In his latest mailbag column, SI.com's Stewart Mandel is touting Michigan as a potential sleeper national-title contender:
Because the Wolverines went 7-5 last year, however, I'm guessing most pundits will automatically discount them. That would be a mistake. It's always wise to look beyond the record in assessing a team's season. It'd be one thing if four of those five losses were 20-point blowouts, which would mean they've likely got a long way to climb. On the contrary, the Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State and Nebraska games all went down to the final gun. Michigan also dealt with a lot of injuries at key positions. I'm not saying Lloyd Carr's team doesn't have question marks, but you can see why they may be a potential sleeper. Remember, that '97 team wasn't highly ranked to start the season either.
2007 is a different story. With home games against ND, OSU, Oregon, Minnesota, PSU; no Iowa; Drew Stanton, Troy Smith, and Brady Quinn all gone; and Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long, Alan Branch all seniors and experience in the back seven, Michigan will have no excuses to not be a top-three team all season and in the national-title hunt until the OSU game. No excuses. If Carr can't get it done that year, then he should just be fired, because it ain't happening.
And honestly, given that I don't think this team can realistically expect to be much better than 8-4 in 2006, I'd use the upcoming season as the platform off of which the 2007 national-title campaign is launched. The next next year is our year. It has to be.