Michigan Football: 2012 Season Preview for the Wolverines

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIAugust 27, 2012

Michigan Football: 2012 Season Preview for the Wolverines

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    The smell of roses is in the air, if you ask the University of Michigan's football fans.

    And if the eighth-ranked Wolverines are to reach the Rose Bowl or better, they'll have to get off to a solid start Sept. 1 against the second-ranked, defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

    A win or loss Sept. 1 won't make or break the year for Michigan, but there is no doubting that Wolverines' coach Brady Hoke wants to down coach Nick Saban's Crimson Tide and use the game as a foundation for the remaining weeks of the fall.

    In this slideshow, we'll take a look at the season as a whole, break down important issues, touch on key losses and additions, and talk a little Heisman Trophy as it pertains to Wolverines' senior quarterback Denard Robinson.

    Building upon an 11-2 season under Hoke is an obvious goal for Michigan. However, merely winning games won't cut it. Michigan is used to being a national power, and 2012 could be the season that it returns to the forefront of college football.

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Denard Robinson's Heisman Hype Is Great for the Wolverines

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    The Wolverines have yet to play a down in 2012, but their quarterback is already one of the frontrunners in the Heisman Trophy race.

    Speed and agility personified, senior Denard Robinson is Michigan's not-so secret weapon of mass production.

    As a junior, Robinson threw for 2,173 yards and 20 touchdowns. He did, however, throw 15 interceptions. He's worked on his delivery and accuracy, though. He should be a much more accurate thrower than he's been in years past.

    Michigan fans will see just how much Robinson upped his throwing game Sept. 1 against the Crimson Tide, a team not likely fazed by the Heisman hype that surrounds "Shoelace."

    Robinson (entering 2012 with 3,229 yards) is just 1,251 rushing yards away from breaking former West Virginia star Pat White's Division I quarterback rushing record. Robinson could end up as Michigan's career leader in rushing touchdowns this season, too. Sitting at 35, Robinson needs 20 to tie Anthony Thomas' school benchmark of 55 scores.

    Going out with a bang is what every senior wants to do, right?

    There was speculation that he'd enter the 2012 NFL Draft, but "Shoelace" just had to give Michigan one more -- his final -- year of action. A BCS bowl win may have been enough to satisfy some -- but not Robinson.

    "It’s been a dream to play in the NFL, & hopefully after next year that becomes a reality but I wouldn’t pass up being here w/ my teammates & coaches for anything,” Robinson said in quotes released via Twitter, according to the Detroit Free Press. “It’s my second family. I love my teammates, I love Michigan.”

    Robinson will go down as one of the greatest to ever wear the maize and blue winged-helmet. His personality, athleticism and dedication have made him a fan favorite and campus legend. Greatness is often achieved in the final hours, and this year could be Robinson's finest with Michigan.

    A team that's expected to be one of the Big Ten's best will benefit from the buzz that surrounds its quarterback.

Brady Hoke Is Restoring Pride at Michigan

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    Can one year under a new head coach really change the culture of a program?

    Perhaps this is a better way to ask that question: Can one year under a new head coach really get a program back to where its fanbase feels it should be?

    The answer, simply, is "yes," if we're talking about a certain sideline leader in Ann Arbor.

    The Rich Rodriguez Era is all but forgotten. The Brady Hoke Era started in 2011, signifying a resurgence of pride and attitude that was seemingly lost during the three years prior to Hoke's arrival.

    Wolverines fans expected a lot from their new head coach. Competing for a Big Ten title was a no-brainer -- it had to be done, and it had to be done immediately. Michigan didn't win a league or division title during Hoke's first year as head coach in Ann Arbor, but it did go to the Sugar Bowl -- and it beat Virginia Tech, 23-20.

    Being a "Michigan Man" is what Hoke is all about. He doesn't care for the limelight, the attention from the press or being an icon at the university. Winning games, holding players accountable for actions, and continuing Michigan's history of excellence on the field matters most to Hoke.

    The cynics would suggest that 2011 was a fluke and that Hoke's Wolverines could be in for a rude awakening this season. That probably won't be the case. Michigan seems ready -- maybe more than its been in over 10 years -- to run with college football's big boys.

