The Michigan Wolverines have hobbled through the first two weeks of the 2012 season
Should the Michigan Wolverines continue to hobble through the 2012 college football season, they'll surely struggle to win seven games.
Forget about being a one-loss team and competing for a BCS National Championship, the 17th-ranked Wolverines (1-1) could find themselves battling for bowl eligibility if they don't right their ship—and quickly.
The Wolverines host the Massachusetts Minutemen at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at The Big House in Ann Arbor.
While it's only Week 3—and the term "trap game" is tirelessly used—the Wolverines' matchup with UMass could be a turning point this fall: A win would obviously give Michigan confidence, while a loss to an opponent like UMass would be detrimental.
Will the Wolverines live up to expectations, compete for a Big Ten title and earn a respectable BCS bowl-bid, or will they fight for their lives each and every week and walk away from this season as disappointed seven-game winners?
That scenario may sound like a bleak forecast, but it's certainly possible if Michigan maintains its current pace.
Fight with the Irish on Sept. 22
Michigan's thrilling 35-31 victory over Notre Dame featured one of the top finishes during the 2011 college football season.
Granted, defense was optional during the final 15 minutes, but it was an electrifying closing to an otherwise wildly entertaining slugfest between two of college football's storied programs.
Earlier this fall, when I published my "20 bold predictions" piece on Michigan football, I forecast an easy win over Notre Dame for the Wolverines. I was caught up in the hype, a Sugar Bowl win and a No. 8 preseason ranking.
Michigan Football was back.
I'm not afraid to admit that I was wrong, in a sense. In fact, the Wolverines don't look anywhere near as good as I anticipated they'd be this fall.
However, I do believe coach Brady Hoke has Michigan closer to being "Michigan" than it's been in years.
National title contenders?
Probably not. I wasn't willing to go that far.
But finishing the year with one loss and going to a top-tier bowl game was definitely possible, I thought.
Notre Dame hung a 50-10 win on Navy but barely escaped with a 20-17 win over Purdue. We'll see just how good Notre Dame is this weekend when it takes on the 10th-ranked Michigan State Spartans.
If that game is close, and Michigan's offense struggles against UMass, it would be safe to anticipate a loss to the Irish in two weeks.
And if you thought Air Force's Cody Getz was tough to contain, wait for Notre Dame's Cierre Wood.
Mark Dantonio's Michigan State Spartans have won four straight against Michigan
Wolverines look to avoid fifth straight loss to Michigan State Spartans on Oct. 20
Michigan State looks like the Big Ten's cream of the crop.
And the Michigan Wolverines could be in for it Oct. 20, if their defense continues to break, not bend and gives up over 400 yards of total offense as it has in its first two contests of 2012.
The 10th-ranked Spartans (2-0 pending Saturday's duel with Notre Dame) are without past stars like quarterback Kirk Cousins, receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol and Keshawn Martin and running back Edwin Baker.
But somehow—mostly because of their defense—the Spartans look stronger through two weeks this season than they did through last season.
As mentioned in the previous slide (about Notre Dame, though), we'll see how good Michigan State really is Saturday when it faces Notre Dame.
Like Notre Dame, Michigan State has a pretty good running back in Le'Veon Bell, who could ravish the Wolverines defense like Air Force's Cody Getz did a week ago.
Five straight losses to Michigan State would not bode well for the Wolverines' confidence.
First-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer
Ohio State might be a tough nut to crack...
Michigan's 40-34 win in 2011 over Ohio State snapped a seven-year itch—I mean, seven-year losing streak—to their southern neighbors (that's if you include Ohio State's vacated victory from 2010).
This fall, the Wolverines look to post back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes for the first time since 1999-2000.
But it may not happen for reasons mentioned in previous slides—particularly the Wolverines' poor defense, which has surrendered over 400 yards of total offense in both games so far.
Quarterback Denard Robinson went out of his mind in 2011, passing for 167 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for 170 yards and two scores. Michigan will need more of the same from him this season.
