Michigan Football: The Ins and Outs, Highs and Lows of the 2012 Schedule
Spring practice has ended for the Michigan Wolverines, which means that we can now focus on the regular season that is still a few months away from kicking off.
With Michigan having so much success last season, the expectations have been as high as they've been in quite some time. They return a total of 14 starters, including eight on defense, and are the favorite to win the Big Ten and a dark horse for the national championship.
But before we can crown them national champs, they must survive a few roadblocks with a somewhat difficult schedule.
Here is a complete breakdown of the Michigan Wolverines' 2012 schedule.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Any team can win on any given day, but I'll go out on a limb and say that Michigan will have a fairly easy victory against the UMass Minutemen.
This is a team that went 5-6 in the CAA last season and likely don't have one starter on their roster that could play for the Wolverines.
Anything can happen, as we saw with Appalachian State in 2004, but this is by far the easiest game on the schedule for Michigan.
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
Taking on Alabama is by far the toughest game for the Wolverines, and it's the first game of the season for both teams.
The game will take place at Cowboys Stadium and will likely be a prime-time game that will have everybody watching.
The game will feature bright lights, and the winner will make a huge early statement as far as national championship contenders are concerned.
If you want to be considered one of the top teams in the country, there's no better statement than beating the defending national champions. This is a must-watch game for every college football fan out there.
Leon Halip/Getty Images
We could go with UMass here again, but instead we'll pick another lousy team in Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers only won three games last season and had an offense that averaged fewer than 19 points a game and a defense that allowed nearly 32.
It was the Wolverines who handed them their worst loss of the year with a 58-0 victory, and Michigan has won 20 of the last 21 meetings against them.
I don't see things changing in this matchup. Expect another beat-down by the Wolverines.
Potential for Disaster
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The Air Force Falcons are only bringing back three starters on both sides of the ball, but the Wolverines will still have to defend that triple-option offense.
Usually, great teams eventually figure it out and end up dominating by the second half—although the Falcons did play Notre Dame close last season and only lost by 11 to Boise State.
Air Force has always been a fantastic rushing team and was ranked third in the country last season, averaging more than 300 yards on the ground a game.
If the running game could get going and they can find ways to keep Michigan's offense on the sidelines, this one could get interesting.
Not to mention this game is directly after the game against Alabama, so maybe there is a bit of a letdown factor.
Most Intriguing Matchup
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
And we're back to this game.
Alabama should open up the season as a top-three team in the country, while Michigan will be a top-15, possibly top-10.
The winner will take a huge step in accomplishing their season goals and will jump several spots in the rankings.
Alabama is a team that returns 12 starters and have enough depth on both sides of the ball to repeat.
Brady Hoke did a fabulous job his first season as head coach, and it's going to be interesting to see if he can get his team to take that next step. This game will tell us a lot about both teams and really shake up the rankings early on.
While most games during Week 1 of the season are played against cupcakes, this is one to really get excited about.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is doing a great job with this Northwestern program, and they're beginning to become consistent enough to where some of the more talented teams in the Big Ten have to pay attention to them.
They only lost to Penn State by 10 last season, they beat Nebraska in their house and they only lost to Texas A&M by 11.
The bad news for the Wildcats is that they only return 10 starters and are searching for a quarterback.
I think the Wolverines will win this game, but it's not one to take lightly. Michigan can't get caught looking ahead to Ohio State, or their season could suffer a crushing blow.
Rivalry Game Prediction
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Brady Hoke ended the drought last season and is looking to begin his own little winning streak—although things have changed since last season.
Urban Meyer is now the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
He'll be running his notorious spread offense, which should make that offense much better than it was a season ago.
The Buckeyes do return 19 starters, including 10 from a defense that was ranked 27th in scoring defense. Both of these teams are very similar in that they both have similar style quarterbacks and are very strong defensively.
It's still extremely early to predict a game that will be played at the end of November, but as of right now I'm going with the Wolverines, simply because they'll have much more to play for, as the Buckeyes are banned from postseason play this year.
Michigan wins: 31-24
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Hawkeye fans believed last season, and they should believe this year as well.
The Wolverines lost last season to Iowa as well as the last three meetings.
Iowa returns the majority of last year's squad, including six members of the defense and quarterback James Vandenberg, who was a very underrated player last season.
Iowa also has a lot of talent at the receiver position, starting with senior Keenan Davis, who averaged more than 14 yards per reception a year ago.
The Hawkeyes aren't pushovers, and when you have a solid quarterback running the show, there's always a chance you can come out victorious.
Heisman Highlight Game
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Denard Robinson has been on the Heisman ballot the last couple of years now, but he has never received an invitation to New York because of the large amount of interceptions he throws.
Throughout the spring, he's been working on his footwork and trying to limit the amount of mistakes he makes on the football field.
Robinson will once again enter the season as a Heisman candidate and will need to make a statement in Week 1 against the Crimson Tide. They, of course, have one of the top defensive units in the country and will not make things easy on the senior quarterback.
If he's able to lead the Wolverines to victory and score three or more touchdowns without turning the ball over, he'll instantly become the favorite for the award with a whole season left to play.
Leon Halip/Getty Images
We talked about some of the must-win games here, but another one you can add to that list are the Michigan State Spartans.
This is simply a game the Wolverines have to have, because they've lost the last four games against their little brother.
The Spartans are also missing their starting quarterback from a year ago and their top four receivers.
Not to mention the game is being played in Ann Arbor, which should make the Wolverines even larger favorites in this matchup.
If the Wolverines want a shot at a possible national championship, these are teams they simply have to beat.