The Alabama Crimson Tide and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are playing Jan. 7 in Miami for something that the Michigan Wolverines want—a BCS National Championship.
For Michigan fans, this year's BCS title bout will be more difficult to stomach, especially when considering the fact that the Wolverines played both the Tide and the Irish this season.
One game was over before it started, and the other was lost due to six turnovers—five of which were committed by quarterback Denard Robinson (four interceptions, fumble).
In Week 1, the Tide spanked Michigan, 41-14. Three weeks later, the Irish sent the Wolverines packing after a 13-6 victory in South Bend.
The loss to Alabama showed that Michigan has a ways to go before it's viewed as a national force. However, the setback to Notre Dame gave Wolverines fans a glimmer of hope during an otherwise mundane 2012 season.
Had the Wolverines held onto the ball Sept. 22 in South Bend, they could have downed the Irish, who only grew stronger after outlasting the Wolverines in front of Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame Stadium.
How close is Michigan to competing for BCS title?
When will it be Michigan's turn in the BCS? When will the Maize and Blue set foot in the ring with another heavyweight and battle for the label of national champion?
Some thought that would happen this year. An 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl victory were enough to justify such expectations according to most Michigan fans. But this year, Michigan went 8-4 and earned a date New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl with the 10th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in Tampa, Fla.
It wasn't what was called for by the masses prior to the season's start, but the duel with the Gamecocks isn't a bad consolation prize for Team 133, which now faces the task of representing the Big Ten against the loaded SEC.
Vaulting back into national contention hinges on a couple of things. First, beating the Gamecocks is necessary. After that's done—potentially, of course—Michigan will see how the rankings shake out and catch a glimpse at where it could land in the 2013 polls.
A win over South Carolina could (and should) put Michigan in the Top 15 in 2013—not a bad place to start for a team coming off a four-loss season in 2012. Having a solid starting block to work from will serve the Wolverines well, but even that probably won't be enough to push Michigan back into the circle of college football juggernauts.
The changes needed are ones that won't come overnight, but there are slight adjustments that can be made to get the Wolverines back into rhythm.
Michigan has to get back to Michigan football
In order to truly be taken seriously, the Wolverines have to revert to being the Wolverines of old—a hard-nosed team that runs the ball down opponents' throats while running an NFL-like offensive scheme.
Simply put, that means that abandoning the spread becomes necessary. With Devin Gardner holding the reins of the offense, Michigan will have the chance to build the pro-style offense that fans want to see.
However, Gardner has the speed to make plays on his feet, something that Robinson did often. Don't expect Gardner to be Andrew Luck in the pocket, but he'll most definitely be closer to a traditional quarterback in 2013 than Robinson ever was.
That takes care of one aspect. Michigan has to use what worked in the past in order to compete for a BCS title.
Coaches need to lose stubborn attitude, do away with blind loyalty
Do away with loyalty? That sounds incredibly ridiculous, doesn't it?
Well, in the case of Wolverines football, it's not—they're notorious for favoring seniors and returning starters, regardless of level of play.
The failure to make personnel adjustments was Michigan's Achilles' heel in 2012. The constant piggybacking of running back Fitz Toussaint was enough to make even the most loyal Wolverines follower question the sanity of the Michigan coaching staff.
Give Brady Hoke a head set. Tell Al Borges to yank players when needed and tell him that he's running a Big Ten offense, not some flashy Pac-12, Oregon-like airshow fueled by undersized speedsters.
The improper use of players was a pet peeve for fans. The disconnect that some coaches seemed to have demonstrated was frustrating as well.
It's time to get serious, fellas.
Take advantage of weak 2013 schedule
Open the year against Alabama or Central Michigan. Take your pick.
The powers that be wanted to increase exposure for Michigan, so that's why the Wolverines took on the Tide at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington back in Week 1.
Ouch. That one still hurts Michigan.
The Wolverines get the Irish in Week 2 of 2013, but that won't be the same Manti Te'o-led Notre Dame from this season, so that's a plus for Hoke's boys—a group that will miss seniors like Robinson and Roy Roundtree and possibly be without junior Taylor Lewan, who could declare for the NFL draft after the Outback Bowl.
Michigan follows up its meeting with the Irish by taking on perennial powers like UConn and Akron—so, just for fun, let's say the Wolverines take care of business against the Irish and enter Big Ten play with a perfect record.
If anything, a less-challenging docket of opponents only bolsters Michigan's chances of going unbeaten. Of course, the "real" game—should the cards fall into place—will be against Ohio State. The season-ending classic could regain its previous luster and importance.
Satisfied with the way Michigan recruits under Hoke?
Win the recruiting battles (it's that simple)
Most Wolverines followers have heard of Virginia's 5-star phenom Derrick Green, a running back who has legions of Maize and Blue fans frothing at the mouth in hopes that he'll find his way to Ann Arbor.
Delano Hill of Detroit Cass Tech re-thought his college choice, choosing Michigan after committing to Iowa in April. Two MHSAA Division 1 state titles later, Hill, a 4-star rated recruit, could be a great corner or safety for Michigan starting next year.
He's reportedly going to start his career as a corner, but according to Rivals.com, has the option of moving back to his natural spot of safety if needed.
Adding a kid like Southfield Blue Jays star Lawrence Marshall wouldn't hurt, either. The defensive end could be one of a few prizes in 2014 if Michigan wins the tug of war with Ohio State, which is more than interested in Marshall, according Rivals.com.
Small changes can make a massive difference. Michigan is about two or three years away from BCS title contention, but it can become less a spectator and more of a participant by shifting toward its former ways.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81