Michigan Football: 20 Bold Predictions for Wolverines in 2012
The Michigan Wolverines are considered one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten entering the 2012 college football season.
Fresh off a BCS Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech, the Wolverines look to prove that 2011 was no joke under coach Brady Hoke, who enters his second season in Ann Arbor after taking over for Rich Rodriguez.
Who will shine this season? Will it be senior quarterback Denard Robinson? What about the unheralded contributors and unlikely heroes like sophomore running back Thomas Rawls?
The eighth-ranked Wolverines certainly have immense expectations to live up to. But what will be the biggest of the season? Better yet, what bold prophecies could the Wolverines fulfill?
Let's find out in the 2012 edition of "20 Bold Predictions for Michigan Wolverines Football."
20. Air Force Gives Wolverines a Scare in Second Game of 2012
The Air Force Falcons aren't a national powerhouse by any means. Michigan should beat them without getting too dirty.
However, as powerful as the Wolverines seem entering this season, they could run into a slight problem Sept. 8 with Air Force.
The Falcons have a tendency to underachieve against mediocre teams—at least recently—but play well, for the most part, against teams that they should get steamrolled by. Air Force typically has an exciting offense, and that offense could give Michigan's defense a few fits early on in the contest.
Air Force has given powers like Boise State and Oklahoma trouble the past two seasons. It's no pushover.
Expect a high-scoring first half by both teams, something in the range of 28-24. But the second half, primarily late in the third quarter, will likely be the turning point. Quarterback Denard Robinson should take over and leave Falcons in the dust as Michigan piles on the points in a decisive win fueled by late-game fireworks.
The result could be hugely in Michigan's favor, but it might not be its biggest triumph of the year. We'll touch on that later.
19. UMass Follows Air Force's Lead and Gives Michigan a Run for Its Money, Too
No one ever said playing the little guys was easy. After a brief scare against Air Force the week prior, the Wolverines could find themselves in a struggle with UMass, which nearly knocked them off in 2010.
Thanks to a 20-point fourth quarter, the Minutemen almost did the unthinkable: topple the mighty Wolverines, who ultimately won, 42-37.
It's tricky when playing teams with something to prove. Like Air Force, UMass probably views Michigan as an early bowl game. Depending on the outcome of the Alabama game (which we'll get to later), Michigan could enter its game against UMass in one of two ways: riding a mountainous high or reeling after a heartbreaking loss.
18. Denard Robinson Reaches 500 Rushing Yards by Game 3
News bulletin: Denard Robinson is fast, athletic and elusive.
Oh, and he's fast. That can't be stressed enough.
The Deerfield Beach, Fla. native didn't crack the 500-yard rushing yard mark until Game 4 of the 2011 season, doing so by way of a 200-yard showing in a 28-7 win over San Diego State—coach Brady Hoke's former team.
Robinson may get clipped a bit against Alabama. But he'll surely let loose against Air Force; a 200-yard romp isn't out of the question. And that could be true against UMass, too. Remember, Air Force and UMass have the potential to give Michigan a few problems, and that's when "Shoelace" straps on his running shoes and goes to work.
Robinson's rushing exploits at Michigan have been well-documented, read about and raved about. We'll touch on his fleet feet later in the show.
17. DT William Campbell Packs on a Few Pounds
William Campbell is the Wolverines' 6'5", 300-plus pound senior defensive tackle. He didn't get so girthy without a great diet filled with snacks like Honeybuns.
The defensive lineman has reportedly dropped down to 310 pounds, 12 pounds less than what he's listed at on the Wolverines depth chart on TheWolverine.com.
Campbell entered Michigan at a robust 356 pounds. Lately, because of the weight loss, he's been seen showing off his stomach, even more than quarterback Denard Robinson.
Applause is just for Campbell's weight loss. He deserves credit for shedding those pesky, unwanted pounds. However, coach Brady Hoke would like Campbell to add up to four pounds.
