Two Wolverines were consensus first-team All-Americans – senior team captain Randy Logan and offensive tackle Paul Seymour. Schembecher won the first Big Ten Football Coach of the Year Award based on a poll of news media covering the conference.
The 1971 team compiled an 11–1 record, outscored opponents 421 to 83, won the Big Ten Conference championship, and was ranked #4 in the final Coaches Poll and #6 in the final AP Poll. The Wolverines lost 13 starters from the 1971 team, including Mike Taylor, a consensus All-American linebacker, Reggie McKenzie, a consensus All-American at offensive guard, Billy Taylor, who set Michigan's career rushing record with 3,072 yards, and defensive back Thom Darden.
On offense, the Wolverines' priorities going into the 1972 season included the development of a passing game, as Tom Slade, Larry Cipa and Kevin Casey had combined for less than 700 passing yards in 1971. Shortly before the season opener, coach Schembechler announced that sophomore Dennis Franklin would be the starting quarterback.
With the loss of Billy Taylor, the Wolverines lacked a power running attack, and another priority was the development of a speed and quickness attack led by Gil Chapman and Harry Banks. The highlight of the spring game was a 60-yard pass play from Franklin to Chapman. Schembechler was quoted as saying of Chapman, "He's the fastest player I've ever had at Michigan." Alan "Cowboy" Walker, who gained 403 yards in 1971, had been expected to be the Wolverines' lead tailback, but he quit the team before the season started.
Two days before the season opener, former Michigan head coach Harry Kipke died at age 73.
On September 16, Michigan opened its 1972 season with a 7–0 victory over Northwestern before a crowd of 71,757 at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines had been favored by 21 points, and their seven-point tally was the fewest scored by a Michigan team since 1967.
Michigan's seven points were scored on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Dennis Franklin to Bo Rather and an extra point kick by Mike Lantry. Michigan's touchdown was set up by an interception by Michigan linebacker Craig Mutch which he returned 18 yards to Northwestern's 31-yard line. Coach Schembechler called Mutch's interception the "key play of the game."Ed Shuttlesworth led Michigan's ground game with 75 yards on 17 carries. Northwestern's Jim Trimble rushed for 103 yards on 20 carries. The game featured two firsts in Michigan football history. First, Dennis Franklin, starting his first game, became the first African-American quarterback to play for Michigan; Franklin completed four of nine passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Second, the game was the first played in front of a sexually integrated Michigan Marching Band. Prior to 1972, the band had been an all-male unit. The 1972 band included six female musicians and a female twirler.
On September 23, #11 Michigan defeated #6 UCLA, 26–9, in front of a crowd of 57,129 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. UCLA was led by quarterback Mark Harmon, a junior college transfer and the son of Michigan legend Tom Harmon, and had opened the season two weeks earlier with a late night home upset of #1 Nebraska, halting the Huskers' unbeaten streak at 32 games.
On September 30, Michigan defeated Tulane, 41–7, in front of a crowd of 84,162 at Michigan Stadium. Michigan rushed for 298 yards, including 151 yards and three touchdowns by Ed Shuttlesworth, 51 yards by Chuck Heater, and 17 yards and a touchdown by Bob Thornbladh. Three Michigan quarterbacks also completed five of 12 passes for 50 yards. In addition, Gil Chapman returned a punt 49 yards and Randy Logan returned an interception 32 yards for touchdowns. Chapman returned seven punts in all for 90 yards. On defense, Michigan held Tulane to 56 rushing yards. Tulane did not score until the fourth quarter against Michigan's second- and third-string players.
