If not for the resurgence of Washington, no team has made a more impressive turnaround than the Michigan Wolverines.
Coming off a school record nine losses in 2008, expectations were tempered for the Maize and Blue this season, with a bowl invitation still something to strive for. Three weeks later, a New Years Day bowl is suddenly a very real possibility, if the team can sustain its new found success.
The most significant improvement this season has been seen on offense, where Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson have lead a rushing attack averaging 270 yards per game, good for third nationally. The passing game has improved as well, with Forcier completing better than 60% of his passes, a far cry from the quarterbacking incompetency of a year ago.
The defense, however, is still struggling under first year defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson. They have cut down the big plays made against them, but they have given up yards and touchdowns to inferior opponents and have had trouble getting off the field.
Three weeks ago, any Michigan fan would have taken a 3-0 start, no matter how ugly.
Three wins have made the Maize and Blue faithful turn the corner on Rich Rodriguez, about whom no one seems to remember the cloud of corruption that lingered over him leading up to the opener.
Now the question is, can they keep it up?
The short answer is: maybe...
The Big Ten schedule is about to get started with Indiana coming to the Big House this Saturday. It only gets harder, with road games against Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and home dates with Penn State and hated Ohio State.
Look for the offense to continue to roll against most Big Ten opponents, save Penn State and Ohio State. Rich Rod's offense is innovative, complicated, and a nightmare to defend. There are so many formations, out of which several plays can be ran, all building off of each other in the course of a game. A fake here or there opens up a whole new chunk of plays for the offensive genius in charge.
The freshmen are still freshmen, but in a few weeks, they will have more of the playbook under their belts and will feel more comfortable. Look for the running game to become more consistent, as 90-yard runs are had to come by against Big Ten defenses. Gains of 5-7 yards per attempt will become vital to Michigan's success as controlling the clock will help protect the porous defense. Also, look for more play action passing as the air attack has not been prominently featured too much in the non-conference schedule.
The offense is the key to success, because the defense has shown it isn't about to stop anyone. The continued growth of Forcier and the further establishment of the ground game means that Michigan just might be back already. They might not be contending for the Big Ten title this year, but the next eight games against Big Ten opponents will serve notice to the Big Ten that Michigan is back.