Four pounds? That's all?
Old habits die hard.
An affinity for Honeybuns and other sweets is a hard one to knock. Campbell might get back to "Big Willy" status within just a few weeks. Don't be shocked to see him fall off the wagon and get back up to around 325 at some point this fall.
More power to him, but honestly, those Honeybuns are difficult to kick.
16. Michigan's Run Defense Among Top in Big Ten
Michigan's defense made a dramatic improvement once coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison took over.
The pair of grizzled coaches transformed one of the worst defenses in the country—and in Michigan football history—to a formidable top-25 unit in 2011. Stopping the run was part of that, although Michigan could still use some work in that area.
However, after finishing third in the Big Ten in rush defense a year ago, the Wolverines should step it up a notch and contend for the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in terms of overall defense. Michigan State will likely have the best run defense in the league, but Michigan has the capability of chopping its 131-yard per game average down to about 112 or 115.
That may not seem like a drastic improvement, but it's a start. Eventually, the Wolverines will get back to allowing less than 100 yards—just like in the Bo Days.
15. Led by Denard Robinson, Michigan Tops in Big Ten in Terms of Scoring
In 2011, Michigan finished second in the Big Ten in scoring behind Wisconsin, which lost quarterback Russell Wilson to the NFL draft and outscored Michigan 44-33 in per-game average.
While the Wolverines also lost a star to the draft, receiver Junior Hemingway, their offense should be just as powerful as last year's edition. For that reason, and because of Denard Robinson, the Wolverines should top the Big Ten in scoring average.
Michigan has a young receiving corps. Replacing Hemingway will be difficult; so will replacing tight end Kevin Koger. But there are young receivers like Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson, along with tight ends Brandon Moore and Ricardo Miller, who will be assets to the high-powered Michigan offense.
Tight end Devin Funchess could see action, too. There are options for Robinson, even if he's the first.
15. Michigan's Biggest Win of Season Comes Against Ohio State
In 2011, Michigan routed Minnesota, 58-0.
Later on, the Wolverines took it to Nebraska, tuning up the Huskers, 45-17.
It would be easy to say that Michigan's biggest win of the year will come against a lesser team, like UMass or Air Force. But that shouldn't be the case.
By the final week of the season, the Wolverines will look to keep their title hopes alive, and they'll have to do it against their friends from Ohio, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Charged with emotion, ready to battle, the Wolverines should mount a sizable victory, somewhere in the range of three or four touchdowns.
Not when you consider the fact that Michigan wants to show that last season's 40-34 victory was no fluke, and not when you consider the type of year quarterback Denard Robinson will have in 2012.
The 2012 Michigan Wolverines, by season's end, will show the nation why they were ranked eighth in the nation in preseason polls. One close loss against Alabama and a couple scares later, combined with a win over in-state rival Michigan State, should be enough for the Wolverines to close out 2012 in style—and in a big way.
Michigan leads the series with Ohio State, 58-43-6.
14. Wolverines End Season with One Loss
Michigan's schedule is a challenging gauntlet, one it should escape with one loss if it plays its cards right.
The Week 1 clash with the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide looks to be the only sure loss on the schedule for coach Brady Hoke's Wolverines. Sure, playing Michigan State will be tough, but Michigan hosts its in-state rival at the Big House.
Reading headlines about four straight setbacks gets old. Michigan is used to dominating the series with the Spartans. This fall just might be the year Michigan gets one back.
Forecasting one loss isn't too much of a stretch despite a hearty schedule.
Notre Dame shouldn't be much of a problem; and while Michigan might get challenged by the likes of Air Force and UMass, don't count on losses in those games.
Here's a look at the docket of opponents (schedule from ESPN.com).
