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The Times' college football countdown: No. 7 Michigan

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Some have picked Wolverines higher, and with Denard Robinson at quarterback, it's not out of reach.

August 22, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-7 victory over San Diego State last season.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns… (Tony Ding / Associated Press )

Michigan registered one first-place vote in the season's first Associated Press poll. The lone-wolf pick came from Big Ten country's Bob Asmussen, who covers Illinois for the Champaign News-Gazette.

Those who think Asmussen should have his vote revoked must consider that the AP, for years, let Craig James scribble on his ballot with a crayon.

Besides, Asmussen might be onto something.

Michigan last season won 11 games for first-year Coach Brady Hoke and has Denard Robinson returning at quarterback. This isn't like someone casting a No. 1 vote for Boise State.

This is Michigan, which split a national title with Nebraska the year before the Bowl Championship Series was born. This is Michigan, home of Tom Harmon and Tom Brady. This is Michigan, which even beat Ohio State last year.

The Wolverines are the classic risk-reward choice. Their schedule, if tended properly, is tough enough to almost guarantee a BCS title spot.

Asmussen will look like a genius if on Sept. 1 Michigan defeats Alabama at Arlington, Texas.

If Alabama wins, Asmussen goes back to looking like most writers.

Michigan also plays at Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State and hosts Michigan State. Michigan faces 10 bowl teams from last year.

The flip-side to the chance of winning all these games is the chance of losing many of them. The Wolverines could be out of the top 25 by Oct. 28.

Michigan is two years removed from the mediocre Rich Rodriguez era, which could lead some cynics to think last year's 11-2 record was an aberration. But Hoke has led program resurrections at Ball State and San Diego State, and he just might be a riser in the mold of Urban Meyer.

Meyer got to the top through the same Mid-American/Mountain West conference ascension.

Hoke isn't a wishy-washy guy looking to lead his team to mid-tier bowls.

"If we don't win the Big Ten championship, then we failed," Hoke said bluntly this summer. "It's pretty cut and dried."

The Alabama opener gives Michigan a big cut into some big stakes. "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression," Hoke said.

Robinson, Michigan's senior quarterback, is a Heisman Trophy candidate who scares defenses more with his feet than his arm. Robinson must improve his decision making and cut in half his Big Ten-leading 15 interceptions of 2011.

If not, Alabama might have 15 picks by halftime.

Michigan also has a few housecleaning issues to clear up before the opening whistle. Star receiver Roy Roundtree should be ready after recently undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. However, the fates of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Frank Clark have not been determined.

Toussaint, a 1,000-yard rusher, was hit with an off-season DUI. Clark, a promising defensive end, has been charged with computer theft.

Both players recently returned to practice after "indefinite" suspensions, but Hoke has not disclosed whether either will play against Alabama.

Michigan is looking for its first Big Ten title since 2004. It is stuck with Michigan State and Nebraska in the much more difficult Legends division, but Hoke has made it clear that he's more interested in results than excuses.

"Whether it's fair or not it doesn't matter," he said. "We have a schedule to play."

The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford; 17. Michigan State; 16. Oklahoma State; 15. Wisconsin; 14. Nebraska; 13. Arkansas; 12. West Virginia; 11. Florida State; 10. South Carolina; 9. Ohio State; 8. Georgia; 7. Michigan.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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