It is a make or break year for Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines.
The University of Michigan, arguably the most storied program in college football, has fallen to the basement of the Big Ten after only winning three conference games in the past two seasons.
Old-school Michigan alumni can't stand Rich Rod's spread offense and weak defense, two characteristics that completely contradict traditional Big Ten teams.
Rodriguez has strung together three solid recruiting classes, filling holes in the defense and adding a wealth of talent to the skill positions on offense. With all of this talent, youth, and inexperience, most of the positions are up for grabs.
Here are the five positions in battles that are most important to the success of the Michigan Wolverines and the job security of Rich Rodriguez.
Quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are in the middle of the most heated position battle in the Big Ten. The decision on who will start under center will single-handedly make or break Rich Rod's future at Michigan.
Tate Forcier was the starter for most of the 2009 season, and led the Wolverines to a hot start.
After jumping out to a 4-0 start, Forcier made some bad decisions in crunch time that led to an overtime loss in East Lansing to the rival Michigan State Spartans. The Wolverines did not beat an FBS opponent after that hot start and Forcier was given a lot of flack for his high turnover ratio.
Denard Robinson is the fan favorite and hot topic on local radio shows.
His lightning quick speed, all thanks to his loose shoelaces, constantly frightens defenses. The word from Ann Arbor is that Robinson has shown great strides in his passing game, but could conceivably play anywhere on offense.
Predicted Winner: Look for Forcier to start the season, but if things turn sour, Robinson will take over in a heartbeat.
The competition for running back this season is between two completely different styled runners.
Vincent Smith is a shifty runner that could break a long run at any second.
Smith is Michigan's leading returning rusher from the backfield, and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. In Michigan's matchup against Delaware State, Smith made himself known and rushed for 166 yards. His work load increased as the year went on, giving him crucial experience as a Big Ten back.
Michael Shaw, while also considerably fast, is more of an every-down running back for Rich Rodriguez.
He was the seventh ranked running back coming out of high school, but has not taken advantage of his talents on the field. Off the field, Shaw is academically ineligible and is taking summer school classes. It is unlikely that there will be any consequences, and Shaw should start the season on the roster.
Predicted Winner: Both Smith and Shaw will get their fair share of carries, but Smith should be the clear winner because of his high-end speed and big play capability.
This position battle may be a lot closer than the average Michigan fan thinks it is.
Senior Obi Ezeh has been one of Michigan's best linebackers in the past few years, and has played in 37 consecutive games. However, he has fallen out of favor with Rich Rodriguez, and served as a backup towards the end of the season.
The linebacker position is so weak that fifth-year senior Mark Moundros decided to switch from fullback to linebacker this past offseason. It was also recently announced that Moundros will serve as the defensive captain, as voted by the team.
Moundros plays with a huge heart and no fear, and would be a great fit in the middle of an inexperienced defense.
In Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson's new 3-3-5 stack defensive scheme, the middle linebacker position will be one of the most important positions on the field. The starter must play disciplined football, lest he open up the middle of the field by playing out of position.
Predicted Winner: Moundros will get the starting nod, but look for Ezeh to play an ample amount.
The defensive backs were considered to be the weakest unit on the team last season. Add in the loss of highly-touted recruit Justin Turner to transfer and Donovan Warren to the NFL, and this battle becomes that much more important to the defensive backfield.
The entire defense combined for 11 interceptions in 2009, but Michigan is only returning one player in the secondary with an interception last year.
Redshirt freshman Cam Gordon will be new to the defensive unit in 2010, but looks to display his athleticism on the field as much as possible. Gordon was recruited as one of Devin Gardner's wide receivers from Inkster High School, but has earned rave reviews from the defensive coaching staff.
Vladimir Emilien appeared in five games last season, but only recorded one tackle.
He is a little smaller than Gordon, but has some more speed to make up for his lack of size. In other words, this battle is wide open because neither Gordon nor Emilien has much experience in the world of Big Ten football.
Predicted Winner: The coaches would not switch a redshirted Gordon to a weak safety position if they did not want him to play immediately.
The common phrase is "a picture is worth a thousand words".
Well here is your picture, go ahead and run with it.
Rich Rodriguez's tenure as head coach has been nothing but frustration for the program, the players, and the fans. The alumni are calling for his firing, and this might be his last chance.
The University of Michigan has expectations to win Big Ten titles and take trips to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. Rich Rod has done neither of these so far. He has instilled an ill-favored offensive scheme that strays away from Lloyd Carr's "pound the rock" mentality and is trying to change the ways of the Big Ten.
If he does not have a winning season with a bowl victory, say sayonara to everyone's favorite corrupt head coach.
Athletic Director David Brandon would not have the guts or confidence to keep a losing head coach for the most storied program in college football.
Predicted Winner: Rich Rodriguez somehow makes it to a bowl game, wins, and keeps his job. However, if he does not, next in line is Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh.