The Wolverines are back as the favorites to win the Big Ten Conference in 2012. Expectations are high coming into the season after Michigan went 11-2 (6-2) on its way to the Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech last year.
Denard Robinson is the main reason for the high expectations, and he must have another explosive year for Michigan to thrive in this tough conference. He ran for 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011, but struggled in the passing game. He only completed 55 percent of his passes and threw 15 interceptions to just 20 touchdowns.
If he can improve his efficiency throwing the football, Robinson could emerge as a contender for the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
Entering the season, Michigan ranks No. 8 on the USA Today Poll. Wisconsin and Michigan State join them on the top 25 poll and will be the biggest obstacles for Michigan in the Big Ten title race.
Coach Brady Hoke isn't concerned about rankings though:
If we don't win the Big Ten championship, then we failed. It's pretty cut and dry … We don't really care too much about rankings. I think we were picked fifth in our division a year ago, so that's how much those things mean.
As much as rankings are deemed irrelevant, the high ranking and 'conference favorite' label may bring some added pressure to the team. They won't face Wisconsin at all this season, but an October 20 matchup against rival Michigan State is one to circle on the calendar.
Last year in East Lansing, Michigan State put an end to the Wolverines 6-0 start in a 28-14 win. Denard Robinson was almost nonexistent in the game and ran for just 42 yards on 18 carries. The game returns to Ann Arbor this fall, and Michigan will try to put an end to its four-game losing streak against the Spartans.
A win here would likely set the stage for a legitimate Big Ten title shot, and depending on Michigan's performance in their opener against Alabama, possibly a National Championship opportunity.
There is only one player that can take Michigan to that next level. Denard Robinson will have the weight of Wolverine nation on his shoulders in 2012.