Fitzgerald Toussaint (28)
Victories over Ohio State in "The Game" and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl propelled Michigan to a No. 12 ranking in the final 2011 Associated Press Poll.
Back from the 11-2 squad are 16 starters, including All-America and Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson at quarterback.
But a return trip to a BCS Bowl won't be easy. Michigan opens its season with defending national championship Alabama, and faces rivals Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State on the road. To make matters worse, starting tailback Fitz Toussaint (1,041 rushing yards) may miss the season opener due to a OWI arrest.
Let's take a look at where Michigan projects to land in the 2012 AP Preseason Poll.
Devin Gardner (7)
Pollsters rarely pick a team near the top of the rankings when they enter a season with an inexperienced quarterback.
Michigan should pass Stanford, Boise St., Wisconsin and Michigan St. just because each team lost fine quarterbacks.
In addition, the Wolverines should have an improved offense since they're only replacing David Molk at center, Mark Huyge at right tackle, Junior Hemingway at wide receiver and Kevin Koger at tight end. The fact that three of the replacements have already been starters doesn't hurt.
Being in the second year of offensive coordinator, Al Borges' offense will also be a big help. In fact, Borges planned to transition Michigan into more of a power attack last season, but basically junked it because of Denard Robinson's proficiency with the read option.
Let's also not forget Michigan's superb recruiting over the last few seasons. Freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson should provide depth at wide receiver, while highly touted freshman Kyle Kalis could provide help on the offensive line.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to watch will be backup quarterback Devin Gardner's part-time move to wide receiver. At 6'5", he makes quite a target.
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas (3)
Of the following three teams, look for two of them to bypass the Wolverines: Georgia, Florida State, and Virginia Tech are each on the cusp of outstanding seasons.
Georgia won 10 straight during the 2011 season, which included wins over Auburn and Georgia Tech. With senior quarterback Aaron Murray at the helm, the Bulldogs could contend for the SEC title.
Florida State should do the same in the ACC. The Seminoles won seven of the final eight games including wins over Florida and Notre Dame.
Other than a pair of losses to Clemson, the Hokies only defeat came at the hands of Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Frank Beamer, in his 26th season as the Virginia Tech coach, boasts nine returning seniors on defense. Offense may be a problem, with only dual-threat quarterback Logan Thomas returning. But redshirt freshman tailback Michael Holmes is expected to be a future star and there's plenty of speed at wide receiver.
Michigan's Achilles heel might be defense. Craig Roh is the defensive line's only returning starter while there's still a concern in the secondary. Blake Countess has proven to be the most reliable—if not consistent—cover corner, and he's just a sophomore.
LSU Coach Les Miles
Of the three polls already released, Michigan ranks No. 8 in both the USA Today and ESPN.com, while Sports Illustrated places Michigan No. 13. The major difference for the Wolverines in the Sports Illustrated poll, is that Wisconsin and Michigan State are ranked ahead of them.
Theoretically, Michigan would not make it to the Big Ten championship game.
All three polls have different teams winning the national title. USA Today has LSU, ESPN has Southern Cal and Sports Illustrated picks Alabama to repeat.
Even without Tyrann Matthieu, LSU's defense figures to be second in the nation behind the USC Trojans. Of the three, expect Alabama's to be the worst, but nobody's feeling sorry for the Crimson Tide.
Southern Cal QB Matt Barkley (7)
OK, Michigan should land No. 10 in the Preseason AP Poll.
Let's also take a peek at how the Top 25 should look on Saturday:
1) Southern Cal, 2) LSU, 3) Alabama, 4) Oregon, 5) Oklahoma, 6) W. Virginia, 7) Arkansas, 8) Georgia, 9) Virginia Tech, 10) Michigan, 11) FSU, 12) Wisconsin, 13) South Carolina, 14) Ohio State, 15) Stanford, 16) Clemson, 17) Texas, 18) TCU, 19) Michigan State, 20) Florida, 21) Oklahoma State 22) K. State 23) Auburn, 24) Boise St., 25) Georgia Tech, 25 (tie) Notre Dame.
(Follow the following link to the 2012 AP Preseason Poll which was released Saturday).