Michigan 2012 Football Schedule: Keys to Each Game

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMay 9, 2012

Michigan 2012 Football Schedule: Keys to Each Game

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    College football fans can't wait for the regular season to kick off as we're only a few months away from the first week arriving.

    Michigan Wolverine fans have to be even more excited with all of the expectations they have set this season. Head coach Brady Hoke led the Wolverines to a BCS bowl victory and 11 wins in his first season as coach. Now that he returns a majority of the starters from last season and has a talented recruiting class coming in, everyone is wondering what he'll be able to do next.

    This time around the Wolverines don't have a cakewalk of a schedule, so it's going to be a true test to see if this Michigan team is seriously a national championship contender.

    We've already ran through the schedule, gave you predictions and listed some of the must-win games as well.

    Now it's time to give you one key to victory for each game on the Michigan Wolverines 2012 schedule.

Vs. Alabama (In Arlington, TX): 09/01

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    Key: Don't turn the ball over. 

    It's hard to come up with a key to this game because Michigan didn't quite play a team as talented or as physical as Alabama last season. The Crimson Tide are not only the defending national champions, but also a favorite to end up winning it again this season.

    We could talk about how Michigan's front seven will have to slow down Alabama's talented backfield, or how Denard Robinson will have to play the game of his life against probably the best defense he's seen in his career.

    But it all boils down to one thing, and that's holding onto the football. It's hard enough to win games against great teams, but it's nearly impossible when you're constantly coughing the football up to the other team. Alabama forced a total of 20 turnovers last year, which didn't quite help any team that was hoping to pull off the major upset.

    I don't know if the Wolverines can actually win this game, but I do know that they give themselves an honest shot if they avoid turnovers.

Vs. Air Force: 09/08

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    Key: Stop the running game. 

    When you think of Air Force, you think of a team that struggles mightily to pass the football, but runs the ball better than most teams in the country. Last season the Falcons failed to top 200 yards on the ground only twice. In the last three seasons combined, Air Force is 13-4 when they're able to rush for over 300 yards in the game.

    The good thing for Michigan is that their rush defense was ranked third in the Big Ten, and 39th in the country last season. It's also good to know that the Falcons only return three starters on the offensive side of the ball and have lost 1,000 yard rusher Asher Clark.

    Regardless, you can expect a team that's looking to run the football a ton, and Michigan will need to stop it if they would like to earn the victory.

Vs. UMass: 09/15

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    Key: Don't get caught looking ahead. 

    There's really no easy victory in sports, any team can beat anybody and we witnessed this back in 2007 against Appalachian State. But this is by far the easiest game on the Wolverines schedule, and shouldn't take much to seal a victory against the Minutemen.

    The only way the Wolverines could end up suffering a catastrophic upset would be if they got caught looking ahead to the big match-up against Notre Dame. Even then it's hard imagining a team that went 5-6 in the CAA beating Michigan, but hey, anything can happen.

    The Wolverines would have to beat themselves in this game for UMass to have the slightest chance.

At Notre Dame: 09/22

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    Key: Create turnovers.

    This has truly been the the identity of the Irish under head coach Brian Kelly. They're a team that turns the ball over quite a bit, and it's played a huge reason in why this team has yet to climb back into the national spotlight.

    In the last two seasons, Notre Dame has turned the ball over a combined 53 times. In the eight victories last year, they turned the ball over 10 times, but in five losses it was a ridiculous 19 times. Michigan forced the most turnovers in the Big Ten last season with 29, and forced five in the victory over the Irish last year.

    This is a problem that Notre Dame knows they have to fix, but if the Wolverines can create another sloppy offensive performance, this game likely won't be as close as last year's contest was.

At Purdue: 10/06

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    Key: Produce big plays on offense. 

    Michigan obviously has the playmakers on the offensive side of the ball to produce big plays. Against the Purdue Boilermakers, it may give this team the best shot to show off those skills. This is a team that allowed 205 plays that went over 10 yards, which is by far the most in the Big Ten.

    The Boilermakers also allowed 54 plays to go over 20 yards and 18 plays to go over 30.

    Michigan was one of three teams that dropped over 500 total yards on Purdue last season, and with Robinson and company returning, things could once again get ugly for the Boilermakers. They averaged a little over seven yards a play, which is the same amount that they surrendered to Wisconsin, when the Badgers scored 62 points. 


Vs. Illinois: 10/13

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    Key: Generate pressure.

    There weren't many teams that allowed more sacks than Illinois did last season, as it finished with 46 sacks allowed on the year. That was good for 10th in the Big Ten and 109th in the entire country. In last year's match-up against the Fighting Illini, the Wolverines racked up four sacks.

    Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison did wonders with this defense his first season, and with a majority of the starters returning, they should be even better this time around. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been sacked 56 times in the last two seasons, which has to explain why this program hasn't quite gotten over the hump in the Big Ten.

