Michigan Football: Just How Legitimate Are the Big Ten's Wolverines in 2012?
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There were serious doubts surrounding the Michigan Wolverines after a 41-14 Week 1 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide, the nation's top-ranked team and national title contender.
Then, just three weeks later, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, now No. 5 in the BCS standings, disposed of the Wolverines, 13-6.
Wins over UMass and the Air Force helped the Wolverines get level, but those wins were expected.
Were the previously eighth-ranked Wolverines the real deal, or were they grossly overrated after posting an 11-2 record in 2011?
Three consecutive Big Ten triumphs, including a 12-10 win over Michigan State that snapped a four-year losing streak, were enough for college pundits and fans to reconsider Michigan's legitimacy.
If there were doubts, they should have all but disappeared. The 22nd-ranked Wolverines are unbeaten in Big Ten play (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) and should extend their winning streak Saturday by beating the Nebraska Huskers.
But what makes this so? Why should Michigan be reexamined and considered one of the Big Ten's best?
Have the Wolverines changed your mind after a 2-2 start? Are they living up to expectations?
The answers are simple: Its defense is growing stronger each week, and its offense—if quarterback Denard Robinson is on his A-game—has been seemingly unstoppable by league opponents.
While Robinson has certainly been an X-factor for Michigan, there is another player that has been just as vital to the Wolverines' success: Linebacker Jake Ryan, one of the fiercest tacklers and quarterback-pressuring forces in the country.
Good Loss, Bad Loss? Good Win, Bad Win?
There is no such thing as a good loss. But look at which teams beat Michigan: Notre Dame and Alabama. Don't forget, Michigan pounded Purdue, 44-13—the same Purdue team that took Ohio State into overtime but lost, 29-22.
Sure, Michigan should have taken care of business against the Boilers. A lopsided win was expected, but the quality of that win has grown since Purdue played well enough to beat Ohio State.
Coaching, Mainly Defensively, Makes Michigan Dangerous
Give credit to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, the orchestrator of the second-best defense in the Big Ten when judging total yards surrendered. Michigan gives up about 285 yards per game, just eight more than the top-ranked Spartans (277).
But Michigan also touts a Big Ten-leading pass defense (142). The only real improvement on defense that needs to be made is stopping the run. The Wolverines allow 143 yards on the ground, the seventh-most in the league.
When offensive coordinator Al Borges allows Robinson to be Robinson, the Wolverines are incredibly difficult to beat. With a quarterback like "Shoelace," Borges has one of the most dynamic players to ever set foot in Ann Arbor to work with.
Head coach Brady Hoke has a certain quality about him that not only makes him likeable, but he also has an edge that commands respect. Hoke is turning around Michigan after three dreadful years under Rich Rodriguez.
Hoke's hiring instantly restored a sense of pride within the program.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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