Robin Ameen 3-yard pass from Allen Glenny (Lanning kick)
On October 7, Michigan defeated Navy, 35–7, in front of a crowd of 81,131 at Michigan Stadium. Quarterback Dennis Franklin ran six yards around the left end for the first touchdown in the second quarter. Michigan scored 28 points in the third quarter. The quarter began with Navy's Ike Owens fumbling the opening kickoff after being hit by defensive end Mark Jacoby. Franklin then threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Bo Rather. Four minutes later, Dave Brown scored on an 83-yard punt return for touchdown, tying a Michigan school record. Chuck Heater scored next on a 13-yard run around left end on an option pitchout from Franklin. Michigan scored its fourth touchdown of the third quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Franklin to Paul Seal. Mike Lantry successfully converted five of five extra points. Michigan led 35-0 at the end of the third quarter, but Navy scored a late touchdown on a short pass.
On October 14, Michigan defeated Michigan State, 10–0, in front of a crowd of 103,735 at Michigan Stadium. The game was Michigan's first shutout victory over Michigan since 1947. Michigan scored on a 22-yard field goal by Mike Lantry in the second quarter and a 58-yard touchdown run by Gil Chapman in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines totaled 334 rushing yards, including 107 by Ed Shuttlesworth, 81 by Chuck Heater, and 64 by Dennis Franklin. The Spartans had a 24-yard touchdown run called back due to a clipping penalty, and their only other scoring threat ended when a hit from Dave Brown forced the Spartans' ball carrier to fumble into the end zone.
On October 20, Michigan defeated Illinois, 31–7, in front of a crowd of 64,290 for the homecoming game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. The victory was Michigan's sixth in a row against Illinois. Sophomore tailback Chuck Heater led Michigan's rushing attack with 155 yards on 29 carries with touchdown runs in the first and second quarters. Quarterback Dennis Franklin completed seven of 12 passes for 105 yards, but he also had three turnovers – a fumble on the first play from scrimmage and two interceptions. Ed Shuttlesworth contributed 70 rushing yards on 12 carries with a touchdown in the second quarter. Mike Lantry added a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter, and Michigan led 24-0 at halftime. Illinois scored late in the third quarter on an 18-yard run by George Uremovich, and Gil Chapman responded with a 73-yard kickoff return after the Illini touchdown.
On October 28, 1972, Michigan defeated Minnesota, 42–0, in front of a crowd of 84,190 at Michigan Stadium. Michigan's 42 points were its highest total of the season. Fullback Ed Shuttlesworth rushed for 86 yards on 19 carries and scored Michigan's first four touchdowns. Quarterback Dennis Franklin completed five of eight passes for 94 yards, rushed for 58 yards and scored a touchdown. Placekicker Mike Lantry converted all six extra points.
On November 4, Michigan defeated Indiana, 21–7, in front of a crowd of 41,336 on "a dull, overcast day" at Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Indiana. Michigan's offense fumbled five times, playing without the team's leading rusher, Ed Shuttlesworth. Adding to the offensive woes, Dennis Franklin completed only two of 14 passes for 27 yards. Franklin ran nine yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, but Indiana tied the game at 7–7 early in the fourth quarter. Later in the fourth quarter, Michigan regained the lead on a 12-yard touchdown run by Franklin and then extended the lead on a 10-yard touchdown run by Chuck Heater. Bob Thornbladh, playing for the injured Shuttlesworth at fullback, was Michigan's leading rusher with 97 yards on 25 carries. Franklin totaled 85 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Mike Lantry kicked three extra points but missed a field goal attempt. After the game, coach Schembechler praised the defense, but called it "the poorest offensive game of the year."
On November 11, Michigan defeated Iowa, 31–0, in front of a crowd of 43,176 at the recently renamed Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Quarterback Dennis Franklin completed six of 11 passes for 107 yards and threw touchdown passes covering 15 yards to Paul Seal and 37 yards to Gil Chapman. Franklin also rushed for 37 yards and a touchdown. Bob Thornbladh, playing in place of injured Ed Shuttlesworth at fullback, rushed for 98 yards and scored a touchdown. Mike Lantry added a 30-yard field goal and four extra points. With Ohio State losing to Michigan State on the same afternoon, the victory over Iowa gave undefeated Michigan sole possession of first place in the Big Ten Conference standings.
