By Adam Hoge-
While Big Ten training camps are underway, Adam Hoge will devote an entire day to each of the 12 teams in the conference. He will include a preview on each team, plus news, notes and analysis on Twitter. He will also take your questions on Twitter and 670TheScore.com. Follow him at @AdamHogeCBS.
(CBS) That didn’t take long.
After three dismal seasons under Rich Rodriguez, Brady Hoke came into Ann Arbor and led Michigan back to a BCS bowl in his first season. The Wolverines finished 11-2 after beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
Now Michigan wants to get into the National Championship conversation. They may have the talent to be in that conversation, but a tougher schedule will make it harder for Big Blue to top last season’s 11 wins.
Let’s take a look at their chances:
1. QB Denard Robinson (Sr.) – You know about the dual-threat Heisman candidate by now, but he needs to become more accurate and lower his interception total (15 in 2011).
2. RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Jr.) – The junior ran for over 1,000 yards last season, but could be suspended for the opener because of a DUI.
3. LT Taylor Lewan (Jr.) – The enormous 6-8 left tackle could compete for the Outland Trophy.
4. WR Roy Roundtree (Sr.) – Should take off with Junior Hemingway out the door.
5. S Jordan Kovacs (Sr.) – The former walk-on can wreak havoc on blitzes and against the run.
Is this team better than last year’s?
Offensively, it could be. If Robinson improves in the passing game and stays healthy, the Wolverines will be hard to beat. They need Toussaint, but Vincent Smith is a pretty good backup option. Meanwhile, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon will compliment Roundtree well and Michigan is excited about sophomore wideout Jerald Robinson.
If there’s any question on the offensive line, it’s at left guard, where freshman Kyle Kalis could be starting next to Lewan.
Will the defense be good enough?
If new playmakers develop on the defensive line, then Michigan’s defense should be just fine. Their secondary is underrated with three starters returning and sophomore cornerback Blake Countess looking like a future star. The linebacking group isn’t spectacular, but MLB Kenny Demens is a playmaker all over the field.
Was last year’s success a product of Michigan’s schedule?
At first glance it sort of looked like that as the Wolverines got Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State at home and lost two road games at Michigan State and Iowa. It seemed unfair for Michigan to go to a BCS bowl over Michigan State, but the Wolverines backed it up with a good win over Virginia Tech in New Orleans. It’s possible Hoke fooled us a little bit in year one, but we’ll find out real quick what kind of shape he has this program in when Michigan faces Alabama in Dallas Sept. 1.
The neutral game against Alabama is the toughest non-conference game played by any Big Ten team this year. The Wolverines also have to go to Notre Dame. Big Ten road games at Nebraska and Ohio State will be pretty tough and the conference opener at Purdue won’t be easy either. Of course the big game — possibly the biggest Big Ten game of the year — is Oct. 20 when Michigan hosts Michigan State.
This is a much tougher schedule than last year.
Michigan splits the Alabama and Notre Dame games and splits the Big Ten road games against Nebraska and Ohio State. More importantly, the Wolverines beat Michigan State for the first time since 2007 and wins the Legends Division on a tiebreaker. They take care of business in Indianapolis and return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2006.
Denard Robinson doesn’t progress and the defense is average. Michigan comes out of the tough non-conference portion of the schedule with a 2-2 record and struggles with a tough Big Ten schedule, going just 4-4. The 6-6 overall record is good enough for a bowl game, but 2012 is a big step backwards for Brady Hoke’s program.
Check out Adam’s final verdict on the Wolverines when his Big Ten preview concludes later this month. Up next in the series are the Michigan State Spartans. Tweet your questions to Adam at @AdamHogeCBS.
Catch up on the series:
Aug. 8 – Illinois Fighting Illini
Aug. 10 – Indiana Hoosiers
Aug. 15 – Ohio State Buckeyes
Aug. 16 – Penn State Nittany Lions
Aug. 17 – Purdue Boilermakers
Aug. 20 – Wisconsin Badgers
Aug. 21 – Iowa Hawkeyes
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.