2008 BSD Big Ten Previews - Michigan Wolverines

2007 Recap

2007 Record: 9-4 (6-2)

To say the 2007 season got off to a disastrous start for the Michigan Wolverines would be an understatement. They returned virtually everyone on offense and most of the defense from the team that was one win away from playing for the National Championship in 2006. Expectations were high in Ann Arbor, and along with them came a lofty #5 preseason ranking.

Week one was supposed to be a glorified scrimmage against Div. IAA Appalachian State. But we all know what happened. The two-time Div. IAA champs took the Wolverines to school that day shredding Lloyd Carr's defense to rags. And then there were kittens.

Kitten_medium
Awww...What's wrong, little guy?

Things didn't get any better the following week when Oregon came to Ann Arbor and rolled up 624 yards and 39 points of offense. Week 3 featured two of the winningest programs in college football history squaring off when Notre Dame came to town, but on this day both teams entered with identical 0-2 records for the first time ever. But the 38-0 final score proved two things. One, that Michigan wasn't as bad as everyone thought, and two, Notre Dame sucked as bad as everyone thought. Once back on the winning track the Wolverines turned their attention toward running the table and winning the conference title.

It started in the Big Ten opener when Penn State came to the Big House 3-0 and ranked #10 in the nation. I was there that day and before the game you could tell Michigan was pretty well shell shocked and demoralized. To top it off Chad Henne was scratched putting the game in the hands of true freshman Ryan Mallet. But an unoriginal game plan and an uninspiring quarterback for the Nittany Lions got the Wolverines back to 0.500 on the season. From there Michigan rattled off six straight wins climbing to 8-2 and #13 in the polls. It looked like they just might run the table after all.

But that was as high as they would get. Wisconsin proved too formidable on their home turf and Ohio State proved too formidable anywhere. Michigan backed their way into the Capital One Bowl on a two game losing streak where they got matched against the defending national champion Florida Gators.

Nobody gave the Wolverines a chance against the quicker SEC team. And why should they considering the way Appalachian State and Oregon had exposed them earlier in the year. Vegas listed the Wolverines as 11 point underdogs. But an inspired Michigan team playing for Lloyd Carr in his last game before retiring manhandled the #9 ranked Gators by a 41-35 score that wasn't really that close.

This year they must adjust from the Lloyd Carr Tecmo Bowl playbook to the Rich Rodriguez spread option offense. We'll see how that goes.

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Get your snake oil here!

 

Offense Preview

Offense Returns (3): WR-Greg Mathews, TE-Carson Butler, RT-Stephen Schilling

Offense Loses(8): QB-Chad Henne, RB-Mike Hart, WR-Mario Manningham, WR-Adrian Arrington, LT-Jake Long, C-Adam Kraus, RG-Alex Mitchell/Jeremy Cuilla, LG-Justin Boren

Overview

I could go over stats from 2007, but there isn't any point. Nothing from that offense will carry over to this year. Long time starters Henne, Hart, Long, Manningham, Kraus, and Arrington are gone. On top of that, the Lloyd Carr "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense is out the door and replaced with the Rich Rodriguez spread option. Michigan fans are convinced their offense will be the envy of the league, but even they will tell you it's not this year.

The biggest challenge for Rodriguez will be finding the winged helmet version of Pat White. Shortly after Rodriguez took over freshman sensation Ryan Mallet jumped ship for Arkansas. A tall pocket passer, he knew he wasn't what Rodriguez would be looking for in his quarterback. That left Michigan with a gaping hole under center. The leading contenders are Stephen Threet and Nick Sheridan. Both guys are considered drop back passers with some mobility, but neither guy will draw comparisons to Pat White or Vince Young. Threet is a sophomore transfer from Georgia Tech while Sheridan is a former walk-on. So you can probably say quarterback is not going to be a strength on this team.

Threet_medium
Steve Slaton he's not.

Normally losing a player like Mike Hart would be cause for concern, but the Wolverines are surprisingly deep in the backfield. Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown saw considerable playing time last year while Mike Hart was banged up. Minor rushed for 385 yards and a touchdown while Brown added 382 yards and four touchdowns. You can expect to see a two-headed running back monster that's all the rage with the kids these days. And don't be surprised to see Brown moved around to the slot or even quarterback. Incoming freshmen Mike Shaw and Sam McGuffie may get a few carries as well.

At wide receiver the Wolverines are high on potential but low on experience. Greg Mathews is the only wide receiver with considerable playing time having started five games in 2007 and catching 39 balls for 366 yards and three touchdowns. After that things are sketchy. The other wide receiver position is a battle between sophomore Junior Hemmingway and overhyped junior LaTerrval Savoy with Hemmingway enjoying a slight lead. In the slot, which is considered an important part of RichRod's offense, the Wolverines are struggling to find someone. Sophomore Toney Clemons is the guy for now, but at 6'3" and 210 lbs he doesn't exactly fit the mold of the small speedy guy the spread offense requires to create mismatches against slower linebackers and safeties. This is where you may most likely see Sam McGuffie or Mike Shaw make an immediate impact.

But even if Michigan finds a quarterback, identifies some viable targets to throw to, and makes the running back by committee thing work, the biggest problem for Rodriguez to address will be the offensive line. Four starters are gone including Justin Boren. Boren was an All Big Ten performer last year as a sophomore and a sure bet to be a starter this year, but he shockingly left the program during spring practice drawing the ire of the Michigan faithful. Then to make his Benedict Arnold manuever complete, he signed on with Ohio State a few weeks later. I can only imagine the hatemail he got.