Let's take a look at Michigan's schedule to see just how important the Ohio State game is in terms of reaching bowl eligibility.
Schedule via TheWolverine.com
Week 1 - Alabama (L, 41-14)
Week 2 - Air Force (W, 31-25)
Week 3 - UMass (most likely a win)
Week 4 - at Notre Dame (could be a loss)
Week 5 - at Purdue (most likely a win)
Week 6 - Illinois (most likely a win)
Week 7 - Michigan State (could be a loss)
Week 8 - at Nebraska (50-50 game)
Week 9 - at Minnesota (most likely a win)
Week 10 - Northwestern (50-50 game)
Week 11 - Iowa (50-50 game)
Week 12 - at Ohio State (Michigan hasn't won at Columbus since 2000, could be a loss)
Let's say Michigan enters Ohio State Week with five wins.
The pressure would be on to win a sixth game just to be considered for a bowl game. That's where the challenge of winning at least seven games comes into play.
But let's look at it another way: Michigan loses to Ohio State but wins games it should, prior to playing the Buckeyes.
In reality, Michigan should beat UMass, Purdue, Illinois, and Minnesota. Iowa and Northwestern could be tough games, but those are being played at home, which caters to Michigan's advantage.
If Michigan loses to Notre Dame and Michigan State and stumbles against Illinois or Purdue, it would walk into Week 8 with a 4-3 or 3-4 record.
Just a little food for thought.
Here is more food for thought.
Michigan running back Fitz Toussaint missed the Alabama game and was invisible against Air Force
Where is Fitz?
Fitz Toussaint led Michigan Wolverines running backs in 2011 with 1,041 yards.
However, Toussaint has yet to make his presence felt in 2012; he was suspended for Michigan's Week 1 duel with Alabama and had just seven yards off eight carries a week ago during Michigan's 31-25 victory over Air Force.
In the event that the Wolverines fail to establish a rushing presence other than quarterback Denard Robinson, it could be a long season for Michigan football and its fans.
Sophomore Thomas Rawls and senior Vincent Smith have struggled in their limited roles thus far. Smith caught a few passes out of the backfield in Michigan's win over Air Force, but other than that, he's been missing in action just the like rest of the backs.
Injuries aren't good
Senior tight end Brandon Moore continues to nurse a stretched MCL and is expected to miss Saturday's game against UMass. That leaves freshman Devin Funchess to take over, which he's shown capable of doing.
Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess was injured (knee) against Alabama in Week 1 and will miss the rest of the season. That's a huge blow to the Wolverines secondary, which has plugged in junior Courtney Avery and sophomore Raymon Taylor to replace their fallen teammate.
Countess may want to keep sending advice-filled text messages to J.T. Floyd. Michigan's secondary could certainly use a little encouragement.
Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan was banged-up in Michigan's loss to Alabama, but there haven't been any noticeable aftereffects from that collision.
Denard Robinson is "Mr. Everything" for Michigan.
An injury to quarterback Denard Robinson would decimate the Wolverines; he's their best all-around player, leader and most-potent offensive threat.
Without Robinson, the Wolverines' stock would plummet. He's one of the main reasons why some college football pundits picked Michigan to compete in the Big Ten.
In the past, Robinson has routinely gone above and beyond his duties to lead Michigan to victory. He had to take over the game this past Saturday so the Wolverines could slide by the Air Force Falcons.
A healthy and fully-effective Robinson all but ensures at least eight wins.
However, an injured Robinson—which would leave freshman Russell Bellomy or junior Devin Gardner to take over as quarterback—would likely put Michigan in position to win six or seven games, depending on time of potential injury.
Due to the need for Robinson—and the fact that he was beat up by Alabama—it's entirely possible that his overuse could lead to time away from the field. "Shoelace" showed he's hard to rattle by toughing it out against the Crimson Tide.
But how many hits can one guy take? And just how many times can one player outdo its team in terms of offensive production?
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81