Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Big Ten Football Previews – Part V

Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of my annual summer Big Ten football previews. Check back often to see who’s next...

Team: Michigan Wolverines

Tidbits … The last losing season in Ann Arbor was 1967. The last time the maize and blue failed to go bowling was 1975. Rich Rodriguez is the first coach to lead Michigan without previous ties to the program in 39 years (Bo Schembechler, 1969).

Past Predictions/Results:
2007 Prediction / actual: 11-1, 7-1 (T-1st), BCS / 9-4, 6-2 (T-2nd), Capital One
2006 Prediction/ actual: 9-3, 6-2 (T-3rd), Outback / 11-2, 7-1 (T-2nd), Rose
2005 Prediction / actual: 9-2, 6-2 (T-1st), BCS / 7-5, 5-3 (T-3rd), Alamo
2004 Prediction / actual: 10-1, 7-1 (T-1st), BCS / 9-3, 7-1 (T-1st), Rose
2003 Prediction / actual: 10-2, 6-2 (T-2nd) / 10-3, 7-1 (1st)
2002 Prediction / actual: 8-4, 5-3 (T-4th) / 10-3, 6-2 (3rd)
2001 Prediction / actual: 8-3, 6-2 (T-1st) / 8-4, 6-2 (2nd)

*Note, bowl shown only from 2004 on as I did not predict the bowl berths prior to that season.

Returning Starters: 3 offense, 7 defense, 2 kickers

Key Returnees: WR Greg Mathews, RB Brandon Minor, OT Stephen Schilling, DT Terrance Taylor, DE Brandon Graham, LB Obi Ezeh, CB Morgan Trent

Key Losses: QB Chad Henne, WR Mario Mannigham, RB Mike Hart, OT Jake Long, LB Shawn Crable, S Jamar Adams

Looking Back ... 2007 marked the end of an era in Ann Arbor. Michigan fans and the media alike wondered aloud for a few years when Carr's time would come and the Wolverines would push away from 40 years of success under Bo Schembechler and his students. Well, they got what they wished for in a turmoil filled hiring that may have brought in the best, young(ish) football mind in the business. Still, 2007 left a little to be desired, with back to back losses to start the season - including what some will say is the biggest upset since the Miracle on Ice - Appalachian State's stunning win in the Big House. It also ended with another loss to Tressel's hated Buckeyes with a nice win over Florida the saving grace.

Outlook - Offense ... Hands down, the biggest question mark heading into this season. No doubt, Rodriguez will bring a style that thrills but there is one little problem this season - who can run the offense the way it is designed to be run? Not only is Henne gone, the only other quarterback with appreciable - albeit non applicable - experience (Ryan Mallett) has transferred. Also departed are standout WRs Mario Mannigham and Adrian Arrington. Toss in the loss of number one NFL pick Jake Long and heart and soul Mike Hart, and you can see why Michigan might struggle at times this fall. Steven Threat is the likely leader of the offense and Brandon Minor will get some spotlight, as will an always talented bunch of receivers. The key will be Threat and the offensive line. Look for struggles early but for the team to round into shape by seasons end.

Outlook - Defense ... The old adage that defense wins games will have to be true in Ann Arbor this season. With eight starters returning, including a veteran front four and a rock solid secondary, the defense just might be the Wolverines' ticket to the top this season. Taylor and Johnson are space eaters inside while Jamison and Graham have the ability to get after the quarterback. Obi Ezeh is the lone returning starter at linebacker but he's about as good as they get in the Big Ten. Michigan's style will be attack-attack-attack and the success of the team overall depends almost entirely on the defense for at least the first quarter of the season. Is this D up to the task? It might be and it might make my prediction way off base...

Outlook - Special Teams ... Michigan's kicking game looks to be in good shape heading into fall camp, but your guess is as good as mine as to who will handle the return duties. No worries here though, with the athletes Rodriguez brought in with his first class, there is bound to be at least one game breaker.

8/30 - UTAH
9/6 - MIAMI-OH
9/13 - at Notre Dame
10/11 - TOLEDO
10/18 - at Penn State
11/1 - at Purdue
11/8 - at Minnesota
11/22 - at Ohio State

Key Games:
9/13 - at Notre Dame, 9/27 - Wisconsin, 10/18 - at Penn State, 10/25 - Michigan State, 11/22 - at Ohio State

Prediction ... I can hear the "what the ...'s" flying already but I am not telling anyone anything shocking. Michigan is in a rebuilding mode. It might well last only one year or less than this entire season, but if ever the maize and blue are ripe for the picking, the time is now. Michigan will not get trampled this year, but until the offense can catch up with the defense, it might be a struggle at times. No worries, Wolverine fans, this temporary downturn will long-term produce a team that is entertaining to watch and nearly impossible to beat. Don't sleep on the first two games - neither is as easy as they look. But it will be more in the league that Michigan takes a few lumps...

OOC: 4-0 (I don't buy that ND is back and Michigan will be fired up for the opener - a potential trap otherwise)
B10: 3-5 (wins over Illinois, Minnesota and Northwestern)
Overall: 7-5, T-7th in the conference, Champs Sports Bowl


BruceS said...

It's hard to believe you are picking a UM team to only be 7-5. It's been a long time since that has been done. With the talent that usually is found in AA, I hate to say it but RichRod will get these players reshaped into an offensive unit that will pull out a few unexpected wins and finish closer to 9-3. The defense will be good enough to allow the offense to come through.

mayo170 said...

I don't find it hard to believe, I just have no idea what to expect from this team. Could be great, could be mediocre. I just think they are going to be glad to get the season started and get as far away from the media as possible by winning a few games.

One thing that doesn't faze me is picking MSU to win in AA. The Spartans have been due for a while and have played this series pretty tough recently. We'll see how the season shapes up until then, but I'd pick MSU to win that game right now.

The games I'm looking forward to are the Northwestern and Purdue games, just to see if they can match the scoring of the 2000 NU/UM game.