    This will be the year that proves Hoke is the man Michigan was waiting for.

Schedule Is Favorable but Deceptively Challenging for Wolverines in 2012

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    The following schedule graphic was obtained from TheWolverine.com


    Date Opponent* Result Record
    Sept. 1, 2012 at Alabama 8:00 pm ET | Tickets    
    Sept. 8, 2012 Air Force (ABC) 3:30 pm ET | Tickets    
    Sept. 15, 2012 Massachusetts (Big Ten Network) 3:30 pm ET | Tickets    
    Sept. 22, 2012 at Notre Dame (NBC) 7:30 pm ET | Tickets    
    Oct. 6, 2012 at Purdue 4:00 pm ET | Tickets    
    Oct. 13, 2012 Illinois 3:30 pm ET | Tickets    
    Oct. 20, 2012 Michigan State TBA | Tickets    
    Oct. 27, 2012 at Nebraska 8:00 pm ET | Tickets    
    Nov. 3, 2012 at Minnesota TBA | Tickets    
    Nov. 10, 2012 Northwestern TBA | Tickets    
    Nov. 17, 2012 Iowa TBA | Tickets    
    Nov. 24, 2012 at Ohio State 12:00 pm ET | Tickets    

    A quick look at the Wolverines' 2012 schedule indicates that this fall may not be incredibly difficult.

    There are the obvious hurdles like Alabama and Michigan State standing in Michigan's way, but not having to play Wisconsin is a definite plus.

    While Air Force and UMass could give Michigan a headache in Weeks 2 and 3, Michigan fans shouldn't expect anything but victories in those two contests.

    Going to Notre Dame is always a challenge, especially at night. The Irish took Michigan to the limit in 2011, but late-game heroics courtesy of quarterback Denard Robinson and receiver Junior Hemingway lifted the Wolverines to a 35-31 win at The Big House.

    This year's battle with Notre Dame shouldn't be so dramatic.

    Let's analyze the key games...

    Week 1 vs. Alabama

    What more could be said? This is the biggest game for Michigan in years, and it's the biggest game of coach Brady Hoke's career. No pressure or anything...

    Michigan needs to follow a strict blueprint if it wants to topple coach Nick Saban's Tide.

    Week 4 at Notre Dame

    Will Notre Dame's offense explode into a frenzy under the direction of sophomore quarterback Everett Golson? It will be interesting to see how Michigan handles Irish running back Cierre Wood, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior who is considered one of the elite backs in the country.

    Week 7 vs. Michigan State

    One could argue that this game will be the most important of the year, especially if Michigan loses to Alabama. It's likely that Michigan could be among one-loss teams heading into its showdown Oct. 20 with the Spartans.

    Losing. Is. Not. An. Option.

    Five straight losses would be Michigan's longest losing streak to Michigan State, which, like Michigan, is considered one of the top teams in the Big Ten.

    "Give (Michigan State coach) Mark (Dantonio) and his staff credit," Hoke said after Michigan's 28-14 loss in 2011 . "They out-coached us and out-played us."

    There can't be another line delivered like that in October.

    Weeks 8 and 9 at Nebraska and Minnesota

    The two following weeks after the Michigan State game could have immense impact on Michigan's post-season designs. Imagine another loss to the Spartans, giving Michigan two losses (assuming it loses to Alabama) heading into Nebraska.

    Michigan spanked the Huskers, 45-17, in 2011. There shouldn't be much of a difference in this year's game compared to that of a year ago. But Nebraska star quarterback Taylor Martinez could lead his team past Michigan if a post-Sparty hangover lingers.

    That same theory could apply to Week 9's matchup with Minnesota, a team that Michigan shouldn't have any with.

    Week 12 vs. Ohio State

    This game deserves its own slide, so keep on going through the show...

Wolverines' Key Departures, Key Additions/Changes

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    One of the biggest off-season changes for Michigan was moving Devin Gardner from quarterback to wide receiver.

    Gardner has seen little action under-center because of Denard Robinson's success. However, Gardner is far too valuable of a player to have sit on the bench. Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges remains committed to working Gardner into the game plan.

    When running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was indefinitely suspended in July for drunken-driving, the question of who would tote the ball for Michigan was heard loud and clear. Well, the answer to that question is this: Thomas Rawls, that's who.

