Defensive Stat Leaders:Tackles: Jake Ryan (88).... Sacks: Jake Ryan (4.5).... Interceptions: Thomas Gordon and Raymon Taylor (both with 2)
I was among many on the Michigan bandwagon heading into the 2012 season. The Wolverines were starting the season ranked 8th nationally and seemed poised to take a major step in Brady Hoke's second season. Then Alabama completely dismantled Michigan in week one on a neutral field, making many come to the realization that the maize and blue were still another year or two from being a national title contender.
In all fairness to Michigan, Alabama did go on to win its third BCS Championship in four seasons. But there other struggles along the way. After years of tormenting the Notre Dame defense, Denard Robinson had the worst game of his career in a 13-6 loss to the Fighting Irish. Robinson then suffered an elbow injury against Nebraska, forcing him to sit out and watch as the Michigan offense became stagnant, resulting in a 23-9 loss to Nebraska that ultimately determined the Legends Division. Michigan seemed to be on its way to handing Ohio State its first loss of the season, using Denard Robinson and Devin Gardener in tandem in a dazzling display that created complete chaos for the Buckeyes defense. Then for some unknown reason, a more conservative approach was taken in the 2nd half and the Buckeyes prevailed and handed Michigan its fourth loss of the season.
On the bright side, Michigan limited its struggles to teams ranked in the top 10 (and Nebraska) and took care of business against lesser teams. They enjoyed blowout victories against the likes of Purdue, Illinois and Iowa and had two very memorable victories against Michigan State and a surprisingly tough Northwestern squad. After Robinson's injury, Devin Gardener gained valuable experience while proving he has what it takes to be a full-time quarterback in the Big Ten. Jake Ryan came on as the season progressed to become on of the top linebackers in the Big Ten. Both players will be looked upon to lead the Wolverines in 2013.
It's no surprise that Michigan landed one of the top classes in the nation. Brady Hoke is able to command any room and seems like the type who players will run through a brick wall if he asked. Now, he will need to prove he can develop the talent as well.
Michigan landed one five-star recruit, running back Derrick Green out of Richmond, Virginia. Green could be the one to bring back Michigan's tradition of dominating feature backs who were always present during the Lloyd Carr era. Hoke also reeled in 18 (yes, 18!) four-star prospects. This class should do major things if the majority of the class can live up to the hype.
Speaking of hype- Michigan brought in highly touted tight end named Jake Butt. Michigan quarterbacks will spend the next few years searching for an open Butt.
I planned on being bold and predicting an 11-1 record for Michigan, but I just don't think it's going to happen this soon. They have a lot of rising talent, but will be one of the least experienced teams in the Big Ten.
Michigan should be able to exact revenge on Notre Dame to put them at 4-0 heading into B10 play. Outside of the Irish, games against Central Michigan, Akron and UCONN will help the young team find its groove early in the season. Penn State should be a challenging match-up, but the Wolverines will have an easier time with home games against Minnesota and Indiana.
Things could get sketchy after the bye week. Michigan will take on Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State in consecutive week. A 3-2 record during this stretch may be the best the Wolverines can hope for. A 9-3 overall record could be a nice springboard for much bigger things in 2014.