Michigan enters the 2012 season as the clear front-runners to claim the Big Ten title, thanks to the return of game-breaking quarterback Denard Robinson.
However, if Brady Hoke and the Wolverines expect to capture its first conference title since 2004, several players will need to step up to help offset the loss of 11 starters from last season’s team that went 11-2 and claimed a BCS bowl victory.
The Wolverines—who checked in at No. 8 in the preseason edition of the USA Today Coaches’ Poll—are a little more than two weeks away from a season-opening showdown against No. 2 Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
With a huge non-conference matchup against the defending national champions looming, let’s take a look at some of the players Hoke will need to lean on if the Wolverines hope to make a return trip to a BCS bowl.
With the recent news that fellow receiver Roy Roundtree will miss two weeks (per ESPN’s Michael Rothstein) after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week, Gallon—Michigan’s second leading receiver in 2011—will enter the season as Robinson’s healthiest and most trusted receiving option.
The 5’8”, 185-pound junior averaged nearly 15 yards per reception last season, and the Wolverines will need him to become a more featured element in offensive coordinator Al Borges’ attack with Roundtree hobbled and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint’s uncertain status following an offseason suspension. (h/t Larry Lage, South Bend Tribune)
Campbell, a former 5-star recruit according to Rivals, has been an underwhelming performer to this point in his career.
However, with the graduation of nose tackle Mike Martin, Campbell will be counted on to step up and be a force in the middle of the Wolverines defensive front four.
The 6’5”, 322-pound senior needs to show more than he has in his three years thus far in Ann-Arbor (19 career tackles, two sacks) if the defense hopes to remain one of the top units in the Big Ten.
Countess had a solid season as a true freshman in 2011, recording 44 tackles and breaking up six passes last season.
With veteran corner J.T. Floyd occupying the corner spot opposite him, Countess can help fortify the Wolverines secondary as strength if he can take his game to another level as a sophomore.
The 5’10”, 176-pounder has the potential to be one of the league’s best corners, and Hoke is hoping he gets to that level by season’s end.
Gallon and Campbell represent two players that could provide answers to two units that represent some of the Wolverines biggest questions heading into the season, while Countess is an example of a talented young player that can be a difference maker that helps a good unit turn into a great one.
If Michigan can get these three players to meet—and perhaps exceed—expectations, the Wolverines could be in line to end their conference-title drought.