Sept. 1 Alabama (at Arlington)
Sept. 8 Air Force
Sept. 15 UMass
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame
Sept. 29 Bye
Oct. 6 at Purdue
Oct. 13 Illinois
Oct. 20 Michigan State
Oct. 27 at Nebraska
Nov. 3 at Minnesota
Nov. 10 Northwestern
Nov. 17 Iowa
Nov. 24 at Ohio State
13. Frank Clark Sits at Least 2 Games After Home Invasion Charge
However, home invasion is no laughing matter. Clark allegedly stole a laptop computer from a fellow student's room over the summer. He hasn't been at practice, like Toussaint, according to coach Brady Hoke.
Update: Toussaint cleared to practice, according to al.com.
Clark had an interception in Michigan's 2012 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech and gained the attention of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who strongly considered starting Clark at defensive end this season.
But that obviously won't happen, at least for two games, the time in which Clark, a freshman, will probably be sidelined. He's No. 2 on the depth chart behind sophomore Brennen Beyer.
12. RB Fitz Toussaint Sits Just 1 Game for July Drunken-Driving
Update: Toussaint cleared to practice, according to al.com.
It seems that Michigan fans are divided when it comes to predicting the length of running back Fitz Toussaint's suspension.
The Wolverines' second-leading rusher a year ago was arrested in July for drunken-driving, prompting coach Brady Hoke to suspend him indefinitely.
Hoke seems like he's a coach that doesn't toy around with misbehavior. Toussaint would be valuable against Alabama, which opens its season Sept. 1 against Michigan. But to Hoke, sending a message seems more important. Toussaint, according to reports, hasn't been at practices (prior to Aug. 13).
Will he be out two games? Four games? The whole season?
Well, having Toussaint out the whole year seems unlikely. Past players who shall remain nameless were given ample chances after making bigger mistakes.
Toussaint's return to Michigan will probably impact sophomore Thomas Rawls' playing time. But if Rawls shines, which he is more than capable of doing, Toussaint's return may not matter much. For all intents and purposes, let's say Toussaint is out one game: the Alabama game.
But that won't mean he immediately gets his starting job back.
11. Michigan Gives Alabama All It Can Handle, but Falls Short
It's already been billed as one of the 2012 college football season's top games. Michigan vs. Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington promises to be an exploit of grand proportions.
While the Tide are favored by most betting sites, Michigan won't roll over and take a beating that Alabama fans expect on Sept. 1.
Michigan will be forced to use all of its strengths, and use them often. Denard Robinson's heroics are legendary, and he'll have a career year barring injury or some crazy turn of fortune. He'll play a vital role in the Wolverines' success against the Tide.
Some Tide fans (I won't use names, guys) think Michigan shouldn't even up show up to the game in Arlington. They said so in a recent Michigan football article that I published.
But hey, I can't blame Alabama fans for being confident. Their team is coming off a national title win and is the second-ranked team in the nation. But Michigan isn't ranked No. 8 for no reason. It wasn't picked out of a hat by guys looking for a filler team in the top 10.
So, 'Bama fans, before you get all Bear Bryant-mighty on Michigan followers, remember this: Robinson is more explosive than anyone in college football.
The game will be interesting, to say the least.
However, I do see Alabama winning, 31-28.
That is all.
10. Another Western Michigan-Type Weather-Related Debacle? Probably.
Michigan's duel in 2011 with Western Michigan was cut short by Mother Nature.
Some loyal Wolverines followers weren't upset about being ushered out when the lightning posed a threat Sept. 3. Some were soaking with anger.
At any rate, Michigan's dry summer looks like it could turn into a wet fall. The past couple weeks have seen more rain than the previous three months combined. I'm not a weatherman, nor did I research the precipitation accumulation here in The Mitten. But take my word for it; it's rained a lot more lately.
So, in the spirit of having a little fun, I'm predicting that rain showers or thunderstorms will yet again ruin the fun—probably Air Force on Sept. 8 or UMass on Sept. 15.
9. Devin Gardner Proves to Be Adequate Target for Robinson
In 2011, there was a semi-uproar regarding the use of Devin Gardner.
