The Michigan Wolverines check in at No. 7 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: Denard Robinson, QB (SR)
How could it be anyone else? The statistical resume is downright historic. And if the Maize and Blue win their first Big Ten title since 2004, it will be because of Robinson’s electrifying play-making ability. There is no more explosive athlete under center in the nation, so improved decision-making could send Shoelace to New York in December this fall.
Trap Game: Iowa
One could argue that every game played the weekend before the Ohio State game should be considered a trap game. This year the Hawkeyes’ come to town to attempt to upset the division favorite while they are supposedly looking ahead to the Buckeyes. Back in 2001, Michigan led this series 37-8-4 all-time. Since then, Iowa has won five of seven and three straight, including the 24-16 win a year ago and the 38-28 victory the last time they visited The Big House.
Upset Alert: at Purdue (Oct. 6)
The Boilermakers have been known to pull an upset or two in West Lafayette and they are coming off their first bowl season since 2007. Should Purdue stay healthy, it is certain to pull more than one upset this year. Purdue has only beaten Michigan four times since 1985, but two have come in the last four years and three of those have come at home.
Unsung Hero: Craig Roh and Jibreel Black, DL
Roh may never live up to his lofty recruiting status, but he has consistently showed up to play every Saturday. He has missed only one game in his three-year career (37 games) and will be playing his fourth position (strong-side end) in as many years this fall. Black, too, will be playing a new position as he slides inside to the 3-technique nose tackle position. This D-Line is the biggest area of concern and solid play from these two will go a long way to alleviate the loss of three starters.
Biggest Game: at Ohio State (Nov. 24)
Alabama may define this season early on, but there is no mistaking which game is the most important. And in 2012 it carries even more weight than usual. A Legend’s Division championship, subsequent Big Ten title game berth, BCS bowl, Heisman Trophy or more could all be riding on the trip to Columbus to end the season. Throw in the fact that it is guaranteed to be the Buckeye’s season finale, and, that these are likely the league’s top two teams, this rivalry game should realize its potential for the first time since 2006.
Revenge Game: Michigan State (Oct. 20)
The story is well documented: The Spartans have spanked the Wolverines four straight years (only one by less than a touchdown) en route to a Big Ten title as well as the league’s first Legend’s Division championship. The fact that Michigan State now annually boasts the league’s top defense and has thumped big brother from Ann Arbor by at least two touchdowns in three of those four wins only adds to the motivation for Michigan.
Co-Freshmen To Watch: Ondre Pipkins, DT and Joe Bolden, LB
There is a plethora of talent to choose from in what turned out to be a top ten recruiting class nationally for Brady Hoke’s Freshman to Watch. Should Pipkins reach his potential, few will play as imperative a role as the massive nose guard from Missouri. He is as game-ready as there is in the nation and the Athlon Consensus 100 prospect will be asked to stabilize the reworked defensive line — which could be the difference in a Big Ten title or not. The linebackers need depth and will likely be asked to lead this defense this fall. Bolden could push Kenny Demens outside or slide into a reserve role. Either way, expect both names to get a lot of playing time this fall.
Comeback Player: Roy Roundtree, WR (SR)
If completely disappearing from an offense counts as an injury, then Roundtree is a perfect bounce-back candidate. In 2010, Roundtree was the team’s top receiver, catching 72 passes for nearly 1,000 yards en route to second-team All-Big Ten honors. Last year, the milk carton special totaled 19 receptions for 355 yards, despite starting all 13 games. The senior should be poised to become Denard Robinson top target once again in 2012.
Defensive MVP: Blake Countess, CB (SO)
In only one short year, Countess has established himself as arguably the most talented defender on the roster. He will lock down one side of the defense which will free-up veteran leaders Jordan Kovacs and Kenny Demens to make more plays — which will be needed considering the weaknesses up front on this defense. The domino effect of Countess’ emergence last fall may not be measurable.
Newcomer To Watch: Jerald Robinson, WR (SO)
Technically, Robinson played in 11 games as a freshman last fall. But since he failed to record a statistic of any kind, he will be considered a newcomer. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has had plenty of glowing things to say about the 6-foot-1, 206-pounder this spring. He could be the best vertical threat on the roster — something that this Wolverines offense will be looking for all season long.
Season Defining Moment: Alabama (Sept. 1, Arlington, Texas)
Yes, the Big Ten title means more. Yes, the game against that team from down South is the biggest. But a win over the defending national champions could do more than simply define a season. If the Michigan defensive line is capable of slowing the Tide’s elite rushing attack and Robinson is able to move the football on the lightning fast track of Cowboys Stadium against the totally rebuilt Nick Saban defense, then the ceiling for this team will go up a few floors. A win over Bama in Week 1 puts Michigan directly on track for South Beach.
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