ND's 2012 opponents, Week 4: Michigan

Week 4: Sept. 22 vs. Michigan (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)

Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Series: Michigan leads all-time, 23-15-1

2011 record: 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten; second place, Legends Division)

Head coach: Brady Hoke (11-2, one year)

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Denard Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Roy Roundtree, WR Jeremy Gallon, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DE Craig Roh, LB Jake Ryan, LB Kenny Demens, LB Desmond Morgan, CB J.T. Floyd, CB Blake Countess, S Thomas Gordon, S Jordan Kovacs

Key losses

WR Junior Hemingway, WR Darryl Stonum, WR/KR Martavious Odoms, TE Kevin Koger, C David Molk, RT Mark Huyge, DT Mike Martin, DE/DT Ryan Van Bergen, DT Will Heininger

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Denard Robinson* (1,176 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson* (2,173 yards)

Receiving: Junior Hemingway (699 yards)

Tackles: Kenny Demens* (94)

Sacks: Ryan Van Bergen (5.5)

Interceptions: Courtney Avery* and J.T. Floyd* (2)

Three questions for ... WolverineNation reporter Michael Rothstein:

Brady Hoke has been a hit through one year at Michigan, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. What do you think has led to so much success so soon, and what makes you think this is sustainable?

Michael Rothstein: Multiple factors. One of the underlying things is the experience Michigan's players had the past two seasons under Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines had an experienced defensive line, a secondary which had played a lot but been picked apart and a quarterback entering his second season as a starter. Combine that with a superior coaching staff -- especially at the coordinator spots with Al Borges on offense and Greg Mattison on defense -- and the chance to improve was there. The schedule, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Notre Dame at home last season, also helped.

As far as recruiting goes, Hoke knows the Midwest. He could sell playing time at certain positions and is turning into a dynamic closer. Plus, Mattison is one of the best recruiters in college football, period. He is the one who helped reel Tim Tebow in at Florida after a coaching transition. The staff is usually up front and genuine, which also helps. They've done a great job of evaluating talent early.

The Wolverines' defense returns plenty of talent, save for its defensive line. What can be expected from Greg Mattison's crew, and can this unit get to the quarterback on a consistent basis?

MR: So much of that is dependent on the defensive line. If the line can't pressure the quarterback at a good pace, it'll hamper what Mattison can call and force some of the more exotic packages he has to the shelf for a while. His back seven -- particularly the once-maligned secondary -- is going to be good. Michigan could have the best secondary in the Big Ten this season and the depth is growing. While it is unlikely he'll start, freshman Jarrod Wilson impressed coaches this spring. He could contend for playing time and give Mattison the chance to rotate the secondary somewhat similarly to the defensive line to keep players fresh throughout the season.

Three games. Three instant classics. Three Michigan wins. Why should Notre Dame fans feel like the fourth time will be the charm against Michigan?

MR: As the Notre Dame basketball coach, Mike Brey, used to like to say, Law of Averages, baby. The Irish defense should be good this season and Brian Kelly's staff is certainly going to try everything possible to neutralize Robinson. The main concern with Notre Dame is what will happen at quarterback. If the Irish haven't figured that out by week 4, it'll be four straight Michigan wins for sure. The one thing I will tell you, that I'm sure our bosses might not like, I plan to write very few words before the last 10 seconds of the game. Have scrapped most of it the past three years anyway.