Starting quarterback Denard Robinson struggled at times, and a juggling act was all but imminent. But the Wolverines staff held tight, keeping Robinson under center and Gardner out of the picture, for the most part.
The junior from Inkster appeared in eight games in 2011, completing 11 of 23 attempts and racking up 176 passing yards.
It was evident that he wasn't quite the explosive athlete the Wolverines needed. Granted, he's probably more the pro-style signal-caller when compared to Robinson, but let's face it, the offense belongs to Robinson.
However, that doesn't mean there isn't a place for Gardner, a 6'4", 205-pound all-around athlete. He was moved to receiver this season and will prove to be a suitable target for Robinson.
Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon will lead the way, but Gardner will contribute valuable yards. He has the frame to be a deep threat. Don't be shocked to see Gardner pull in a dozen or so catches this fall. And don't be surprised to see offensive coordinator Al Borges use Gardner as a decoy—more effectively than in 2011—to fool opposing defenses.
The new Robinson-Gardner duo should be an entertaining combination to watch.
8. Roy Roundtree Hauls in 2 TDs Against Alabama
Roy Roundtree proved in 2011 that he's a dangerous receiver with game-breaking potential.
Now a senior, Roundtree hauled in four catches for more than 34 yards as a junior a year ago. He dazzled in Michigan's 42-24 victory over Northwestern, catching three passes and totaling 83 yards (27.7 yards per catch).
But despite all of his down-field prowess, he caught just two touchdowns. Rest-assured, fans of the pass—and fans of Roundtree—he'll be on the end of two receiving scores Sept. 1 against the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
7. Denard Robinson Becomes Michigan's First 3-Time MVP
Notice a theme in this slideshow yet?
Denard Robinson is all over the place, as he should be. He's one of the most exciting players in college athletics; not just in football. This year just feels like "The Year of Denard."
However, Robinson can only do so much, but his so much is a lot.
Not only will Robinson finish his career in impressive fashion (see more slides), but he'll also likely become Michigan's first three-time team MVP.
You heard that right.
Robinson will be the Wolverines' MVP.
While that may not seem like too bold of a prediction, let's go one further: Robinson will be Michigan's first two-time Big Ten MVP/offensive player of the year; he's projected to finish as runner-up behind Wisconsin's Montee Ball. Former linebacker/defensive end Brandon Graham was close in 2008 and 2009; he was team MVP both years.
But he fell short of being a two-time league MVP.
If all goes as planned, Robinson will make Wolverines football history this season.
6. Michigan Pummels Notre Dame, Skips Dramatics from 2011
Although wide receiver Junior Hemingway is no longer with the Wolverines, they won't have much of a problem with Notre Dame this season—unlike 2011, in which the two teams engaged in a barn-burning, classic finish.
The back-and-forth contest a year ago was either an example of two great offenses going punch-for-punch, blow-for-blow or it was an example of two defenses that couldn't do their jobs.
Michigan emerged the victor by way of a dramatic 28-point fourth quarter capped by Roy Roundtree's 16-yard game-winning touchdown, but that shouldn't be the case this season.
Notre Dame's starting quarterback, Dayne Crist, headlined a group of transfer-happy Irish during the offseason. And it'll take more than luck for the Irish to go toe-to-toe with Michigan this season.
In 2011, the Wolverines walked away with a 35-31 triumph; it could be 42-21 this fall.
5. Thomas Rawls Leads Michigan RBs in Rushing Yards
There isn't a Wolverines player who will out-rush quarterback Denard Robinson.
But, minus Robinson, sophomore Thomas Rawls has the ability to lead—at least running backs—in the ground-game department.
Should Fitz Toussaint remain suspended for a lengthy amount of time, Rawls will likely take over and help Robinson carry the load. Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards in 2011; Rawls may not go for that many, but eclipsing the 500- or 600-yard threshold is entirely within the realm of possibility for the Flint native.
