Not too many experts expected the Michigan Wolverines to finish the 2011 season with 11 victories and a Bowl Championship Series victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which has now set the table for high hopes and much larger expectations in 2012 after head coach Brady Hoke brought the Wolverines back to national prominence in his first season in Ann Arbor.
The 2011 squad was led by a group of seniors who had endured the trials and tribulations of the Rich Rodriguez era and fought tooth and nail every day to leave Michigan as winners.
Defensive linemen Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and former walk-on Nate Heineger were the spearhead of this group and all played their final game in a Michigan uniform when the Wolverines knocked off Virginia Tech 23-20 in overtime of the 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl.
The Wolverines will also lose All-American center David Molk and their leading wide receiver Junior Hemingway on the offensive side of the ball, but there is still plenty of talent returning and soon to be arriving for the 2012 season.
Seven starters will return on defense and six return on offense, which should provide the Wolverines with a great corps of savvy veterans in addition to a recruiting class currently ranked No. 4 in the nation according to Rivals.
Are the Wolverines poised to make another BCS run next season?
Only time will tell, but here is a first look at who will likely be hitting the field first for Michigan when they open their 2012 campaign against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.