Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines are one of the nation's best college football teams this season, but a handful of players will determine their ability to live up to those lofty expectations.
Last year, Michigan won 11 games in Hoke's inaugural season in Ann Arbor. Improving on that mark will not be easy, but playmakers are in place on both sides of the ball.
This year's Wolverines squad will be disappointed with anything less than a Big Ten title and subsequent Rose Bowl berth. Let's take a look at which players will determine their ability to get there.
This could easily be Roy Roundtree, but the Wolverines will need more than one capable target if they want to improve on their No. 93 passing offense from a year ago.
Gallon lacks size, but his speed sets him apart. At 5'8'', he does his best work against zone coverage.
Last year, Gallon caught 31 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns. His elite quickness allows him to change direction on a dime and make defenders miss in the open field.
Denard Robinson is one of the nation's best playmakers, but he's not a polished pocket passer. The Wolverines will need their receivers to step up this season, especially with Junior Hemingway in the NFL.
Roundtree's status entering Week 1 against Alabama is uncertain. He may play, but Gallon must be ready to do his thing all year long for Michigan to be successful.
According to the Detroit Free Press Hoke still doesn't know what Toussaint's status will be entering the season. If Michigan wants to have a prayer of winning the Big Ten title this season, his rushing ability will be necessary.
Last season, he had 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns. What's even better is that he averaged 5.8 yards per carry. He's an underrated ball-carrier, and the 2012 season could be an even bigger breakout campaign.
Robinson's running ability creates enough havoc by itself. Adding Toussaint puts the Michigan ground game among the nation's best. If he can't go, the combination of Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls will be forced to carry the load.
It doesn't sound like Toussaint is going to miss extended time, but Wolverine fans have to hope he keeps his head on straight.
Toussaint has the potential to clear 1,000 yards again this season, and Michigan needs that production if they want to achieve their goals in 2012.
I had to include at least one defensive player in this list, and Kovacs is the heart and soul of the Wolverines defensive unit.
He's a senior leader, and he provides excellent stability as a two-way safety.
Last year, he had four-plus tackles in all but three games, and he didn't even play in one of those. He also managed to pick up three sacks and an interception.
Kovacs may not be the most talented safety, but you know what you're going to get from him on a week-by-week basis. He plays with a ton of heart, and embodies Hoke's blue-collar mentality.
Michigan's offense is expected to be excellent this season, and their defense could be even better. They were the sixth-best scoring defense in the country last season, and Kovacs will play a major role in maintaining that.
Demens lacks elite athleticism, but he's tenacious and a sure tackler. His presence at linebacker is essential to Michigan's run defense.
He had 94 tackles last season, including three games with 10 or more. He also sacked the quarterback three times.
Demens isn't going to wow anyone in pass coverage, but he's an electric playmaker in the box. He is the leader of Michigan's front seven, and he will be asked to do a lot against the rugged Big Ten competition.
I expect Demens to be one of the Big Ten's best linebackers this season. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and that attitude is necessary to Michigan's success.
Robinson isn't the only player worth mentioning in Ann Arbor this season. Keep an eye on these guys as well.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!