- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Final grades are in -- at least for each Big Ten team's regular season. We're handing out report cards on each team's offense, defense, special teams and overall performance in 2012.
Today's subject: the Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan's offense went through several ups and downs this season. The Wolverines averaged a very respectable 30 points per game but ranked just 80th nationally in total offense. The attack fizzled in big games against Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Nebraska, but averaged 40 points against the likes of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue. Denard Robinson ran for 1,166 yards, but was limited in the back half of the season by injuries. Devin Gardner put a charge into the passing game starting in November, rejuvenating the seasons of receivers like Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon. The running backs, though, were a major disappointment, as Fitz Toussaint followed up his 1,000-yard season in 2011 with just 515 yards this season. Much of the blame for that belonged to an offensive line that largely underperformed outside of All-American Taylor Lewan. Michigan's offense could look unstoppable one week and wholly underwhelming the next -- or even from one half to the next, as the season finale showed.
Though not as dominant on the defensive line as they were a year ago, the Wolverines still found ways to develop into a terrific unit. They finished second in the Big Ten in both points allowed and total defense, and were No. 11 and No. 16 nationally in those categories, respectively. Will Campbell finally lived up to his recruiting hype as a senior by becoming a very good run-stuffer. Jake Ryan was a monster at linebacker, constantly disrupting other teams' plans. The secondary overcame the early loss of Blake Countess to do a very good job against the pass and had a great leader in senior safety Jordan Kovacs. Michigan's defense was short on superstars but long on production. The only mark against it was that the defense benefited from playing some questionable Big Ten offenses like Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan State. Better attacks like Alabama, Air Force, Northwestern and Ohio State were able to exploit the Wolverines with speed on the perimeter.
Special teams: B-plus
Will Hagerup was named the Big Ten's punter of the year, and placekicker Brendan Gibbons had a strong year, booting the game-winner against Michigan State and the field goal against Northwestern to send the game into overtime. The Wolverines were average in the return game, where Dennis Norfleet looks like a possible future star. Michigan did rank last in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage, however.
If we were using Brady Hoke's grading scale, we'd have to give Michigan an 'F' since he has said any season that doesn't end with a Big Ten title is a failure. The Wolverines once again fell short of hanging a league or even a division championship banner during their 8-4 campaign. It's tough to be too critical of a team whose losses were to the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the Associated Press poll (Notre Dame, Alabama and Ohio State) and Legends Division champ Nebraska. But as Hoke would say, this is Michigan, fergawdsake. The Wolverines are expected to not just play great teams, but win their fair share. Robinson's interception-festival cost them a shot at beating Notre Dame on the road, the lack of a strong backup plan when he got hurt killed any chance of winning at Nebraska, and some curious second-half playcalling contributed to the Ohio State loss. Michigan beat the teams it should have beaten and finally broke the losing streak against Michigan State, which was good. But you don't achieve greatness simply by being on the same field with great teams. You have to beat some. That's why a victory against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl would raise the overall grade for the Wolverines' season.
Previous report cards