The No. 22 Michigan Wolverines have come a long way since their season-opening blowout loss to the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, but has the team improved enough on both sides of the ball to be considered a legitimate contender to make a BCS bowl game?
Some of the Maize and Blue faithful are laughing at this question right now and wondering how anyone could doubt that anyone but the Wolverines will be able to win the Big Ten Conference title given how badly the league has performed thus far in 2012.
Other longtime Michigan fans know all too well that nothing plays out the way it does on paper even though the Wolverines are the trending favorite to win the Legends Division, bring the Stagg Trophy back from Indianapolis and play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2007.
Since Michigan will not face a team ranked in the BCS standings prior to the end of the regular season, the Wolverines will need to win the Big Ten in order to make a BCS bowl game, because there is little to no chance they will be able to earn an at-large bid.
The Wolverines have five games remaining and although the match ups appear to favor Michigan there is a cause for concern in a couple of those contests, which could prevent Brady Hoke's team from winning the Big Ten.
First off, Michigan will travel to Memorial Stadium to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a primetime game that could wind up deciding the Legends Division come season's end.
The Wolverines appear to have the advantage considering Nebraska's struggles on defense, but night games on the road are always tricky and senior quarterback Denard Robinson has a tendency to get jittery in big games.
Michigan will then take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis and return home the following week to face the Northwestern Wildcats. Both of those games should be victories for the Wolverines.
The final two games are where the Wolverines could get tripped up, though. Michigan will line up against the Iowa Hawkeyes at the Big House on Nov. 17 and are likely going to be a heavy favorite to come away with a victory.
Unfortunately, the Wolverines do not have an outstanding track record against the Hawkeyes. Since 2002, Michigan is 3-5 against Iowa and have been defeated by the Hawkeyes each of the last three seasons.
Finally, the Ohio State Buckeyes present arguably the biggest challenge for the Wolverines over the course of the final five weeks of the regular season.
The last time Michigan won a game against the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium was back in 2000 when Drew Henson called the shots for the Wolverines' offense.
On the other hand, the Wolverines are vastly better on defense than they were after the first two games of the season and have enough offensive firepower to take advantage of the porous defenses in the Big Ten.
Assuming Robinson takes care of the ball at Nebraska like he did against the Michigan State Spartans last weekend, the Wolverines should leave Lincoln with a victory and a strong grip on the Legends Division and a 4-0 record in Big Ten play.
As mentioned before, Northwestern and Minnesota do not play defense well enough to truly test the Wolverines, and Iowa no longer looks like a legitimate threat to Michigan after being throttled by the Penn State Nittany Lions at home last Saturday.
This brings us to the Ohio State game, which the Wolverines will not need to win in order to make it to Indianapolis if the aforementioned scenario falls into place.
This will likely be Michigan's only chance to make a statement that they are a legitimate BCS contender and not just be viewed as the best team in an extremely weak automatic qualifying conference.
Michigan matches up well with the Buckeyes and should be able to pile up the points against Ohio State's struggling defense, but dual-threat Braxton Miller will give the Wolverines' defense their toughest test since the Alabama game.
Not to mention the Buckeyes managed to score 34 points against a much tougher Michigan defense a year ago.
Same goes for the Wisconsin Badgers, who are most likely going to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten title game.
Montee Ball and James White will test Michigan's rushing defense like never before, but the Wolverines should be able to score enough points against a slow Wisconsin defense that has has already been lit up by Taylor Martinez in a 30-27 loss to Nebraska roughly a month ago.
Robinson should be able to give the Badgers' defense fits if Michigan and Wisconsin wind up duking it out for the Big Ten title at Lucas Oil Stadium in December.
Long story short, if Robinson can take care of the football like he did against Michigan State and Michigan's defense continues to play at a high level the Wolverines are legitimate contenders to win Big Ten as well as the Rose Bowl.
Once Robinson starts making reckless throws and allowing opponents to secure easy takeaways, the Wolverines will fall out of the BCS picture.
Final Verdict: Contenders
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