    The Flint native enters his sophomore year with the Wolverines and could be one of the Big Ten's top running backs if given the chance to perform. Running backs coach Fred Jackson has heavily praised Rawls the past two years.

    "I mean, when he runs, he’s tryin’ to hurt the guy," Jackson said during Michigan's media day. "Anybody who tries to tackle him will know they’ve been hit.

    "He don’t take many blows, he gives blows -- and that’s what you’re looking for in a running back."

    Key losses...

    The loss of receiver Junior Hemingway may come back to bit Michigan late in the year. As a senior in 2011, Hemingway led the Wolverines with 699 receiving yards.

    Four-year starters Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin are no longer with the team -- and Michigan lost 87 combined starts as a result of their departure. Will Heininger is long gone, too.

Meet Captains Jordan Kovacs and Denard Robinson

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    In 2009, Jordan Kovacs wasn't exactly a huge blip on Michigan's radar.

    It wasn't until trying out for the team that he caught the attention of the Wolverines coaching staff, in particular, then-coach Rich Rodriguez.

    Throw in a little hustle and hard work and, boom, you have Michigan's starting safety just weeks later. Kovacs will be relied upon for his experience but, more importantly, his leadership.

    Along with senior Denard Robinson, Kovacs will captain the Wolverines in 2012.

    "Denard and Jordan are two guys who represent what Michigan football stands for, on and off the field, and they certainly are deserving of being named team captains," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said in a press release, according to MichiganDaily.com. "They have played a lot of football here. I know they will do a great job of leading the seniors and Team 133."

    We've covered all the bases pertaining to Robinson. Kovacs, though, is just as valuable in terms of the overall feel Michigan football is going for.

    The program isn't just about one man, although it can seem that way at times. Robinson isn't the only key to Michigan's success, but he's certainly the biggest factor in Michigan's success.

    Kovacs led Big Ten safeties with 75 tackles in 2011.

Roundtree, Ringer and Bryant Injuries Impact Michigan's Depth

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    Depth can make or break a football team.

    Having a steady stable of reserves bodes well for a team that's looking to go the distance, which, in college football, is reaching the BCS title game.

    Teams without talented pieces to plug into positional voids typically don't go too far.

    Michigan certainly has talent, but its depth may not be where its fan would like it to be. And that depth took a hit when the Wolverines announced that linebacker Kaleb Ringer and reserve lineman Chris Bryant were out for the year because of injury.

    Ringer was third in line at middle linebacker behind Desmond Morgan and Antonio Poole. However, he'll redshirt this season after a successful knee surgery.

    Bryant fractured his shinbone.

    Obviously, Ringer's injury will have more impact on Michigan that Bryant's injury. Michigan's linebacking corps is young. Kenny Demens and Brandin Hawthorne are the only seniors.

    Receiver Roy Roundtree also had knee surgery. He could be ready for the Alabama game. However, Devin Gardner hasn't played much receiver; he's third in line for Roundtree's spot. Second on the depth chart is sophomore Jerald Robinson.

    Jeremy Gallon, a junior, will likely be the go-to receiver in Roundtree's absence. Juniors Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson are behind Gallon, but lack considerable experience.

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Michigan vs. Ohio State, Nov. 24, 2012 at 'The Shoe'

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    It could be the most important thing on Earth, depending on who's asked.

    The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is easily one of the sporting world's greatest matchups. On the third Saturday of November, the two teams clash for border bragging rights.

    Michigan fans have a strong dislike for anything Buckeyes-related. Ohio State supporters cringe at the sight of maize and blue and their ears bleed when they hear "Hail to the Victors," Michigan's fight song.

    Michigan won the first 15 games of the rivalry, dating back to the days of legendary coach Fielding H. Yost. Today, Michigan holds a 58-43-6 advantage.

    The history of the late Bo Schembechler vs. Ohio State's Woody Hayes is a reminder of just how special the series is.

    Now under coach Urban Meyer, Ohio State will look to avenge a 40-34 loss in 2011. Michigan looks for its second win against the Buckeyes under coach Brady Hoke.

    Michigan travels to Columbus to battle the Buckeyes at "The Shoe" on Nov. 24.

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81