Years ago, when the season was approaching for Michigan football fans, the biggest question marks were not all that big in the grand scheme of things. While there were always questions about how the team will do, more often than not fans simply wondered if Michigan would be competing for a national championship or merely a Big Ten title. Well, those times are long gone, as fans are now left wondering if a bowl game is in the cards for the upcoming season rather than titles of any kind.
Just as the big picture type of questions have changed, so too have the question marks on a more specific level. While there were always questions about if certain players will step it up or who will win a certain starting job, the questions now are if an entire unit will get things turned around and if scholarship players will manage to hold off former walk-ons at certain positions. Needless to say, the number of question marks has grown in the last few years, and as the 2010 season nears, there are really more now than ever before. As a result, this week's Top Five examines the biggest question marks Michigan is facing as we continue to count down the days until kickoff.
No. 5: Who will win the starting quarterback job?
This is probably the least-important question on the entire list, mainly because Michigan has three capable quarterbacks in Denard Robinson, Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner. Right now the assumption is that Robinson has the edge over the other two for the starting job, but that doesn't mean we won't see Forcier against UConn. I would imagine Gardner will only play if there is an injury or two because the best-case scenario would be to redshirt him, but I think it's likely that Robinson and Forcier will get playing time against UConn. In that regard, this isn't a huge question, but it will be interesting to see who emerges as the official starter.
No. 4: Will the kicking game be a problem?
Ever since Garrett Rivas finished his career at Michigan in 2006, the Wolverines have managed to get by in the kicking game by plugging in walk-ons. K.C. Lopata became the starter in 2007 after Jason Gingell struggled mightily, and he once again was the kicker in 2008. Last year, Jason Olesnavage won the kicking job, edging out true freshman Brendan Gibbons, who is one of the favorites to win the job this year. Although Michigan hasn't had too many huge kicking issues with these walk-ons, this year there is more uncertainty, especially if Gibbons, who is on scholarship, doesn't secure the starting job. Nobody expects the kicking game to be a strength, so the real question involves if it will be a weakness or if Michigan can once again get by with what they have.
No. 3: Will Michigan survive the month of October?
While the first two games of the season are without a doubt absolutely crucial for Michigan, and Rich Rodriguez especially, the true test comes in the month of October. Another 4-0 start would be tremendous for sure, but it means nothing if Michigan can't win in the Big Ten. U-M's record in conference games the last two seasons has been absolutely dismal, and the month of October will prove to be Michigan's toughest test this year, with games on the road against Indiana and Penn State and games at home against Michigan State and Iowa in between. If Michigan survives this test, then it should be in good position for a bowl heading into November. If it struggles and is unable to put together a good month of football, well, Rich Rodriguez may not make it to Halloween, at least not in the court of public opinion.
No. 2: Without Troy Woolfolk, will the secondary even be able to play at an average level?
Last year, Michigan's secondary was awful. Plain and simple, it stunk. This year, the Wolverines are without Donovan Warren, who left a year early for the NFL, and Troy Woolfolk, who is out for the season after suffering a severe leg injury. That leaves the cornerback position with J.T. Floyd, a couple of true freshmen, and James Rogers, who has seemingly switched positions three or four times since coming to Michigan a few years ago. On paper, the secondary looks like it will be downright awful, mainly because of the lack of experience at cornerback. Will that actually happen, though? Or will the younger players outperform expectations and at the very least play at a level where they aren't a complete detriment to Michigan's chances of winning games? It's tough to tell, but on paper things certainly don't look good.
No. 1: The defense
This isn't a specific question, but there's no doubt that the defense as a whole is Michigan's biggest question mark. While the offense is expected to be improved, the defense is just one big unit of questions. As already mentioned, the secondary in itself is a huge question mark, and while there are some talented players on the defensive side of the ball (Mike Martin, Craig Roh and Ryan Van Bergen, to name a few), will this unit actually be able to improve from last year after losing someone like Brandon Graham? Like the secondary, on paper it doesn't seem likely. The one sign of hope, though, is that Greg Robinson is back as the defensive coordinator, so perhaps with another year of the system under their belts, Michigan's defense will improve as a whole. Again, I'm having a hard time thinking they will, but if this question mark goes from a weakness to even a little bit of a strength, Michigan should be in good shape this upcoming season.