One thing is clear, if Rich Rod has any hopes of keeping his job, the Wolverines had better have a much more successful season in this third campaign under his leadership. In order for this to play out in his favor, five things must happen.
1. Strong quarterback play
Whether it is by committee or with one QB leading the way for the majority of the time, Michigan must have consistent and reliable performances at this position.
This team cannot be in a situation like last year where Denard Robinson is only in the game to run the ball. Teams must fear his arm as much as they fear his legs.
If this doesn't happen, Denard is not the guy for the job. From all initial indications, Denard's progression in the spring and summer has him in line to keep defenses shaking all season long.
2. Great offensive line protection
Luckily for Michigan, this year's squad boasts one of the best interior combinations in the Big Ten conference.
As long as they stay healthy, Center, David Molk and Guard, Stephen Schilling should open up some nice holes for the running game and should do a more than adequate job protecting whomever ends up at the helm.
As far as the tackles, the team has experienced options such as Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge not to mention redshirt Freshman Taylor Lewand. Patrick Omameh is also primed for a big season whether that be at a guard or tackle spot.
3. Defensive line
While we are on the topic of the big men, on the opposite side of the ball, the defensive line is arguably more important.
This unit needs their play to be incredible, like a bunch of hulks. I wonder if we can put a jersey on the Incredible Hulk and get him out there?
To cover up for the glaring and seemingly obvious holes in the secondary, the D-Line must put pressure on opposing QBs. Otherwise, they will pick apart the defense at will, again, but this time worse.
Hello, Craig Roh! This guy looks like he's primed to show us what he can really do. Gone is Graham and the time is now for Roh to come out and show he can become a nightmare for QBs in Division I football, just like he did in high school with his 16.5 sacks as a senior.
Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen will also need to have big seasons this year. This should not be a problem either as Martin had 21 tackles combined in the final three games of 2009.
Van Bergen spent most of his time at tackle but should be able to return to end, his more natural position, with the loss of Brandon Graham.
4. Defensive back leadership
The secondary needs a leader or two to step up and make the unit at least semi-respectable.
Without this, teams will throw the ball 30 times or more and in doing so will put up more points than a pinball machine...TILT! There are a couple of options here.
There has been nothing but positive vibes coming out of Ann Arbor regarding WR-turned-cornerback Cam Gordon.
If he can continue his progression on his learning curve, he could pay dividends to this depleted unit playing some at both Safety and Corner.
JT Floyd could also step up and have a big year on the other side. Don't forget Vlad Emilien and Jordan Kovacs. Freshmen Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery could also deliver solid seasons.
Greg Robinson needs to get his Defense in gear! Last year, Robinson's defense ranked 76th in the nation in points against and sacks, and 71st in interceptions.
This type of performance is not going to get it done this year, either. The defense needs to create take-aways and cause mistakes by disrupting the timing of opposing offenses. Otherwise, the opponents will operate like clockwork.
With these five keys, Michigan may unlock the future of Wolverine football and Rodriguez may be able to stick around.
Without them, the Big House will be re-keyed with Rich locked out and searching for a new place to call home.