Michigan exceeded expectations last season when it went 11-2 behind a new offensive scheme and rebuilt defense en route to a victory in the Sugar Bowl.
However, coach Brady Hoke maintained the season was a disappointment because the team didn't win a Big Ten championship.
This year, the team faces a tougher schedule but returns the core of what could be one of the better teams in the nation and a sleeper for the national championship.
Best-case scenario: The schedule lines up to give Michigan a chance to play for the crystal football in January. That also means it's a pretty tough slate. The Wolverines dictate the direction of their season on Sept. 1 when they face defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas. A victory there could start an avalanche of non-conference wins, including Air Force, Massachusetts and Notre Dame. A win in South Bend would easily move the Wolverines into the top five teams in the polls and QB Denard Robinson atop everyone's Heisman ballot. From there, the team should be favored in every game down the stretch heading into a season-ending showdown with Ohio State on Nov. 24. Michigan could even conceivably lose a Big Ten game in the middle of the season to Michigan State or Nebraska and still make the league title game. From there, a rematch with Alabama or a meeting with Southern Cal in the national championship game would be in the cards.
Worst-case scenario: If Michigan falls to Alabama to open the season -- especially in a blowout -- it could by the catalyst for an abysmal start. That loss would throw the team into a tailspin that results in a home loss to Air Force and a road loss at Notre Dame. Mix-in heartbreaking losses to Michigan State and a revived Ohio State to end the season, a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl could be on the table.
Most-likely scenario: We expect Michigan to lose a close game to Alabama to start the season but behind Robinson, converted WR Devin Gardner and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, the team should post wins over rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. The Wolverines likely will advance to the conference title game and a trip to a second-straight BCS game looks good with a 10-2 record.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big Ten bloggers Dave Carey and Mike Singer, follow @CBSSportsBigTen.