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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Michigan

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan Wolverines

Record: 5-2

Remaining schedule: vs. Penn State, at Illinois, vs. Purdue, at Wisconsin, vs. Ohio State

There have been obvious upgrades for Michigan this season, but whether the team can take the next step remains to be seen. The schedule gets tougher in the second half, and the Wolverines must continue to evolve on offense and get better play from a defense that broke down too many times in the first seven games. The Notre Dame victory looks pretty solid, but Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez needs a signature conference win against Penn State, Wisconsin or Ohio State. Tate Forcier's health will be a key topic the rest of the way, though the freshman quarterback said this week that he's close to 100 percent after dealing with shoulder problems and a concussion. Michigan needs more consistency from its run game, which has looked good at times. Greg Robinson's defense has two pros in end Brandon Graham and cornerback Donovan Warren, but youth and depth are concerns. Young players must grow up fast down the stretch for Michigan to really make some noise in the Big Ten.

Best-case scenario: The Wolverines go 4-1 the rest of the way but end their losing streak to archrival Ohio State. Forcier stays healthy and the run game surges behind a confident offensive line. The defense has fewer breakdowns and starts changing games with turnovers. Michigan heads to Florida to play in the Capital One Bowl, which it won in 2008.

Worst-case scenario: Michigan gets blown out by Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State, raising questions about Rodriguez and how much progress actually was made in Year 2. Forcier can't stay healthy and backup Denard Robinson doesn't improve as a passer. Michigan stumbles against either Illinois or Purdue and finishes 6-6.

Prediction: Decent bowl game. Michigan finishes 8-4.