The Orlando Sentinel ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 8: Michigan
Coach: Brady Hoke (11-2, second season; 58-52 overall)
2011 record: 11-2 (6-2 in the Big Ten Conference, second in the Legends Division)
Look back: Brady Hoke’s inaugural campaign was a rousing success. The first-year coach restored the luster to a Michigan program that lost some of its identity in the previous three seasons. The team opened with six straight victories before stumbling against in-state rival Michigan State, 28-14. The Wolverines went on to capture five of their next six games including snapping a seven-game losing streak to bitter rival Ohio State in the regular season finale. Michigan won 11 games and earned a BCS bowl spot for the first time since 2006. In the Sugar Bowl, Brendan Gibbons kicked a game-winning field goal to lift the Wolverines to a thrilling 23-20 overtime win over Virginia Tech.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 5/6
Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/7
Key losses: WR Junior Hemingway, C David Molk, DT Mike Martin, DE Ryan Van Bergen
Top returnees: QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, LB Kenny Demens, SS Jordan Kovacs
Strengths: Michigan experienced a revival of sorts offensively in 2011. The Wolverines were second in the Big Ten Conference in points per game (35.3) and third in the league in total offense (432 yards per game). Quarterback Denard Robinson was second in the league in total offense (3,349 yards) and was one of the main ingredients to the Wolverines success on the offensive side of the ball. The junior threw for 2,173 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for an additional 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns. His decision to return for his senior season makes him an instant preseason candidate for the Heisman Trophy. … The job defensive coordinator Greg Mattison did in 2011 is next to miraculous. In 2010, the Wolverines allowed 35.2 ppg and close to 451 yards per game. Last season, Michigan only allowed 17.4 ppg and 322 yards on defense. The secondary is a year older and should help cut down some of the big plays that plagued the team. Safeties Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon were the second and third leading tacklers on the team last year.
Weaknesses: Michigan was second in the Big Ten in rushing offense thanks, in part, to Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who each rushed for over 1,000 yards. Toussaint figured to be a key piece to this year’s squad but the junior was arrested in July for DWI and suspended. His return to the team would bolster the running back position. If not, Vincent Smith, who rushed for 298 yards last season, will need to pick up the slack. … With the losses of Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger, Michigan’s defensive line will have some holes to fill. The trio combined for 10 of the team’s 24 sacks last season. Finding someone to pressure opposing quarterbacks will be key.
Outlook: You would think that winning 11 games and capturing a BCS bowl win would be satisfying but not for Hoke and his players who considered 2011 incomplete. Michigan failed to win the Big Ten title and that’s something this year’s squad is focused on accomplishing. To do that, Michigan needs Denard Robinson to continue his development into an elite quarterback. Eliminating miscues will help him accomplish that goal. The Wolverines were ninth in the Big Ten in offensive turnovers including the 15 interceptions that Robinson tossed. An early matchup with Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas will provide a big test for this team.
Sept. 1 vs. Alabama
Sept. 8 Air Force
Sept. 15 Massachusetts
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame
Oct. 6 at Purdue
Oct. 13 Illinois
Oct. 20 Michigan State