College football preview: Nos. 6-4

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

6. Michigan

2011 record: 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten), second in Legends Division, Sugar Bowl champs

Key returners: QB Denard Robinson (Senior), CB J.T. Floyd (Senior), LB Kenny Demens (Senior)

Michigan’s 2012 schedule

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The Michigan Wolverines have plenty of reasons to believe they’ll be the Big Ten’s representative in the BCS bowls or even the national title game at the end of this season, because head coach Brady Hoke still has the heartbeat of this team — quarterback Denard Robinson — calling the shots.

Robinson led the Wolverines in passing (2,056 yards, 18 touchdowns) and rushing (1,163 yards, 16 TDs) in 2011, but he still has one factor of the game to conquer, which lies between his ears. If he can become more of a thinker with the football, UM can be a very dangerous football team again. That’s not to say he should completely cut out the ad-libbing that makes him such a special player, but the passing game must improve this season.

It won’t be easier for Robinson with the departure of receiver Junior Hemingway, who led the offense in receiving a year ago. Robinson will have to find new targets in the passing game, because this unit won’t flow if Robinson can’t spread out the defense.

Hoke’s defense should be improved with several key pieces returning for another season. Linebacker Kenny Demens led the Wolverines in tackles (94) in 2011, and the two members of the secondary with the most interceptions, J.T. Floyd and Courtney Avery, will be back as well. The defense held opponents to a staggeringly-low 17.4 points per game last season, sixth-best in the nation. If they improve on that number, Michigan could be talking about an undefeated Big Ten record.

I don’t expect the Wolverines to overcome the obstacle of a very good Alabama team next weekend in Dallas, but don’t be fooled by an 0-1 start … this team could be a major player in the Big Ten, especially if they can beat Ohio State in The Game on Nov. 24.

Next Page >> No. 5 Oklahoma