There are actually a number of reasons why I do believe the Wolverines can compete for a national title this year.
When Brady Hoke took this job on January 11th, 2011, he promised to compete locally for recruiting. Of course, by locally, he meant beating in-state rival Michigan State in the recruiting battle. For two years in a row now, Hoke has left the Spartans in the dust.
In the 2012 class, Hoke picked up nine recruits from the state of Michigan. Michigan State, however, only had six. It is also worth noting that Hoke did not have a whole lot of time to put that class together. While the 2011 class wasn't as impressive, with Hoke only having about a month to fill it, the class still brought in some key players to build the program such as Blake Countess.
Another aspect of the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes was the fact that they brought in some great recruits from the state of Ohio. One of the prime examples was Kyle Kalis. At one point, he was a lock for Ohio State, but after the fallout from Jim Tressel, he ended up committing to Brady Hoke and Michigan. He is probably the highest rated recruit among both classes and one of Michigan's best recruits in years. "Beating" Ohio in recruiting doesn't mean anything if the team doesn't back it up, but it is a key step towards building a successful program, especially because Ohio is so important to Michigan's recruiting strategy.
The next reason I believe Michigan can be a contender for the national title is because of the schedule they have set before them. I'm not calling it an easy schedule by any means, though. The athletic department has done a tremendous job of giving their team every opportunity to prove they can compete with the best this year, especially in non-conference play.
There is obviously the game everybody is talking about with Alabama to open up the season. If Michigan were to go down to Texas and lose this game, I don't see a real hope of them getting into the national championship, even if they were to win out the rest of the season. I've always viewed a one-loss team's hope to held in the hands of the rest of college football rather than their own. If the cards turn out just right, it is possible that a Michigan team with one loss to Alabama could get their shot at a national title, but it would have to be a near perfect scenario.
Three weeks later, the Wolverines make a trip to South Bend in what will be their second prime time game before the conference schedule even starts. The upper hand has gone to Michigan over the past couple of years, but it hasn't been by much. In such a strong rivalry, there really is no need to look at records and stats. The game will play out like any rivalry: exciting. This is must win for Michigan to keep their hopes alive.
Looking into conference play, two games pop out to me right away: @ Nebraska and @ Ohio State. Last year, those two games looked rough on the schedule because they were back-to-back to finish the season. This year, they are drawing attention because both games are away from the Big House.
Then, of course, there is the in-state rivalry with MSU, which will find its way back to the Big House this season. Many people, including myself, believe this is Michigan's year to climb out of the slump against the Spartans and take back sole possession of the state of Michigan.
There are a number of smaller factors that give me faith that Michigan can contend for a national title this year, but strong recruiting by Brady Hoke through two years and a very opportunistic 2012 schedule top my list.
It will be a lot of fun watching the Wolverines take the field this season and compete with what most believe to be their best team since the days of Lloyd Carr.