Breaking Down Michigan's Ranking in AP Preseason Poll

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIAugust 20, 2012

Breaking Down Michigan's Ranking in AP Preseason Poll

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    It's unanimous, the Michigan Wolverines are the eighth-ranked team heading into 2012 according to not only the Associated Press poll, but according to USA Today and ESPN polls.

    But how could a team that didn't win its own conference, the Big Ten, or division, the Legends, be ranked above other squads that won conference and division titles?

    It's not as complex as one might think. Remember, the Wolverines posted an 11-2 record in 2011 under first-year coach Brady Hoke—a drastic turnaround from three dismal seasons under former coach Rich Rodriguez. A once-laughable defense under the old regime turned into a top-25 power. Michigan allowed just 17.4 points per game a year ago, sixth-best among FBS schools.

    Not a bad turn of fortune compared to the dark days under Rich Rod, right?

    Then, the Wolverines toppled the Virginia Tech Hokies, then ranked No. 11, in the 2012 BCS Sugar Bowl, 23-20. It was a statement win for Hoke. It was a statement win for the Michigan fanbase—one which helped loyal Maize and Blue supporters forget three years of agony under a heavily-criticized former coach. 

    Is Michigan overrated? The Wolverines certainly aren't underrated, evident by their preseason spot in the polls—which could be viewed as a little generous.

    Let's take a look at how Michigan, which looks to return to being "Michigan," claimed the No. 8 spot in the polls.

Strong Recruiting Class Was a Boost for Michigan in Rankings

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    Michigan did a great job making up for losses on the defensive side of the ball. And, of course, an improving defense was one of the Wolverines' most-noticeable strengths in 2011.

    Sure, the Wolverines lost defensive tackles Mike Martin and Will Heininger, along with defensive end Ryan Van Bergen and cornerback Troy Woolfolk, but they're plugging in plenty of talent in 2012 to solidify the voids for the next (up to) four years.

    A seventh-ranked 2012 class (according to Yahoo! Sports) likely prompted voters to put Michigan in the top 10. The Wolverines had two 5-star commits, 10 4-star and 13 3-star.

    Ondre Pipkins headlines a talented group of defensive players. Unfortunately, the 5-star phenom suffered a neck injury Friday in practice. Pipkins' injury is an obvious cause for concern—his health is of the utmost importance—but Michigan has others to step into his role.

    Michigan added Kaleb Ringer, a 6'0", 219-pound 3-star recruit out of Ohio, at linebacker. He's impressed since arriving at Michigan in spring.

    Solid recruits to accompany returning players were enough to get Michigan in at No. 8.

The 'Shoelace' Effect: Denard Robinson's Presence Makes Michigan Dangerous

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    Typically, having a quarterback that struggles while throwing the ball and takes a lot of risks on the ground isn't something that impresses the folks who vote in the AP, USA Today and ESPN polls.

    But not every school has a quarterback like Denard Robinson.

    He could stand to improve his arm and throwing motion; he's done so the past year—but by no means is he an elite-armed quarterback. However, his playmaking ability and speed are top-of-the-line. His instincts when darting through traffic are nearly unmatched.

    That's why Michigan enjoys a No. 8 ranking, in part. It's easy to forecast great things for a team that has a Heisman Trophy candidate running the show. And when a team is favored to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, chances are it's going to have a decent year.

    Robinson stands to have a gigantic season if all falls into line for the Wolverines, who have their first test Sept. 1 against the reigning national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Big Ten Was Strong in 2011

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    The gripes were loud and clear.

    Michigan State Spartans fans thought their team deserved to go the Sugar Bowl over the Michigan Wolverines. And, honestly, Spartans fans were right. Michigan State won the Legends Division, beat Michigan in the regular season, and went to the Big Ten title game—but lost 42-39 to Wisconsin.

    OK, now that that's out the way, here's how that impacts Michigan's rankings. Michigan's name recognition got it into the BCS over the Spartans. We all know that. However, the Big Ten was quite strong during the regular season.

    It wasn't, however, so well-represented in the postseason, winning just four of 10 bowls. Michigan and Michigan State accounted for two of those wins. The Big Ten had the most bowl-bound teams of any conference in 2011.

    Yes, even more than the SEC, which sent nine to the postseason.

    Surely the Big Ten's presence in the postseason and sheer volume made voters realize that the league was arguably the most competitive in 2011. And Michigan was a part of that, justifying a top-10 ranking, no less.

    A team that won a BCS game from a top-tier conference will get noticed.

    Plain. And. Simple.

    Kind of off-topic...

    On a somewhat unrelated, but fun to mention note, the Wolverines will face Alabama, which didn't win the SEC title in 2011 but won the national championship, on Sept. 1 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. Oh, if you're planning to go, watch where you sit when outside the stadium.

Brady Hoke, Coaching Staff Powers Michigan

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    Head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison aren't new to Michigan.

    Both were present during Michigan's glory-filled runs in the mid-1990s.

    Mattison spent two years as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator before being reunited with Hoke in 2011.

    Michigan has one of the best running backs coaches in the nation in Fred Jackson, Sr., and Al Borges made the trip from San Diego State to Michigan with Hoke to run the offense.

    Success in college football isn't solely predicated on the talent on the field. Success is also contingent on the decisions made by the guys wearing headsets (or not wearing them, Hoke).

    The buzz around Michigan's football program isn't confined to Ann Arbor. The entire country has taken notice of the changes Hoke's staff has made in its attempt to restore the pride among the Wolverines.

    The presence of great football minds on Michigan's sidelines surely swayed poll voters.

Michigan's Name Recognition and History

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    It'd be pretty difficult to keep an 11-win Michigan team out of the top 10, regardless if that program endured tough times during the previous three seasons.

    The Wolverines' 888 wins are the most of any college football program. Although Michigan's last national title came in 1997, the luster, pride and overall confidence of Michigan football never really left—even during former coach Rich Rodgriguez's tenure.

    It just took a backseat to a different style of play—and a different mindset, it seemed, from a head coach. 

    The rich history of one of college football's elite ensembles is enough reason—when accompanied with the others previously mentioned—to throw Michigan in the top 10.

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

So, Michigan Is Ranked Eighth in the Country, What Can It Do This Year?

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    Is Michigan capable of living up to the hype?

    Can the Wolverines build off a successful 2011 season and do damage in 2012?

    There are at least 20 reasons why Michigan will be successful this season. Check out 20 bold predictions for Michigan football and find out what those reasons are.

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.