I began by taking a broad overview of the Michigan program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Wolverines will do this season.
Two weeks ago, I scanned over the 2012 Michigan offense and how it projects.
Last week, I looked at the 2012 Michigan defense and how it is shaping up.
This week, I'll look at the Wolverines' specialists, recruiting class and schedule; and I'll give a final breakdown and my prediction for Michigan in 2012.
Brady Hoke not only fixed the defensive mess left behind by Rich Rodriguez but also improved a holy mess at special teams.
Hoke took 2010's worst field-goal kicking unit in the nation and turned it into the conference's sixth best.
The place kicker in question—junior Brendan Gibbons—will be back in 2012.
Kickoff specialist sophomore Matt Wile will also return. Last year, as a true freshman, he came in sixth in the conference in touchback percentage.
Punter is still an issue, as Wile and junior Matt Hagerup split duties last season, with the combined totals measuring out to the conference's second-worst average.
I was always surprised that Rodriguez's Michigan never found an explosive return man, given that every offensive skill position player was a glorified slot receiver—i.e. ideal return men.
Many of those slot receivers are still on the team and should provide some options in the return game.
2012 Recruiting Class
The class was particularly heavy on defensive linemen, not surprisingly, with six new Wolverines in the fold.
One of those linemen that is almost assured of getting immediate playing time is Ondre Pipkins, Rivals' No. 3 defensive tackle in the country. At 6'3", 325 pounds, Pipkins is ready to play Big Ten football. Though it is never a good idea to start a true freshman on either side of the line, with his mass, Pipkins could be invaluable as a run stuffer off the bench.
West Des Moines wide receiver Amara Darboh chose the Wolverines over in-state Iowa. He is 6'2", 190 pounds and fits the ideal that Brady Hoke and Al Borges want out of their receivers. In effect, as the offense continues to transition from Rodriguez's offense, Darboh could gain snaps as a deep threat.
As was mentioned in the offensive breakdown, the graduation of Kevin Koger left a void at tight end. And 6'6", 260-pound A.J. Williams out of Cincinnati could come right in and fill that void as a second tight end or in short-yardage sets.
A pound sign (#) indicates a must-win for Michigan.
An exclamation point (!) indicates a probable loss.
A dollar sign ($) indicates a swing game.
09/01: Alabama Crimson Tide (at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX) $
09/08: Air Force Falcons #
09/15: UMass Minutemen #
09/22: At Notre Dame Fighting Irish $
10/06: At Purdue Boilermakers #
10/13: Illinois Fighting Illini #
10/20: Michigan State Spartans $
10/27: At Nebraska Cornhuskers #
11/03: At Minnesota Golden Gophers #
11/10: Northwestern Wildcats #
11/17: Iowa Hawkeyes #
11/24: At Ohio State Buckeyes $
Best-Case Scenario: 11-1
In order for this to happen, Michigan needs:
- Denard Robinson to become a quarterback; not an athlete that occasionally throws passes. In this scenario he will have to cut his interception total—15 in 2011—by at least half.
- Pass catchers to step up. Last year, was not a great year for Michigan wide receivers. If the Wolverines are to win 10 games, let alone 11, at least two receivers have to force opposing defenses to pay attention to them.
- The defensive line to gel and gel quickly.
Worst-Case Scenario: 8-4
In order for this to happen, Michigan needs:
- Denard Robinson to continue to play like a slot receiver that can also double as a decent quarterback.
- The defensive line to struggle to control the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback with any consistency.
- A regression of the special teams to 2010 levels.
The Season Will Be a Success If...
Michigan wins nine games.
Of course, it depends upon who you ask. I suspect most Big Blue fans would say 10 wins or nine wins and a second straight win over OSU would define "success."
However, the schedule is brutal, it is still year No. 2 of the Brady Hoke era and the Wolverines have to replace three-fourths of last year's strongest position group.
For those reasons, UM can call the year a success if it has nine wins with a chance at consecutive double-digit win seasons—via a bowl game victory—for the first time since 2002-2003.
As mentioned in the defensive breakdown, nothing is more damaging to a defense like defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's than a wholesale loss of the defensive line.
In effect, it is difficult to see the UM defense holding serve, so to speak, let alone improving.
Meanwhile, the offense could improve and could be the best offense in the Big Ten if Robinson takes big steps forward. I expect him to move forward, but not enough to compensate for the defensive step backward.
Add to that a much tougher schedule this year than last, and I have Michigan finishing 9-3, with losses to Alabama, Nebraska and—ugh—Ohio State.
However, as a 6-2 conference record will tie them, in my estimation, with Michigan State, the conference championship game bid will be determined by the head-to-head, which I have going to the Wolverines.
Check out past installments of 2012 Big Ten Breakdown, beginning with the most recent, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.