Spring practice is underway and "Team 133" for the Michigan Wolverines is preparing for what could be one of the toughest schedules faced in years.
Starting off with Alabama in Dallas and ending in the Horseshoe in Columbus against Ohio State and Urban Meyer is perhaps the toughest pair of bookend games the program has ever faced.
But Michigan has the talent to rise to the occasion and have a Big Ten title caliber season if the following players step up.
Here are my picks for the biggest X-factors (players whose performance could vary greatly in certain areas) for Michigan's 2012 season:
5. Ricky Barnum, C - Barnum has said that coaches have called him a natural center for much of his career and now fans will find out if that's true or not. Barnum is also a good friend of Denard Robinson's, meaning he and the QB should develop a good rapport. Replacing Rimington winner David Molk will be tough, but Barnum can do it. Still, center is a difficult position to learn so there is potential for struggles as well.
4. Brennen Beyer, DE - The sophomore played a lot last year as a true freshman on a very good defense, which is an excellent sign. Now he has been shifted to weakside defensive end from OLB, the potential is there for him to have a breakout year. Michigan managed to get a lot of heat on the QB last year with virtually no production from the ends, so Beyer could be the player to make a good defense great if he can rush the passer consistently.
3. Roy Roundtree, WR - He's coming off of a serious decline statistics-wise from 2011, but Roundtree still has the skills to be a go-to guy on offense, which Michigan needs now that Junior Hemingway has left the wide receiver corps.
Roundtree needs to find a way to get deep as well, which he is surprisingly adept at doing when you least expect it. If he can get down the field and make big plays while also improving his concentration, the offense will open up and become even more explosive.
2. Will Campbell, DT - The former five-star from Detroit Cass Tech came in as a massive defensive tackle so strong that he could toss around offensive lineman despite a serious lack of leverage and technique. It's taken him a long time to get Big Ten-level technique, but he's made strides. The mere fact that he's still in the program and working hard after what some may call a disappointing start to his career is a big positive because the Wolverines need him. He could finally put it all together with NFL Draft money a possibility, or he could just be a big body in the middle. How he plays could have a big impact on Michigan's season, considering he's the team's biggest hope at what might be its most thin position.
1. Denard Robinson, QB - Robinson will be in the running for the Heisman Trophy if he starts out the season well, so it doesn't seem like he belongs on this list, and we Michigan fans all know he can run for 1,500 yards even if his shoe comes off on every other play. But his passing efficiency and ability to avoid the big mistake will be the biggest factor in Michigan becoming a title-caliber team or not.
So far the spring game reviews are good, and Robinson seems focused on cutting down on mistakes and improving technique. It will be fascinating to see if he can evolve into the QB many said he couldn't become, and if he does, the sky is the limit for UM this season.
Nick Meyer is a lifelong Michigan fan from Metro Detroit.
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