Vincent Smith put up 298 yards—third-most for Michigan a year ago—and could be a third-down back if Rawls holds the No. 1 spot and Toussaint sits. But Smith won't outproduce Rawls if the apparent scenario unfolds.
4. Michigan Ends 4-Year Losing Streak to Michigan State
Michigan football fans have had enough of losing to Michigan State.
Four straight losses and a couple blowouts later, the Wolverines are primed to reclaim what's theirs: the Paul Bunyan Trophy, given to the winner of one of the Big Ten's top rivalries.
Michigan hasn't lost five straight to Michigan State in the Bunyan series. And if it's clicking on all cylinders come Oct. 20 at the Big House, Michigan will end the misery and give coach Brady Hoke his first victory over the pesky Spartans.
Michigan leads the series 67-32-5. The Wolverines' 68th win against Michigan State looks to be right around the corner. History has to repeat itself at some point. Michigan has owned the Spartans in the past.
But don't discount the Spartans; this year's game will be one of the best in the history of the in-state grudge match.
3. Denard Robinson Bests 87-Yard TD Run Done Against Notre Dame in 2010
That was Denard Robinson's career-best 87-yard touchdown scamper in 2010 during Michigan's 28-24 victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Robinson set a record for the longest run at Notre Dame Stadium. Considering the fact that guys like Raghib "Rocket" Ismail and Jerome Bettis once played there, that's beyond impressive.
But he'll outdo that run this year. Think about it. Robinson may have to work his magic early on in the year; his legs will be likely be his weapon of choice against Air Force and UMass if the Wolverines get in trouble.
Robinson could rip off a 90-yarder for the ages. It's not illogical to expect a sensational year from "Shoelace." There are several predictions in this slideshow involving college football's most electrifying athlete, and for good reason.
And if Robinson does achieve that elusive 90-or-so-yarder, he could end up with a Michigan record. Butch Woolfolk holds the program mark with a 92-yard touchdown run.
2. Denard Robinson at Least Shares Michigan Rushing TD Record
Anthony "A-Train" Thomas owns the Wolverines rushing touchdown record with 55 scores.
Like Mike Hart, Thomas is a Big House legend. For years, his record was considered nearly unattainable.
However, Denard Robinson is set to go off in 2012. His legacy at Michigan wouldn't be complete without topping a couple career achievement lists (see the next slide). With 35 rushing touchdowns, Robinson needs 20 to at least tie the mark.
He rushed for 16 in 2011 after rushing for 14 in 2010. As a freshman, Robinson rushed for five scores on just 69 attempts. It's possible that Robinson will have to take over with his feet due to his young receiving corps.
Just a thought.
1. Denard Robinson Becomes Michigan's Career Rushing Leader
There is no doubting Mike Hart's greatness.
He is, without a doubt, the greatest running back in Wolverines history. The man who infamously coined the "Little Brother" phrase to describe Michigan State left Ann Arbor with 5,040 yards.
Robinson is just under 2,000 yards shy of Hart's record at 3,229. He needs 1,811 yards to become the proud owner of one of Michigan football's benchmark accomplishments.
Impossible to break?
Probably not for Robinson, who rushed for 1,702 yards in 2010. If it can be done, Robinson is the guy who can do it.
This Slide Concludes the 20 Bold Predictions for Michigan Wolverines Football
There are so many angles to dissect and so many topics to discuss when breaking down the Michigan Wolverines' 2012 season. Unfortunately, 20 slides hardly scratches the surface.
Player performances, teams' performances, overall records against rivals—all hot points as the 2012 seasons draws nearer.
There is no doubt that Denard Robinson won't only be Michigan's MVP—that's a no-brainer—but also the Big Ten's MVP. Heisman talk, while warranted, should be kept silent until a few weeks in the year. But of course, Robinson will be an early favorite.
Which is the biggest of the bold predictions in your eyes? Which were missed?
Let your opinion be known in the comments section.
Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81