Michigan Football: Early-Season Struggles Prove Wolverines Aren't Worthy of Hype

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2012

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 08:  Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a third quarter touchdown while playing the Air Force Falcons at Michigan Stadium on September 8, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As the Michigan Wolverines prepare for what should be an easy home victory over the Massachusetts Minutemen on Saturday, one thing is for certain: This isn't the team fans thought they were getting in 2012. 

Many were quick to jump off the Wolverines bandwagon after the team's embarrassing 41-14 beatdown at the hands of Alabama in Week 1.

However, that loss could be justified if you try hard enough. 

Tide head coach Nick Saban is the best coach in college football, and his team is brimming with talent. Though much of that talent is youthful, both sides were seeing vital replacements of top-tier players for the first time. And, quite frankly, the cupboard is a more than a little fuller in Tuscaloosa than it is in Ann Arbor.

With one of the most talented offensive lines in college football history, the Crimson Tide dominated the line of scrimmage and rendered the Wolverines defense ineffective.

A fang-less defense left the entirety of Michigan's fate in the hands of quarterback Denard Robinson, which didn't exactly go well. Saban and his defensive staff drew up a brilliant defensive scheme that contained the dual threat on the outside and neutered the Wolverines offense.

Ultimately, any team that comes up against an Alabama team with perfect schemes is going to lose. So, while the game was a nationally televised evisceration, it was survivable long-term. 

No team in the Big Ten has as much firepower on either side of the ball as the Crimson Tide. If the Wolverines' ultimate goal is a trip to Pasadena, that wish still had life after Week 1. 

However, it was the Wolverines' poor showing last week against Air Force that will serve to be the final nail in the coffin for Michigan's hyped 2012 season. 

In what was expected to be a relative blowout, the Wolverines came out flat last Saturday and scraped by for a 31-26 home victory over the Falcons.

While close calls against overmatched opponents aren't unheard of, the problem areas for the team are causing the most concern going forward. 

Both lines for Michigan (especially on defense) have gaping holes. The Falcons ran for 290 yards and three touchdowns as Air Force beat the inexperienced Wolverines line consistently at the point of attack.

And, other than Robinson, the Michigan rushing attack is anemic—mostly due to poor run-blocking from the offensive line. Last season's 1,000-yard rusher Fitzgerald Toussaint returned to the lineup last week following suspension, and his gift came in the form of non-existent rushing lanes. 

As for Robinson, you cannot fault his overall performance. The scintillating star accounted for 426 yards, which—and this is not a typo—was good for 100.7 percent of Michigan's total yards.

Nonetheless, if you wanted to nit-pick as a forward thinker, Robinson still isn't a good passing quarterback. He makes far too many mental errors and unnecessary risks for a senior Heisman trophy candidate.

Against stronger defenses (e.g. Michigan State), those mistakes will not go unpunished.

So as the team heads into Saturday's game with UMass, it's time to reel back the expectations. Sitting as the 17th-ranked team in the country, Michigan is considered the best one-loss team in the country.

Don't expect it to stay that way. 

The Wolverines have upcoming contests against more talented teams like Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State—all of which should be able to neutralize Robinson's legs and take advantage of the team's run defense deficiencies. 

This was a season that opened with Rose Bowl aspirations, but will end with 8-4 disappointment for Michigan.