Michigan QB Denard Robinson
Everyone knows the script by now. For the second consecutive year, Rich Rodriguez has led Michigan to a 4-0 start with the heroics of a young first-year starter at quarterback. What makes this year different?
It's not just the spectacular numbers of Denard "Shoelace" Robinson that set the 2010 Wolverines apart from last year. Michigan boasts an athletic and powerful offensive line that is as good as any in the Big Ten. The receivers have provided sensational blocking as well as mostly eliminated the slew of costly drops common a year ago. Michigan leads the country in total offense through four weeks (and yes, that includes a ridiculous Oregon offense).
Even so, the naysayers are still out in full force as Michigan has climbed no higher than #19 in the polls. Michigan's young, inexperienced defense has kept the Wolverines from getting much hype as a true contender in the Big Ten. While the Wolverines defense has indeed been porous thus far, the defense should improve as the season goes on.
With the potential for plenty of shootouts, the Wolverines should be a part of plenty of exciting games in its Big Ten schedule. Here's a look at some predictions for how Michigan will fare against the rest of the Big Ten.
Indiana QB Ben Chappell
This is a classic trap game for a ranked Michigan team coming off a historic performance against Bowling Green at the Big House. Indiana features great talent at the skill positions and will give the Wolverines defense all it can handle.
Luckily for Michigan, Denard Robinson will lead the nation's top total offense to Bloomington and put up plenty of points. Look for Indiana to make it a game early, only for Michigan to come out of halftime firing with enough time to cycle in Tate or Devin for some mop-up duty.
Prediction: Michigan 41 - Indiana 24
Record: 5-0 (1-0)
Michigan State LB Greg Jones
The 2010 iteration of this in-state rivalry may be the biggest in a long time. Both teams have a chance at entering this one undefeated, and the winner will likely become a legitimate Big Ten title contender. For all the excitement over Denard Robinson and a much-improved Michigan squad, Rich Rodriguez will be under fire if he falls to 0-3 against the school's "Little Brother."
All-American linebacker Greg Jones and the Michigan State D will pose the greatest threat to date for Robinson and the explosive Wolverines offense. This game may be decided on the other side of the ball and whether Michigan's defense can slow down the Spartan offense. Michigan needs this game and pulls it out in a nail-biter in front of an uncommonly raucous crowd at Michigan Stadium.
Prediction: Michigan 34 - Michigan State 30
Record: 6-0 (2-0)
Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn
This one has all the makings of an Iowa win. After a defensive battle at home in which they survive Penn State this weekend, the Hawkeyes have a week off to analyze Shoelace and the Michigan offense in its biggest game to date against in-state rival Michigan State. Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa coaching staff establish the first game-plan that is able to slow the Wolverines explosive offense and the Hawkeyes (upset?) knock off the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on a late FG.
The kicking situation kills Michigan in this one as Rich is forced into tough decisions of FG/punt/go-for-it. Adrian Clayborn and the vaunted Iowa D-Line performs up to its hype by provided Michigan's excellent offensive line with its first major challenge. Michigan then gets a bye week to prepare for its trip to Happy Valley, hoping to avoid a second half slide.
Prediction: Iowa 23 - Michigan 21
Record: 6-1 (2-1)
Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno
With an extra week to rest and game-plan for Penn State, Michigan overcomes the night crowd of Happy Valley and a first half deficit with an explosive second half. Penn State scores two return touchdowns to mask the mediocre play of its depleted offensive line and freshman QB.
Rich Rod gets his first trademark road win as Michigan Head Coach in his first road win over a ranked opponent. The Wolverines finally are given national respect after questions about their legitimacy were posed after the Iowa loss. The defense plays one of its best games with a bend but not break mentality and "limit" Penn State to 350 yards. Hype over Denard's Heisman campaign returns as he cracks the Top of many Heisman lists.
Prediction: Michigan 37 - Penn State 31
Record: 7-1 (3-1)
Illinois LB Martez Wilson
Michigan finally returns to the Big House to a pumped crowd and jumps out to a big halftime lead. The defense is worn down by Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure and yields a big second half, but an early 4th quarter interception effectively seals the win for the Wolverines.
Rumblings about Michigan as a true contender for the Big Ten championship begin in Ann Arbor as the Wolverines appear primed for a 5-1 start in Big Ten play with a trip to Purdue in store the next week. The Denard Heisman campaign peaks with another monster game for the dread-locked QB.
Prediction: Michigan 38 - Illinois 27
Record: 8-1 (4-1)
Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan
Michigan heads down to a crippled Purdue team lacking its preseason QB, RB, and top WR. After losing to Toledo, the Boilermakers season turns for the worse with few positives but the exceptional play of star DE Ryan Kerrigan. Michigan's explosive offense marches up and down the field for an easy win.
Backup QBs Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner enter the fold in the second half and don't miss a beat as Michigan rolls up over 500 yards and gets its vengeance for consecutive heartbreaking losses at the hands of Purdue. The anemic Boilermaker offense makes the Michigan defense look like the Maize and Blue of old.
Prediction: Michigan 45 - Purdue 13
Record: 9-1 (5-1)
Wisconsin RB John Clay
Michigan returns to Ann Arbor a Top 10 team brimming with confidence on the success of its talented offense. Wisconsin controls the game and clock from start to finish on the back of its workhouse RB John Clay's 30 carry, 200 yard day. With its offense limited to some extent by a solid Badger D, Michigan fans come down to Earth a bit after the Wolverines are humbled at home.
A late long run by Denard and onside kick attempt give Michigan hope for a comeback, but it comes up short. In a shortened game with few possessions, the final score doesn't tell the whole story as Michigan was thoroughly outplayed for the first time all year.
Prediction: Wisconsin 30 - Michigan 24
Record: 9-2 (5-2)
Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor
In the biggest iteration of "The Game" since the 2006 Game of the Century, Ohio State rolls over Michigan's poor defense to yet another win for the Buckeyes. The game's most fascinating subplot is the Heisman battle between Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor. Denard has the stats, Pryor the wins in one of the most interesting Heisman debates in recent memory.
The game isn't even as close as the score indicates as the Ohio State offense dominates the ball and gashes the young Wolverines. Denard's big day is in vain as his supporting cast supplies little help and the game ends with Ohio State in victory formation yet again.
Prediction: Ohio State 41 - Michigan 30
Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Michigan Head Coach Rich Rodriguez
In a surprising and unexpectedly competitive season, Michigan overachieves and even teases fans with a shocking 9-1 start. Denard is your Heisman finalist and the spread offense is there to stay in Ann Arbor.
A 9-3 and Top 20 Michigan team heads to Florida to play in the Capital One or Outback Bowl and take on a solid SEC team. Rich Rodriguez is fully off the hot seat rolling into the offseason after winning 9 (and possibly a bowl game) games in Year 3. With most of the core returning for 2011, the Wolverines face high expectations and a Top 15 ranking into next year. The 2011 season is highly anticipated among Big Ten circles with the resurgence of Michigan, the addition of Nebraska, and maybe a new coach in Happy Valley (finally?).