especially if it's a close game on September 1, 2012.