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2012 Michigan Season Outlook – Hoke-a-mania Returns

August 31, 2012




After a somewhat shocking 2011 season that finished with a Sugar Bowl win, many pundits are ready to proclaim Michigan football “back”.  I think its fair to say that a preseason top 10 ranking and a Big Ten title contender, if not favorite, certainly qualifies Michigan as back, but that doesn’t mean that the 2012 campaign will be as smooth sailing as the 2011 season was.

2011 was somewhat of a dream season for Michigan, with all of the right pieces falling into place.  A favorable schedule and the right bounces at the right times helped Michigan get to 11 wins, when this team easily could’ve ended up 9-4 (see Notre Dame and Virginia Tech).

Is 11-2 possible in 2012?  Perhaps.  But it will take several of those same breaks in order for Michigan to pull that feat off.  And given the schedule, even that might not be enough.

The real goal, as Brady Hoke reminds on an almost daily basis, is to win the Big Ten Championship.  Even if 11-2 won’t happen again, that goal is absolutely within reach and is a reasonable expectation.  To do that, Michigan has to have the following things happen:

1. Denard Robinson has to be more consistent – As has been the case the last three seasons, Michigan will go only as far as Denard Robinson can take them.  There’s no question he is an electrifying player and a great leader,  now Michigan needs him to limit his mistakes and play with enough consistency game in and game out.  With the improved defense and emergence of a running game, Denard no longer has to do it himself.  Michigan will be much better when Denard is relied on to throw when necessary, run when he can, and not turn the ball over versus the 400+ yard game sandwiched between 2-3 interceptions.

2. The Defensive Line Must Step Up – With the departure of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, the defensive line has some literal and physical giant holes to fill.  If Will Campbell can even live up to 75% of his potential, that will be one huge step in the right direction.  What the line may lack in superstar talent, they make up for in depth.  With 8 guys in the rotation, Michigan should always have somebody fresh in there.  If the defensive line can emerge as a strength for this team, the defense might take another step forward from the massive leap they took forward last year.

3. Stay Healthy – With the lack of depth on the offensive line and at wide receiver, Michigan cannot afford any injuries at either  position.  After Gallon and Roundtree, the wide receivers are unproven and while the starting 5 offensive line is a great unit, the two deep has some serious question marks.  If the offensive line stays healthy, they will be one of the best in the conference.  If not, a strength may turn into a weakness.

The other reason for some pessimism this fall is that the schedule is significantly more difficult than last year.  Starting off the year with defending National Champion Alabama is tough enough as it is, but when you add road trips to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State, you’re starting with a baseline of 4 potential losses.  Going through the schedule game by game, here’s my assessment.

September 1 – Alabama (In Dallas) – Probable Loss

September 8 – Air Force – Win

September 15 – UMass – Win

September 22 – at Notre Dame – Tossup

October 6 – at Purdue – Win

October 13 – Illinois – Win

October 20 – MSU – Tossup

October 27 – at Nebraska  – Tossup

November 3 – at Minnesota – Win

November 10 – Northwestern – Win

November 17 – Iowa – Win

November 24 – at Ohio State – Tossup

As a baseline, Michigan is starting with 7 expected wins, 1 expected loss, and 4 tossups.  Though its possible that Michigan could lose one of those 7 games, I don’t expect them too.  Michigan gets the average Big Ten teams at home and should be able to take care of business.  They could also surprise tomorrow against Alabama, but that’s going to take some luck.  If Michigan is able to split the 4 tossup games, they’ll finish at 9-3, and depending on which of the tossup games they win, be in good shape for a trip to the Big Ten Title game.

That seems like a fair expectation given the scheduling.  So go ahead and book your tickets for Indianapolis now. 

As for tomorrow’s game in Dallas…

There’s no doubt Michigan is the underdog on Saturday.  Alabama is the defending national champion, and has been one of the best programs in the country since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007.   A 55-11 record, including two national championships will get anyone’s attention.  If you take out his 2007 “transition” year, Saban is 48-5 as the Alabama head coach, and has won 10 games in every year since then.  They’ve produced 11 1st round draft picks since 2007, and have several more likely candidates this year, including 4/5ths of the offensive line.

But where Alabama makes its mark is defense.  Last year they were number one in the country in Rush, Pass, Total and Scoring Defense, allowing an absurd 183 yards per game and 8 points per game.  And though they lost 6 players off that defense to the NFL, at Alabama, they don’t rebuild, they reload.  They expect this year’s defense to be just as good.

So what does Michigan have to do to win?  Simple – they have to score 24 points.  That may seem like a random number, but its not.  As Andy Reid of The figured out, since 2008, Alabama has played 54 games.  In those 54 games, they are 46-1 when their opponent scores less than 24 points.  In the other 7 games, they are 2-5.

In short, Michigan has to win the time of possession game and move the ball consistently.  And above all else, they must score when given the opportunity.  The Alabama defense is not likely to give Michigan many chances, so in order to get to that magic 24 points, they have to score when the opportunity presents itself.   While Alabama’s defense will still be among the best in the country, they have a fairly inexperienced defensive backfield, which means Denard has to be able to take advantage with accurate throws.  Al Borges faced Alabama twice as the offensive coordinator at Auburn and came away the winner, so he knows what it takes to score points, but Michigan has to execute.  

Defensively, Michigan’s biggest challenge will be stopping the run.  Alabama’s NFL ready offensive line and our question marks at defensive line could make for a long evening.  Don’t be surprised if Eric Lacy is running for 6-7 yard chunks by the middle of the 3rd quarter.   With the loss of most playmakers at wide receiver, Bama doesn’t scare me as much through the air, though they obviously have talent there too.   

Recipe for a Win

  • Control the time of possession and keep the Alabama offense off the field
  • Score early so that Alabama has to take some chances and can’t just wait for their offensive line to take over (which they will)
  • Play above their heads.  Alabama is the more talented team, so Michigan has to bring their A game if they want to win


Nobody is giving Michigan a shot in this game, including Alabama.  As a 14 point underdog, the only person giving Michigan a shot outside of the state of Michigan is Floyd Mayweather, who reportedly placed $3 million dollars on Michigan to cover the spread.  I think that early on the lack of respect and overconfidence works to Michigan’s favor.  With nothing to  lose, I think Michigan punches Alabama in the mouth to start the game and jumps out to an early lead.  Eventually though, Michigan will run out of weapons, especially with Fitzgerald Toussaint suspended.  This game will still look winnable at the half, but somewhere late in the 3rd quarter or early in the 4th quarter, Alabama will begin to pull away.  Michigan is still probably a year or two away from winning this game. 

Alabama 28

Michigan 17


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