NCAA Football

Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Preview: No. 7 Michigan Wolverines

The college football season bears ever closer with fall camps in full swing. Looking ahead towards opening kickoff, we continue the Rant Sports 100 in 100 countdown with No. 7, the Michigan Wolverines.

2011 Record: 11-2 (6-2, 2nd in Big 10 Legends)

Head Coach: Brady Hoke, 58-52 (11-2 at Michigan)

Last Bowl Game: 2012 Sugar Bowl — 23-20 victory over Virginia Tech

Impact Players

Offense: QB Denard Robinson (2,173 passing yards, 1,176 rushing yards), RB Fitz Toussaint (1,041 yards, 9 TDS), LT Taylor Lewan

Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson, Michigan is poised to have an explosive offense in the Big 10. While Robinson did focus more on his ability to throw the ball last season, Michigan ranked just 93rd in passing offense at 182.9 yards per game through the air. If Robinson can make a few more plays in the air, Michigan won’t have to rely so heavily on his and Toussaint’s legs to win tough games against big, physical Big 10 defenses. Of course, that’s assuming we’ll see Toussaint at some point this season after a DUI arrest and indefinite suspension in July. When it doubt, Robinson will guide Michigan as far as his small frame can take them.

Defense: DE Craig Roh (32 tackles, 4 sacks), LB Kenny Demens (94 tackles, 3 sacks), SS Jordan Kovacs (75 tackles, 4 sacks), CB Blake Countess (6 pass breakups)

The key number for Michigan’s turnaround on defense last season in Brady Hoke’s first year in Ann Arbor: 108 to 6. That was the turnaround in scoring D from 2010 to 2011. How much of that had to do with Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison? Plenty. If they can replace two four-year starters on the defensive line, look for more excellence from this unit. Keep an eye on freshman linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone. The outside linebacker has the potential to make an impact from Day 1.

Schedule: Alabama (9/2 at Cowboy Stadium), Air Force (9/8), UMass (9/15), @Notre Dame (9/22), @Purdue (10/6), Illinois (10/13), Michigan State (10/20), @Nebraska (10/27), @Minnesota (11/3), Northwestern (11/10), Iowa (11/17), @Ohio State (11/24)

The showdown with Alabama in the Cowboy Classic will show just how much improvement Michigan has to go to be considered a National Title contender. Other than stops at Notre Dame and Nebraska, the schedule isn’t overly taxing after Week 1. The home contest against cross-state rival Michigan State could be the tipping point for another BCS game season or not. Ohio State on the road to end the season will set the scene for many great Hoke-Meyer games of the future. Despite the venue, Michigan should be the favorite.

Biggest question: Are they ready to take the step to “elite” status?

This one is relevant after one of the voters picked Michigan as the top overall team in the country in a recent AP Poll. Are they that good yet? Probably not. On the other hand, if Brady Hoke and Denard Robinson can deliver on all their promise, Michigan can win every game after the Alabama showdown in Week 1. Their record might be worse than last year, but only slightly. The arrow is pointing up in Ann Arbor once again.

Joe Giglio is the ACC and Big East football writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.