After a great start for new Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, winning 11 games and winning the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season, the 2012 season was supposed to be a promising one.
And then it wasn't.
It wasn't an easy road for the Wolverines, who had one of the toughest schedules in all of college football. Before the loss to Ohio State on Saturday, the team didn't fare too bad, going 8-3. Those three losses all were away from Ann Arbor against their toughest opponents—Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska—which have a combined record of 33-3.
There was plenty on the line in Saturday's game against longtime rival Ohio State: A BCS berth was still in play, as were spoiling Ohio State's perfect season and claiming a second consecutive win over the Buckeyes, beating a quality opponent, a possible Big Ten championship, and bowl positioning. All they had to do was beat an undefeated Ohio State team away from home.
But Michigan couldn't, losing to the Buckeyes 26-21, finishing the season with an 8-4 record. They had been outmuscled and outsmarted. In that loss, they showed that their football program is not quite elite yet.
In order to be the best, you have to beat the best. They failed to do so. In Michigan's eight wins, only one came against a team with a winning record (Northwestern), and Michigan barely survived that game.
Can Michigan be a top program within the next year?
Michigan had four chances to show everyone that they belonged, that they were an elite team that could compete against the nation's elite. All they had to do was beat at least one of those quality opponents. They didn't. They came close, coming within a touchdown of winning games against No.1 Notre Dame and Ohio State, but close doesn't count. No one remembers teams that almost won.
Those games just show that the caliber of their roster is not quite there yet. That they're not a complete team yet.
The run game? Not there yet. A unit that averaged 226 yards in all of its wins but a paltry 108 yards in its four losses.
Disciplined? Not yet. In each of Michigan's four losses, the Wolverines had a negative turnover margin. Their offense? Predictable.
No, this Michigan team is not quite elite yet. But they may be getting close.
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