Michigan Wolverines: Why Team Won't Be Able to Hang with the Big Ten in 2012
Coming off an 11-2 season and arguably their best finish since 2006, the Michigan Wolverines are poised for a disappointing 2012 season.
In Brady Hoke's first season as coach in 2011, he turned the Wolverines around quickly. He led the team to the two biggest wins in recent memory. Michigan beat rival Ohio State for the first time since 2003 in Hoke's first game in the series. The team followed its big win with a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. The overtime thriller gave the Wolverines their first bowl victory since the 2008 Capital One Bowl and their first BCS win since 2000.
During the offseason, Michigan turned in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. It appears to have a very bright future and should compete for Big Ten titles annually after years of struggling.
The Wolverines need to overcome some obstacles this season if they hope to repeat last year's success.
Last season's schedule featured only three ranked opponents, which helped Michigan breeze through the first half of the season. A loss to a ranked Michigan State squad and a disappointing game at Iowa in the middle of season were the team's only losses. The loss to the Spartans cost the Wolverines a chance to play in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, but did not keep them from earning a spot in a BCS bowl.
This year's schedule will be more challenging, as the Wolverines' toughest games are all on the road. They open the season against the defending national champion Alabama in Texas. Not only do they play a virtual road game against the Crimson Tide, they must also travel to play Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State. Michigan State will visit Ann Arbor this season and has owned Michigan in recent years.
Which game will be the toughest for Michigan?
Although they only play a handful of tough games, a loss to Alabama could take away some of their confidence early in the season. After the opening game, their road contests will be against teams looking to rebound from disappointing seasons.
Alabama and Nebraska will be their toughest games if we look on paper. Notre Dame has yet to find a quarterback and almost came out on top against Michigan last season. Down in Columbus, new coach Urban Meyer's offense should help quarterback Braxton Miller at Ohio State and could be a tough team to beat at the end of the season.
If they are able to go on the road and win their crucial games, they will need to avoid being upset at home the rest of the season.
Everyone knows how explosive senior quarterback Denard Robinson can be. However, he struggles to make plays by throwing the ball.
If Robinson barely throws for 2,000 yards and completes only 55 percent of his passes again, it will put more pressure on the running game and improved defense. Last season, Devin Gardner was used on occasion in passing situations to help move the football.
The wide receiving corps lost a productive player when Junior Hemingway was drafted. Hemingway led the conference in yards per catch the last two seasons. His production will be missed and tough to replace.
Senior Roy Roundtree will need to be even better this season and lead the young receivers behind him. If Robinson has a breakout season as a passer, the receivers will need to step up.
Their inconsistent passing game finished in the bottom half in all of college football last season. Even with Robinson's ability to run the football, he needs to learn to throw and make plays through the air. If he improves his accuracy, he will turn into one of the best all-around quarterbacks in college football.
As one of the top rushing teams in the nation last season, the Wolverines need to be more balanced on offense if they want to win the Big Ten. Teams like Alabama and Ohio State will be able to slow down the rushing attack and force Michigan to win in other ways.
The defense was terrible in 2010, but improved greatly in 2011. The offenses in the Big Ten should be improved, and Michigan's defense will need to be better as well.
With seven returning starters, the defense will need to continue to improve.
The defensive line will be their biggest weakness, and teams in the Big Ten will be able to exploit it. The Wolverines have a veteran secondary, but need to replace three players on the defensive line. With the teams in the Big Ten focused on running the ball, Michigan's front four could cost it a few games.
Since two of their three expected starting linebackers are sophomores, they do not have a lot of experience up front. Their young defensive players will need to play aggressively, and the Wolverines are not sure what to expect from them.
The defense struggled at times at the end of the season, which is a cause for concern. They allowed Ohio State's terrible passing attack to gain 235 yards in their November meeting. The Buckeyes were one of the worst passing teams in the country, and they managed to move the ball and put up points on Michigan's defense.
After a huge improvement on defense last season, Michigan needs to continue to make adjustments. The defense has potential with their young players, but they may make mistakes in big games.
After losing only two conference games last year, Michigan will take a step back this season. Playing on the road against Alabama will be tough, and I expect it to lose that game.
In conference play, Nebraska should be able to beat the Wolverines in Lincoln. After dealing with NCAA sanctions, Meyer should have the Buckeyes ready to play by the end of the season. If Miller improves his passing, look for Ohio State to knock off Michigan.
Michigan State returns most of their great defense, which will make them tough to beat. In a rivalry game, anything can happen. The Spartans will give the Wolverines all they can handle, and it may be a trap game for Michigan.
With Nebraska and Michigan State in their division, second place in the Legends Division will be tough for Michigan. Overall, Michigan might be the fifth or sixth-best team in the conference. The offense will put up points with or without Robinson throwing the ball, but the defense could keep them from a Big Ten title.
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