Anyway, position battles a plenty on the offensive line this year. Combine that with all new skill players and a new offensive system and I can't see this offense exploding out of the gate. Imploding maybe, but definitely not exploding.

 

Defense Preview

Defense Returns(7): DE-Brandon Graham, DT-Terrance Taylor, DT-Will Johnson, DE-Tim Jamison, LB-Obi Ezeh, CB-Donovan Warren, CB-Morgan Trent

Defense Loses(4): LB-Shawn Crable, LB-Chris Graham, SS-Jamar Adams, FS-Brandent Englemon

Overview

Those of you hoping for a Notre Dame-type collapse out of the Michigan Wolverines will be sadly disappointed. While it's true that Michigan must rebuild their entire offense much like Notre Dame was forced to do in 2007, there is one stark contrast between the two. The Irish had no defense to fall back on. Michigan does.

Defensive ends Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham combined for 14 sacks last year, and this year they are reportedly leaner and faster this year. Redshirt freshman Ryan Van Berger was impressive in the spring and should soon be a force on this defense. Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson return in the middle forming a powerful set of tackles. And backing these guys up are a host of young talented players that were all highly recruited coming out of high school. While Penn State fans may like to boast our defensive line is the best in the conference, this one certainly gives the Nittany Lions a run for their money.

Shawn Crable and Chris Graham were two excellent linebackers that anchored the defense the past few years. But Michigan is capable of reloading at this position thanks to several years of excellent recruiting. Obi Ezah figures to be in the starting linebacker rotation as the only returning starter. He's deceptively fast for a guy that goes nearly 250 lbs. Senior journeyman Austin Panter should get his chance to start at strong side linebacker after playing mostly on special teams throughout his Michigan career. Opposite him on weakside is sophomore Marell Evans, the kind of speedy linebacker Rodriguez craves. Also contending to crack the rotation are John Thompson and Jonas Mouton, both capable players in their own right. So while Michigan may lack experience at linebacker, they have more than enough talent to plug in and field a decent squad.

Junior Steve Brown cemented himself as the starting free safety in the spring. At strong safety Brandon Harrison gets upgraded from nickelback where he made ten starts and recorded 40 tackles last year. He's small (5'9") but fast and hits hard. The coaches are said to be very pleased with the play of their safeties. Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent make an excellent set of cornerbacks, and don't be surprised to see incoming freshman Boubacar Cissoko get considerable playing time as the heir to Trent after the season.

Morgan_trent_medium 
Morgan Trent would like you to know he is in fact "all that"

 

Special Teams

The kickers should be solid. Zoltan Mesko is a solid punter with a 41.1 yard average last year, and K.C. Lopata was a solid 11-of-12 in field goals after taking over the number one spot six weeks into the season.

The return games weren't very good last year. Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown split the kick returning duties for a team that ranked #110 in the nation in kick returns. The punt return game wasn't much better averaging under eight yards per return. But don't read too much into this. If Minor and Brown earn starting roles they may get pulled from special teams to keep them healthy, and you can bet Rodriguez will add a few new wrinkles to the return game. So you can expect the Wolverines to improve on special teams.

 

The Schedule

Date Opponent BSD Outlook
Aug 30 Utah Toss Up
Sept 6 Miami (OH) Probable Win
Sept 13 @ Notre Dame Toss Up
Sept 20 Bye
Sept 27 Wisconsin Probable Loss
Oct 4 Illinois Toss up
Oct 11 Toledo Probable Win
Oct 18 @ Penn State Probable Loss
Oct 25 Michigan State Toss Up
Nov 1 @ Purdue Toss Up
Nov 8 @ Minnesota Probable Win
Nov 15 Northwestern Probable Win
Nov 22 @ Ohio State Probable Loss

Missing: Iowa and Indiana

BSD Difficulty Rating: 7 out of 10. Notre Dame should be considerably improved this year. Toledo and Miami should be two easy wins, but I'm wary about that opener against Utah. The Utes return 14 starters from a team that went 9-4 last year with wins over UCLA, Navy, Louisville, Colorado State, and TCU. Being Rodriguez's first game instituting his new system the Wolverines may be ripe for another opening day upset.

The conference schedule is tough with road games at Penn State, Purdue and Ohio State. The home slate is formidable with Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan State all coming to Ann Arbor. This would be a good year to have Indiana on the schedule, but no such luck.

 

BSD's Final Outlook

The games against Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State are most likely losses to much more experienced teams. There are enough MAC cupcakes and Big Ten bottom feeders to assure four wins. But you can see I took the easy way out and pegged five of Michigan's games as toss ups. That's because until we see this offense in motion we'll never really know if Rodriguez is an offensive genius or if he's just playing Phil Jackson winning two fists full of championship rings on the coat tails of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neil. We'll find out this year what Rodriguez can do without Steve Slaton and Pat White to work with.

My gut tells me not much this year. Utah is a good experienced mid-major team that will come into Ann Arbor pumped up to knock off a prestigious program like Michigan.  I think they will beat Notre Dame. Until Charlie proves he can coach a defense into a contender I like the Wolverines in this matchup. I might be generous in putting Illinois and Michigan State in the toss up column. Both teams are up and coming in the conference. I think Michigan will have to win one of these games and their game against Purdue in order to go to a Bowl game. I think they'll get four conference wins. BSD says Michigan goes 7-5 with a trip to the Outback Bowl. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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