Michigan enters 2012 hoping to earn a trip to a second straight BCS bowl after finishing last season 11-2 with an overtime win against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Second-year coach Brady Hoke, however, declared any season that doesn't end with a Big Ten championship to be a disappointment. The Wolverines have enough firepower to live up to his expectations this season and even an outside shot to play for a national championship in January.
It all starts: Michigan started preseason practice Aug 6. The Wolverines open the season on Sept. 1 against defending national champion Alabama.
Three questions to answer in camp:
- Can QB Denard Robinson develop as a passer? The senior Heisman Trophy candidate put up another outstanding season last year when he completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,173 yards with 20 touchdowns against 15 interceptions while running for 1,176 yards with 16 touchdowns. However, he must get much better with his arm as the team finished 93rd in the country in passing, averaging a meager 182.9 yards per game. The team will only go as far as Robinson's arm takes them.
- What will happen to RB Fitzgerald Toussaint and DE Frank Clark? The players both were allowed to return to practicing with the team on Aug. 13 after missing the first two weeks of the preseason due to legal issues. It remains unknown if Hoke will allow the pair to play in the season-opener against Alabama but Toussaint is an integral part of the team's offense. The junior rushed for 1,041 yards with nine touchdowns last season on just 187 carries. Sophomore Thomas Rawls, who had just 79 yards on 13 carries last season, is likely to start if Toussaint can't go against the Crimson Tide.
- Can the defensive line reload? The unit was decimated by graduations and it will count on senior DE Craig Roh, who had 32 tackles and four sacks last season, to anchor the unit. The tackles likely will be classmate Will Campbell (14 tackles, 2 sacks) and freshman Ondre Pipkins with junior Jibreel Black (18 tackles, 1.5 sacks) manning the other defensive end slot. The line will be expected to improve on the rush defense when the team finished 39th nationally in stopping the run, allowing nearly 132 yards per game on the ground.
Player who needs to step up: C Ricky Barnum has never played in more than four games in a season, but the fifth-year senior will be counted on to anchor the offensive line this fall. Barnum was slated to start at left guard last season, but he suffered a pair of ankle injuries and was never the same. Now, he is counted on to slide into the most important position on the line and guide a running game that averaged nearly 5.2 yards per carry and scored 31 touchdowns on the ground last fall.
Potential breakout player: Junior Devin Gardner has taken snaps at both WR and QB this season as Hoke tries to get one of his most dynamic athletes on the field. Gardner has one career catch for two yards but the 6-foot-4, 203-pounder has been turning heads lining up out wide during the preseason. And with star WR Roy Roundtree undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and his status for the season opener in question, Gardner has a chance to flash his skills on a national stage.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big Ten bloggers Dave Carey and Mike Singer, follow @CBSSportsBigTen.