Michigan Football: 5 Players Who Will Get Wolverines Back in BCS Picture
Much like every Big Ten football program, the Michigan Wolverines are on the outside of the BCS Standings looking in.
Heading into Week 8 action, the Maize and Blue are fresh off back-to-back blowouts of conference foes and are primed to erase a four-game losing streak to the in-state rival Michigan State Spartans.
In order to get back on the map of the almighty BCS standings, the Wolverines will simply (or not so simply) need to achieve the same goal they set for themselves before the year began.
Win the Big Ten Championship.
Of course, if that happens, an all-expense paid trip to the Rose Bowl will be the result.
Nonetheless, here are five players not named Denard Robinson (the obvious choice) who will get Michigan back into the BCS picture with continued domination of Big Ten opponents.
Thomas Rawls, RB
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Let's call a spade a spade here in saying that Fitzgerald Toussaint is simply no longer the explosive running back we saw in 2011.
No one's saying he can't turn it around, but after averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per attempt on 71 carries in 2012, it's looking like the Wolverines have more effective options in the backfield.
Perhaps the most intriguing of those options is sophomore running back Thomas Rawls.
Unlike Toussaint, Rawls endorses a tenacious style of running that is often a requirement when facing Big Ten defenses. The 5'10", 218-pound wrecking ball loves to lower his shoulders and punish opponents with his bulky frame.
No offense to the Wolverines' 1,000-yard rusher from a season ago, but Rawls needs to be the man in the Michigan backfield from here on out—not Toussaint. If anything, it may light a fire under Toussaint and motivate him to scrap the on-field dance party for a more traditional downhill style of running.
Rawls isn't all beef, though. He's equipped with excellent vision and the ability to quickly locate holes in the defense without slowing his momentum.
With 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries in two weeks of Big Ten play, the Flint, Mich., native is clearly prepared to wear down the stiff competition that awaits—he just needs an expanded role.
With a one-two punch like Rawls and Robinson racking up carries out of the backfield, Michigan's ground game could develop into an unstoppable force.
Jake Ryan, LB
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Jake Ryan has been a man on a mission these days, and he put the rest of the Big Ten on notice with an overwhelming performance in Michigan's 45-0 shutout of Illinois on Saturday.
The sophomore linebacker's postgame stat line says it all: 11 tackles (3.5 of them for loss), 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The result? Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.
It was Ryan's first time winning the award, but likely not his last.
Already a force in run defense, the 6'3", 242-pounder is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback and displays a unique level of closing speed reminiscent of a cheetah chasing down its prey.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has his unit playing better each week, and the Michigan defense has allowed just 9.8 points per game in its last four contests. Ryan's ability to disrupt the opponent's backfield in particular has allowed the secondary to play more aggressively and make game-changing plays as a result.
Whether you're a Michigan fan wanting to see utter dominance on the gridiron, or an opposing Big Ten quarterback just trying to stay upright, I would advise against letting No. 47 out of your sights on Saturdays for the remainder of his collegiate career.
Kenny Demens, LB
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Ryan isn't the only Maize and Blue linebacker making waves in recent weeks.
After an extremely sluggish start to the season, senior Kenny Demens looks determined to graduate from the U of M with a Big Ten Championship under his belt.
The 6'1", 242-pound Oak Park native logged eight tackles and even snagged an interception Saturday against Illinois, just a week after recording six solo stops in Michigan's 44-13 romp of the Purdue Boilermakers.
Demens notched three sacks and averaged seven tackles per game in Big Ten play a year ago, and piled up 58 tackles in the final six games of conference play in 2010.
He's heating up at the right time, and the Wolverines will need their experienced linebacker to further his improvement down the stretch.
Raymon Taylor, CB
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A fine athlete who's simply lacked confidence in his play-making capabilities in the past, sophomore Raymon Taylor seems to have discovered his mojo in recent weeks.
Now, the sky could be the limit for this talented youngster.
Fellow sophomore cornerback Blake Countess made an instant impact as a freshman in 2011 and was expected to lead an improved Michigan secondary this season before an unfortunate knee injury in the opener against Alabama ended his season. Consequently, it left a huge question mark in the center of the Wolverines defensive backfield.
So far, Taylor has helped transform that question mark into a big, fat exclamation point.
As any inexperienced backup unexpectedly thrust into a starting role can attest, there have been bumps along the way. But look no further than Taylor's 63-yard interception return for a score (3:28 mark of the video) against Purdue to see just what this kid is capable of.
The Detroit native now has two picks in his last three games, and defended one pass against Illinois despite minimal action due to a stagnant Fighting Illini passing game.
The Wolverines have some experienced bodies in the secondary to lead the way in seniors J.T. Floyd and Jordan Kovacs, but opposing offenses will pick Taylor apart if he can't continue to build on an impressive start.
Taylor Lewan, OT
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Michigan's All-American (honorable mention) lineman was quick to criticize the offensive line after its struggles early in the season continued to mount.
Now, he's the man behind the unit's impressive turnaround.
After a performance to forget against Notre Dame's fierce defensive front, left tackle Taylor Lewan and the Wolverines O-line have helped Michigan's ground game to 300-yard performances in consecutive weeks.
Shoelace has finally been able to get his feet moving downfield, and the running backs—save for Toussaint—have made the most of all the extra room to roam as well.
As you may know, Lewan will be a coveted target in the 2013 NFL draft, expected to go in the top-half of the first round by many pundits around the nation. ESPN's Mel Kiper hailed the 6'8", 302-pound monster as "Michigan's best natural left tackle since Jake Long", per Nick Baumgardner of Mlive.com.
Quite the compliment, indeed. Long was a two-time All-American selection with the Maize and Blue and has been named to the Pro Bowl each of his four seasons in the NFL after being selected by the Miami Dolphins with the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft.
While Robinson is the most dynamic threat the Wolverines have, Lewan's presence is equally important to this program achieving its goals for the 2012 season.