    The defensive line is an issue with several key players leaving, but with the way everybody has ran through Illinois' offensive line the last two years, it might not even matter. If the Wolverines can continue to generate pressure up front, they should be able to earn their 11th victory in the last 13 meetings against Illinois.

Vs. Michigan State: 10/20

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    Key: Protect Denard Robinson.

    It's truly hard to protect a quarterback who is constantly on the move such as Robinson is, but getting sacked seven times in last year's meeting can't be good. The Spartans truly shutdown the Heisman candidate, holding him to only 42 rushing yards and 37 percent completion percentage.

    The Wolverines have a few issues along the offensive line with center David Molk and offensive tackle Mark Huyge graduating. The Spartans are returning eight starters on defense, including majority of their front seven. This is a unit that ranked sixth in the country in total defense and third in sacks with 45. 

    We know that Robinson is a playmaker, but it's hard to make plays when you have a few 300 pound men in your face. The offensive line must do a much better job at protecting Robinson to give them a chance to snap a four-game losing streak to little brother.

At Nebraska: 10/27

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    Key: Shutdown Rex Burkhead, again.

    Michigan probably played the best game of the season against Nebraska last year in a 45-17 victory. They forced three turnovers, out gained Nebraska 418 to 260 and controlled the time of possession 41 minutes to 18. 

    All of those things are fine, but the Wolverines also did something else impressive.

    They held Nebraska's star running back to only 36 rushing yards, which was by far the lowest of the season for him. They also prevented him from getting into the end zone (Only happened one other time against South Carolina) and was one of the few games he didn't have a catch.

    If the Wolverines can come out of the gate and play the way they did last season against the Cornhuskers, they'll win again with no problem. But the key to shutting down this Nebraska offense is by slowing down Burkhead and forcing quarterback Taylor Martinez to throw the football.

At Minnesota

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    Key: Control quarterback Marqueis Gray.

    Minnesota didn't do much of anything right last year, but they do have something going for them this season.

    Michigan has Denard Robinson and Minnesota has a poor man's version of him in quarterback Marqueis Gray. He finished last year with 1,495 passing yards, 966 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. The Wolverines destroyed the Golden Gophers by a score of 58-0 last year, but Gray ended up missing that game.

    This is a quarterback that rushed for 71 yards and threw three touchdowns against Michigan State last season, giving the Spartans a scare at home.

    Michigan has won the last 20 of 21 meetings against Minnesota, but the defense will have to control a talented dual-threat quarterback to avoid the upset.

Vs. Northwestern

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    Key: Stop them on third downs.

    The Wildcats only return five starters on the offensive side of the ball, but for the last five years, they've been a team that ranks in the top five in the conference in third down conversations. Last season they were second in the Big Ten, only behind Wisconsin with 47 percent, which also had them ranked 13th in the country.

    This was a big reason why they were able to remain competitive against some of the more talented teams, and was able to upset Nebraska last year. (Finished 7-12 on third downs)

    Michigan did a great job at limiting Northwestern's opportunities last season as they only converted four of 11 third downs. If the Wolverines defense can do another solid job of getting off the field, they should be able to win their seventh game in eight tries against the Wildcats.

Vs. Iowa

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    Key: Avoid turnovers

    I think everyone can agree that there was no reason for the Wolverines to lose that heart breaker of a game against Iowa last season. But the difference in the game was those two costly turnovers, as Iowa did a great job of holding onto the football.

    In the last three seasons, the Hawkeyes are a combined 17-3 when they force the opponent into at least two turnovers. Denard Robinson hasn't played particularly well against the Hawkeyes throughout his career, and will have to do a better job of holding onto the football if he'd like to help snap a three game losing streak against Iowa.

    The Hawkeyes do return six starters on offense, including underrated quarterback James Vandenberg. Turnovers are never a good thing, but in a match-up that's been decided by 10 points or less eight of the last 11 games, they are the difference in the ball game.

At Ohio State

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    Key: Withstand the first half.

    Who knows how well this Ohio State team will play with head coach Urban Meyer running the show? We do know that this is obviously a huge game for both teams, but Ohio State is looking at it from a different point of view this time around.

    With the Buckeyes banned from postseason play, they are treating this match-up as their bowl game, and hope to knock the Wolverines out of a possible Big Ten title run and BCS bowl trip. You can expect the crowd to be going nuts and the players to play this game with an even bigger chip on their shoulder.

    Not to mention this game is being played in Columbus, a place the Wolverines haven't won since 2000.

    Michigan must survive the momentum Ohio State will likely have in the beginning of the game, with the home crowd behind them, and then slowly begin to take the momentum away from the Buckeyes. You can expect Ohio State to come out the gates and make an early run, but that adrenaline can only last for so long.