Aug 13, 2012

2012 Big Ten Previews: Michigan with Maize n Brew

Image courtesy Michigan Athletics

As the college football season draws closer, we’re taking a look at all of our partner schools with some of the bloggers who know them best. Zach Travis from Maize n Brew helps us preview Michigan.

The second year of Brady Hoke’s rebuilding effort in Ann Arbor might be more challenging than the first, as the Wolverines seek their first back-to-back double-digit win seasons since 2002-03 against a more challenging road schedule. Michigan will travel to Notre Dame (Sept. 22), Nebraska (Oct. 27) and Ohio State (Nov. 24) on their road back to championship contention.

2011 Record: 11-2

2011 Bowl: Sugar Bowl vs. Virginia Tech, 23-20 (OT)

2012 Bowl Projections:

Orlando Bowl History:

1999 Florida Citrus Bowl vs. Arkansas, 45-31

2001 Florida Citrus Bowl vs. Auburn, 31-28

2002 Florida Citrus Bowl vs. Tennessee, 17-45

2008 Capital One Bowl vs. Florida, 41-35

Q&A with Zach Travis of Maize n Brew

Describe the 2011 season in two words.

Two words? I can do it in just one:

Redemption.

Michigan was still one of the blue blood programs in college football, but the farther from BCS bowls and ten-win seasons you get, the harder it is to get back — ask Notre Dame fans about that. Michigan under Rich Rodriguez was a calamitous affair that was packed with bad press and unfortunate circumstances.

Brady Hoke turned everything around, got Michigan its first BCS bowl win in a decade, broke the streak against Ohio State, and reestablished Michigan as a capable player on the national stage. Not only that, but he beat his own doubters who thought his subpar coaching record at previous stops would spell doom. It was redemption for everyone involved, and the Michigan program now has new life.

Denard Robinson struggled away from Ann Arbor in Al Borges’ offensive system and faces a tougher road slate in 2012. Should Michigan fans be concerned or will we see a more comfortable Robinson with another year under his belt?

Denard Robinson struggled on the road — particularly against Michigan State and Iowa in the Wolverines’ two losses — but his struggles were much greater early in the season. As the season wore on Robinson improved a lot and cut down on turnovers and mistakes as the rest of the offense got more comfortable and the running game took off. If Michigan is able to field a competent running game again this season (and a lack of depth on the offensive line or Fitzgerald Toussaint’s legal status could submarine that goal) then Robinson should have greater room to operate. Add in the fact that he should be more comfortable in the offense in year two of the same system and Robinson’s production should be better while his mistakes should be less frequent.

Still, the road slate is daunting with a neutral site game against Alabama in Texas to go along with road games in South Bend, Lincoln, and Columbus. Even if Robinson looks better on the road, Michigan could still take a step back in the overall record because of the tough opponents and challenging road environments.

After engineering a massive turnaround in 2011, can Greg Mattison make the defense even better in 2012? How?

After engineering one of the biggest defensive turnarounds of the last decade, it would be hard to ask Greg Mattison to improve upon those results in 2012, and the situation isn’t set up as well as it was in 2011. Mattison inhereted a very talented defensive line that was able to hold up well against the run and allow the young back seven to mesh in the new defense. This time around the back seven returns, but the defensive line is smaller and full of question marks. Odds are that Michigan’s defense sees a slight regression as the depth up front isn’t there.

However, if Mattison, Hoke, and line coach Jerry Montgomery can use the smaller, quicker defensive line as a disruptive force that is also capable of holding up against the run — a tall task when you trot out a starting defensive tackle/strongside DE combo that weigh 280 lbs each — then the defense could see a slight improvement overall. However, when you’re defense is top-25 level, it is easier to regress to the mean than improve.

On paper, what looks like the toughest game this season?

On paper, in person, or from Mars, the toughest game is without a doubt the season opener against Alabama. The defending national champions are the gold standard for college football dominance, and the program Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa is approaching all-time status. Michigan has a rough Big Ten schedule, but no test is tougher or more meaningful on a national scale than the game against Alabama.

Best case/worst case scenario for the postseason.

Best case scenario is, naturally, a Rose Bowl berth after a win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Even in this scenario the Wolverines are probably 10-2 at best with losses to Alabama and a Big Ten team. A national championship run would be the dream, but with the 2012 schedule, even a one-loss season is hard to fathom.

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