Our look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for every Big Ten team moves on to Michigan today. These scenarios should not be viewed as predictions; rather, we're illustrating the extreme highs and lows that are possible for each team while having a little bit of fun with it.
Let's see where the Wolverines' scenarios range:
Hail to the victors. Michigan's 11-2 season in Brady Hoke's first year was just a warmup act. Now, the Wolverines are truly back where they belong.
It all starts on Sept. 1 in Arlington, Texas, where the Maize and Blue shock the world by beating defending national champion Alabama 24-20. Hoke and his staff use the offseason to their advantage to design a masterful game plan, and Denard Robinson scoots by the fearsome Tide defense for three touchdowns. Michigan doesn't even miss the suspended Fitz Toussaint, as Thomas Rawls has a big game.
The Wolverines avoid a letdown the following week and easily take care of Air Force. They end September with a drama-free win at Notre Dame as Robinson racks up 500 total yards in prime time. Easy wins over Purdue and Illinois set up the showdown with Michigan State at home on Oct. 20. This time, Michigan is the more physical team, led by a breakout performance from Will Campbell and the defensive line. Taylor Lewan pancakes Will Gholston early, and Gholston yells, "No mas!" Following the 28-10 win, Hoke bellows, "That was 60 minutes of necessary roughness!"
Michigan is ranked No. 1 in the country going to Nebraska the next week. In an unexpected snowstorm, they lose on a last-second Brett Maher field goal. Now angry, the team responds to roll up blowout victories over Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa before heading to Ohio State.
Hoke improves to 2-0 against "Ohio" with a 31-0 shutout. Every recruit in the stands that day commits to Michigan. The NCAA finds more Jim Tressel violations and adds another year to the Buckeyes' bowl ban. Urban Meyer retires, citing health and family reasons. Arizona finishes 0-12 under Rich Rodriguez.
The Wolverines roll past Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game to finish 12-1. With Alabama winning the SEC championship, Michigan's schedule is strong enough to earn the team a berth in the BCS title game against USC. Robinson, who edged out Matt Barkley for the Heisman Trophy, shows why as he completes 20-of-22 passes for 300 yards and runs for another 200 in the 38-31 victory. Michigan is a champion once more.
Hoke's first season was magical, but it was also greatly aided by an advantageous schedule and a wildly overrated Sugar Bowl opponent. It doesn't take long for Michigan to see how much it misses Mike Martin up front, and the depth issues on both lines are quickly exposed as the team's injury luck from 2011 is reversed.
The Wolverines learn just how far away they are from national contention in a 31-10 loss to Alabama in the opener. The school also receives national criticism when Hoke plays Toussaint despite his DUI arrest. Beat up physically and mentally from the Crimson Tide game, Michigan falls prey to Air Force's option attack at home as its defensive line gets crossed up over and over again. A preseason Top 10 team is now 0-2.
Notre Dame extends the pain as the Irish finally manage to slow down Robinson and hold onto a lead in this rivalry. Robinson falls back on his poor passing mechanics, and all those jump balls that magically paid off last season turn into turnovers in 2012.
The team gets back on track against Purdue and Illinois, but with freshmen starting on both lines, Michigan is no match for the deep and physical Spartans on Oct. 20. Lewan gets tossed trying to bait Gholston, who keeps his cool and registers five sacks in the 24-3 Michigan State win. The Spartans will go on to win the Big Ten title.
The Wolverines are 3-5 after Nebraska exacts revenge for last season in Lincoln. This team is too good to stay down, however, and they battle back to win the next three and clinch a bowl bid.
But the season ends on a sour note in Columbus, as Meyer scores his first victory in The Game with ease. That caps a 12-0 season for the probation-saddled Buckeyes, and half of Michigan's recruiting class decommits as Meyer turns their allegiance his way. Arizona wins the Pac-12.
Michigan stumbles into the Little Caesars Bowl in nearby Detroit where a MAC team awaits: Ohio. The Bobcats win as Hoke is wildly confused. So are the fans who thought this would be a championship season.
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