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The Season Ahead: Michigan

By Dan Ringgenberg

Brady Hoke led Michigan to a Sugar Bowl victory in his first season as head coach. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

September 1st, 2012 – In the 4th installment of the Cowboy Classic at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Michigan Wolverines open the season against Last year’s BCS National Champion, a pivotal game that will decide whether or not the Wolverines will be fighting for a National Championship birth or a B1G Title.

With 13 returning starters after an 11-2, #12 in the final AP poll 2011 season, Michigan is looking at themselves as B1G Title contenders, and maybe more.

After a successful season in Brady Hoke’s first year at the Helm in Michigan, including a victory over Ohio State for the 1st time since 2003, the Wolverines are ranked #8 on the AP Preseason Poll, highest among B1G teams. Of course, this ranking means nothing until an outcome is determined on September 1st.

Pretender or Contender

The season starts out strong with Michigan traveling South to Arlington, Texas to take on last year’s BCS National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide.  The Tide start the 2011 campaign ranked #2 in the AP Poll.

Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m. CT (ABC)

In a matchup of programs that have 25 national titles between them, Alabama looks to be in contention again with 8 players receiving preseason All-American honors. With a strong run defense, Alabama is a true test for the ground attack of Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint, assuming Toussaint can overcome some offseason trouble. Whether Toussaint plays or not is still in the balance.

If the run isn’t there for Robinson, expect him to look for Sr. WR Roy Roundtree as his number one target. This game would vault both the Michigan Wolverines in the AP Poll as well as QB Denard Robinson in the respective Heisman voting.

 

Offseason Arrests Could be Costly

This summer, Fitzgerald Toussaint plead guilty to a reduced charge of operating while visually impaired in District Court.

Toussaint, who has been suspended by Michigan following his arrest, was charged with operating while intoxicated after running a red light on campus on July 21. The junior back registered a 0.12 blood-alcohol content.

Michigan football coach Brady Hoke has not decided the status of Toussaint nor Frank Clark for Saturday’s game against Alabama. He said, that he’ll decide “sometime before the game.”

“You can ask me when I’m going to make that decision, and it’ll probably be before the game,” Hoke said.

Toussaint had four 100-yard games in the last six contests of the season, a big part of his 1,041 yards in 2011.

 

Is He the Real Deal? The Plight of Denard Robinson

Denard Robinson looks to lead Michigan to a B1G title this year (SAM WOLSON/Daily)

Though his statistics slipped from 2010 to 2011, Denard Robinson still finished with 2,173 yards in the air while rushing for 1,176 yards last season. 2012 will be Robinsons second year working with Brady Hoke’s modified offense, a solid indicator Robinson will have a better grasp of the offensive strategy and translate that into positive statistics.

If Robinson lives up to expectations in his 3rd year manning the Michigan offense, he has a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman trophy this year, which is awarded to the best player in College Football each season. His biggest opposition comes from USC QB Matt Barkley, the 4th year starter and preseason Heisman favorite.

Barkley should flourish with an outstanding supporting cast on offense and a weak PAC-12 schedule that offers the obstacles of road games against Stanford and home games against Oregon and Notre Dame. For Robinson to have a real chance at the trophy, he needs to have an impressive early showing against Alabama.

Divisional Tests

If Michigan is serious about playing in a BCS Bowl this season, they will have to earn it. After breaking a seven year drought against Ohio State, Michigan returns to Columbus, part of a grueling away schedule that also includes Alabama, Nebraska and Notre Dame.

Based on strength of schedule, Michigan has a top 5 most-difficult schedule in the nation, providing plenty of opportunities for the Wolverines to prove where they belong in the rankings. Although, the now Urban Meyer coached Ohio State Buckeyes are ineligible to win the Big Ten and play in a bowl game, they will still prove to be a tough opponent for Michigan on November 24th for the final Big Ten game of the year.

Blood in the Water

Iowa has vanquished Michigan in their last three matchups, including last year’s goal line stand by Iowa as time ran out. This year, the Wolverines will host the Hawkeyes in what is sure to be a game where Michigan would like to make a statement against a divisional rival.

While Iowa has dominated the series lately, Michigan still holds the advantage at 40-13-4 all-time against the Hawks. Michigan also has the advantage of playing Michigan State at home, a team Michigan has suffered four straight losses to. They also have the advantage of matching up Denard Robinson against the unproven junior Andrew Maxwell.

Predictions

With a little luck, this 2012 Michigan team could match their season win total from last year (10) and play for the B1G Title against likely Leaders Divison Champ, the Wisconsin Badgers. Have no fear of their late September non-conference trip to South Bend: Denard Robinson has torched the Irish the past two seasons, setting personal records in both passing and rushing in attempts, yards, touchdowns, long and completions.

The entire tempo of the season hinges on the Saturday outcome against Alabama. Michigan is either looking at a top 5, National Championship contending squad with a Heisman favorite quarterback, or a team fighting for the chance to play in the Rose Bowl, with a quarterback that can’t quite get his team over the hump. Michigan is 3-1 vs. SEC opponents since 2002. Alabama is 3-0 against B1G opponents since 2010, including two victories against Penn State and the 2010 trouncing of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl 49-7

The ABC Game of the Week will take place on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas and it should prove to be a good one.


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