Michigan's challenge against defending national champion Alabama may have just gotten even more difficult.
Star running back Fitz Toussaint has been suspended indefinitely following a weekend arrest for drunk driving. According to reports, the junior was stopped for a traffic violation in downtown Ann Arbor just a little before midnight Saturday and failed a breathalyzer test. Head coach Brady Hoke announced Monday afternoon that Toussaint is suspended indefinitely.
By definition, we don't know how long that indefinite suspension will last. It is reasonable, however, to conclude that Toussaint may not be available for the opener against the Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium. And if so, that's a tough blow.
Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards last season, doing much of his best work late in the season. He spoke confidently this spring about surpassing 1,600 rushing yards this season. His emergence in the middle of last year lightened the offensive load on star quarterback Denard Robinson and made the Wolverines' offense that much more versatile and dangerous. Michigan will need all the weapons it has to try and move the ball effectively against what is expected to be another fierce Alabama defense.
If Toussaint is out for the opener, or even longer, the Wolverines would most likely turn to sophomore Thomas Rawls as their main tailback. A physical, 219-pounder, Rawls earned praise from Hoke for his play this spring and was described by offensive coordinator Al Borges as "a battering ram." He doesn't have the explosiveness of Toussaint, but a guy who can run through tackles might not be bad to have against 'Bama, anyway.
Other options at tailback include veterans Vincent Smith and Stephen Hopkins and sophomore Justice Hayes. Still, there's a big dropoff from Toussaint to anyone else in terms of experience and production.
Again, we don't know for sure how long this suspension will last. Hoke dismissed receiver Darryl Stonum this winter after traffic violations landed Stonum in jail, but the troubled player had previous run-ins with the law. This is, as far as we know, Toussaint's first misstep.
It hasn't been a great offseason for Michigan players. Starting defensive tackle Will Campbell pleaded guilty earlier Monday to a civil infraction for blocking a sidewalk; he'll be sentenced later this week for a misdemeanor destruction of property charge. He had originally been charged with felony destruction of property and possession of alcohol by a minor. Receiver Jerald Robinson had a warrant out for his arrest for allegedly damaging a parking gate; his case is scheduled to be heard later this summer.
But Toussaint is the biggest name of the bunch and his suspension could be costly. Without him, the Michigan offense could be back to a familiar place in the 2012 opener: relying on Denard Robinson to make some magic.