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College Football Top 25: Michigan Wolverines, No. 9

Michigan Wolverines [2011: 11-2 (6-2), Beat Virginia Tech 23-20 in Sugar Bowl]

Four Year Trend: 2008 (3-9), 2009 (5-7), 2010 (7-6), 2011 (11-2)

Notable Player: Denard Robinson. Upside: he’s the most explosive player in college football when running. Downside: he’s one of the most erratic players in college football when passing. Michigan’s ceiling in 2012 depends on how much he can improve his footwork and decision-making in a second season under Al Borges.

Fumble Fortune: Michigan was absurdly fortunate recovering fumbles last season. They ranked 5th nationally, recovering 13/19 fumbles on offense. They ranked 2nd nationally on defense, recovering 20/25 of their opponents’ fumbles. Lest you think that’s a product of skill, San Jose State recovered 20/21 opponent fumbles. Those stats swung games for Michigan in 2011. They are unlikely to be that lucky in 2012.

Lost in the Shoelaces: Players not named Denard Robinson that could have huge years: Taylor Lewan (LT), Jordan Kovacs (S) and sophomore Thomas Rawls (RB), who has been drawing comparisons to Flint native Mark Ingram.

Top Newcomers: Kyle Kalis (OL), Ondre Pipkins (DT), Joe Bolden (LB)

What’s New: Normalcy. Michigan is coming off a successful, 11-win season under “Michigan Man” Brady Hoke. The losing streak against “Ohio” has ended. Their Top 10 recruiting class is loaded with defensive talent. The coaching staff will remain intact. The system is stable. Michigan is Michigan.

Why We Like Them: Michigan’s surprising success last season came amidst massive transitions on both sides of the ball. This year, the Wolverines can build on that foundation, especially on defense where they will run the same system two years in a row for the first time since Lloyd Carr Left. They are not quite where they want to be personnel-wise yet, but a more comfortable Denard Robinson could make another transition year much softer.

Why We’re Concerned: Both lines. Michigan is still struggling with some Rich Rodriguez-induced depth concerns on the offensive line. They lost two impact starters on the defensive line. They have talent at the skill positions and creative coaching staffs, but if forced to win a battle in the trenches they may not be able.

Circle This Game: Michigan vs. Michigan State [Oct. 20] This game may decide the Legends Division. Michigan will also be trying to end an unprecedented and embarrassing four-game in state losing streak.

Best-Case Scenario: Michigan has the same fortune with offensive line injuries they had in 2011. Their defensive line hits the ceiling of its potential. The passing game clicks for Denard Robinson, who mounts a strong Heisman campaign. Michigan puts up a fight against Alabama, runs the table in the Big Ten and enters the title game 11-1.

Worst-Case Scenario: Alabama destroys the Wolverines in the opener. Michigan’s offense gets felled by a rash of offensive line injuries. The defense improves, but remains vulnerable against a power running game. The Wolverines struggle with a tough road schedule – Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State – and finish 7-5.

Projected Bowl: Rose

[Photo via Presswire]

25. Kansas State 24. Virginia Tech 23. Clemson 22. Boise State 21. Stanford 20. Michigan State 19. Notre Dame 18. Nebraska 17. Oklahoma State 16. Wisconsin 15. TCU 14. Florida 13. West Virginia 12. Georgia 11. Texas 10. Arkansas

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