Michigan Football: How the Wolverines Can Climb Back into the Rankings

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIOctober 8, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 22:  Quarterback Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a first down in the third quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 22, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For a team that kicked off the season ranked No. 8, 2012 has not gone Michigan's way.

This was the year for them to make a statement. They opened their season at Alabama and faced a schedule filled with heavy-hitting opponents. If they were to climb into the top five, this was the way to do it.

What's ensued is a season of disappointments. The Wolverines didn't even put up a fight against the Crimson Tide, and three weeks later, they failed to score a touchdown in their loss to Notre Dame.

Now we're in Week 7, with the 3-2 Wolverines at the bottom of the AP barrel.

So the question of the hour is, how do they fix this?

The big answer is win out. That might be overkill just to get back into the rankings, but it would certainly get them a respectable ranking.

With games against Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern and No. 8 Ohio State still to go, the Wolverines have a chance to make a splash.

Winning out also puts them in great position for the Legends Division title. They would likely face a match with Wisconsin for the conference championship—another opportunity to prove their merit.

But winning out is easier said than done, and Michigan has to make some changes to get to that point.

Defensively they have to be better against the run.

The team is allowing 156.8 yards on the ground per game; not too bad. But their opponents down the stretch rely on the run and will bowl right through this defense.

Combined, the Wolverine's remaining opponents are averaging nearly 200 yards per game.

With their win over Purdue, it looks like the defense is turning a corner. The Wolverines held the Boilermakers to just 213 yards while forcing two fumbles and two interceptions.

Of course, Brady Hoke is never one to be satisfied with his defense. After the game, he was quoted as saying the D "Didn't tackle worth a dog."

Offensively, UM needs to keep playing cleaner. That starts and ends with quarterback Denard Robinson.

Robinson is having his usual electric season, averaging 188 yards passing and 135 yards rushing per game.

However, he's already thrown eight interceptions on the season. His current pace would have him at about 20 by season's end.

This all goes back to Michigan's mystifying offensive road woes. The Wolverines are outscoring opponents 94-38 at home, but are being outscored 64-67 on the road. More than half of Robinson's INTs are in away games.

With big visits to Nebraska and Ohio State down the stretch, this offensive unit needs to learn to score in a hostile environment.

While the battle is still an uphill one, Michigan has the pieces to finish the season strong. They were No. 8 for a reason, and still have a shot at a good BCS bid.

While winning out is a challenge, if they keep playing like they did last week at Purdue, they've got a great shot.