Did Michigan make progress in 2010?
The Wolverines' improved record says they did. Their record-setting offensive numbers and their record-setting quarterback suggest strides were made. But Michigan's continued struggles in Big Ten play under coach Rich Rodriguez and its obvious problems on both defense and special teams make the picture pretty cloudy in Ann Arbor.
For the second straight year, Michigan jumped out to a fast start behind a dynamic young quarterback. Denard Robinson was the nation's top player through the first five weeks, setting a series of team records as Michigan surged into the national rankings. Michigan won games simply by outscoring -- or out-Denarding -- the opposition.
Things got tougher in October as Michigan dropped three consecutive contests. Greg Robinson's defense, beset by injuries in the secondary and more preseason player departures, couldn't stop anyone in Big Ten play. Michigan slipped to 108th nationally in total defense (447.9 ypg) and 102nd in scoring defense (33.8 ppg), while the kicking game endured miscue after miscue. Denard Robinson continued to do his part and deservedly received Big Ten offensive player of the year honors, but Michigan repeatedly found itself digging out of big holes against good competition.
Two November wins ensured Michigan would end its bowl drought, but the Wolverines struggled mightily in losses to co-Big Ten champs Wisconsin and Ohio State to end the regular season.
Offensive MVP: Denard Robinson. An obvious choice. Robinson earned Big Ten offensive player of the year honors from both the coaches and the media. He set the FBS single-season quarterback rushing record with 1,643 yards and ranks fourth nationally in rushing average (136.9 ypg). A semifinalist for both the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Awards, Robinson dramatically improved as a passer, ranking 20th nationally in quarterback rating. He leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally in total offense (329.9 ypg).
Defensive MVP: Mike Martin. Anyone who could stomach watching Michigan's defense saw Martin's contributions at the nose tackle spot. The future NFL player often faced double teams and still recorded six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries. Martin gave Michigan's defensive line a chance to compete, although he needed more help elsewhere. Linebacker Jonas Mouton and safety Jordan Kovacs also merit mentions.
Turning point: There are really two for Michigan. Robinson's performance Sept. 11 against Notre Dame sparked Michigan to a 2-0 start as the sophomore broke the Big Ten quarterback rushing record with 258 yards on the ground. He set a team total offense mark with 502 yards as Michigan went on to win its next three games. The other turning point was more of a reality check, as Michigan State handed Michigan a 34-17 loss. The Spartans dominated Michigan's defense and held Robinson in check at the Big House.
What's next: Only Dave Brandon knows. The first-year athletic director hasn't said whether Rodriguez will return for a fourth season in 2011. Rodriguez's offense is clicking in Ann Arbor and he inherited a bad situation on defense from predecessor Lloyd Carr. But Michigan's repeated breakdowns in two of the three phases are a concern, and Rodriguez still lacks a signature win in Big Ten play.