On November 18, Michigan defeated Purdue, 9–6, in front of a crowd of 88,423 at Michigan Stadium. Purdue featured College Football Hall of FamersDave Butz and Otis Armstrong, quarterback Gary Danielson, and receiver Darryl Stingley. Purdue took a 3–0 lead at halftime. Michigan scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the third quarter (an 11-yard pass from Dennis Franklin to Paul Seal), but Mike Lantry missed the extra point kick. At the end of the third quarter, Purdue kicked its second field goal to tie the game at 6–6. With three minutes left in the game, the score remained a tie with Purdue having possession. At that point, Michigan's wolfman and co-captain Randy Logan intercepted a Danielson pass at Michigan's 40-yard line. From there, Dennis Franklin scrambled 19 yards to Purdue's 41-yard line. Tailback Chuck Heater advanced the ball to the Purdue 19-yard line with a 22-yard run. On fourth down, with 64 seconds left in the game, Mike Lantry, a Vietnam veteran who had earlier missed an extra point kick and squibbed a kickoff, kicked a 30-yard field goal to put Michigan in the lead. Purdue's defense held Michigan to 100 rushing yards, including 35 yards for Heater and 34 yards for Bob Thornbladh. Dennis Franklin completed 10 of 15 passes for 143 yards.
On November 25, Michigan, ranked #3 in the AP Poll, lost 14–11 at #9 Ohio State in front of a crowd of 87,040 at Ohio Stadium. The game is one of the classic matches in The Ten Year War between head coaches Schembechler and Woody Hayes. Michigan had defeated Ohio State the prior year by a 10–7 score.
Mike Lantry missed on 44-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter, but made a 35-yarder in the second quarter. Ohio State took the lead later in the quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by Champ Henson. Shortly before halftime, Michigan drove the ball to the Ohio State one-yard line, but the Ohio State held on three rushes inside the one-yard line, and Dennis Franklin then fumbled on fourth down at the two-yard line.
Ohio State extended its lead to 14–3 on a 30-yard touchdown run by Archie Griffin in the third quarter. Later in the third quarter, Ed Shuttlesworth scored with a one-yard run on fourth down. Dennis Franklin completed a pass to Clint Haslerig for a two-point conversion, cutting Ohio State's lead to three points. In a memorable goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, Michigan running back Harry Banks crossed the goal line on a second effort, but the officials ruled the play had been whistled dead inside the one-yard line. Coach Schembechler opted not to kick a field goal that would have tied the game and sent the Wolverines to the 1973 Rose Bowl. Instead, Schembechler called for a quarterback sneak on fourth down, and Randy Gradishar stopped Franklin short of the goal line. The Buckeyes' fans rushed onto the field and tore down the goal posts with 13 seconds remaining.
Franklin completed 13 of 23 passes for 160 yards and also rushed for 30 yards. Michigan's defense held Ohio State to one pass completion, and the Wolverines out-gained the Buckeyes with 344 yards of total offense to 179 for Ohio State. However, Michigan's inability to score on two drives inside the Ohio State five-yard line gave the victory to the Buckeyes.
Prior to the 1975 season, the Big Ten and Pac-8 conferences allowed only one postseason participant each, for the Rose Bowl. With a 10–1 record in 1972, Michigan did not play in a bowl game, despite its top ten ranking (#8 AP, #6 UPI) at the end of the regular season.
At the Michigan football bust in Detroit on December 4, Randy Logan was presented with the Lewis B. Hyde Memorial Award as the most valuable player on the 1972 team, based on the vote of his teammates.
On January 3, 1973, the Associated Press released its final rankings for the 1972 season. Undefeated USC received all fifty first-place votes, with Michigan ranked sixth and Ohio State ninth.
On January 24, 1973, Schembecher was announced as the winner of the first Big Ten Football Coach of the Year Award. The award was based on a poll of news media covering the conference. Three days later, Michigan athletic director Don Canham announced that Schembechler, who had compiled a 38-6 record in his first four seasons at Michigan, had been granted a new five-year contract.