Michigan will be undergoing a pretty big change and the last year or so have been filled with their share of ups and downs. Thankfully, the RichRod fiasco is behind both West Virginia and Michigan and the teams can move on. Is the hype legitimate with the talking heads saying Michigan doesn't have the personnel to play in Rodriguez's system? And I have to say, as a Michigan fan, this preview might get kind of lengthy.
THE OFFENSE: The QB battle is the biggest issue surrounding Michigan football right now. Basically, it comes down to Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan, David Cone, or Justin Feagin. Feagin isn't really in the running although he should see some individual packages with some zone read options, stuff like that, things the other three relatively immobile QBs won't be running. David Cone is the leading passer and made the most sense to me once Ryan Mallett transferred, but he hasn't been getting a lot of attention. Nick Sheridan has reportedly been picking up the offense more than some others, but his raw skill is a little questionable. So who will get the nod at QB? It sounds like Steven Threet, the redshirt freshman, but they're just keeping the seat warm for the next QB in the Pat White-mold to do what Rodriguez wants to do. At RB, there's not a ton of speed but there are some good backs. Kevin Grady was one of the catches of Carr's recruiting class from a few years ago from around Grand Rapids, but he hasn't produced that much at RB. This could be his time to break out, but I doubt it. The bulk of the carries will be shared between Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown. Avery Horn could emerge as the breakout superstar of the offense. He's a speedster who fits the offense perfectly and will surprise a lot of people who haven't heard of him. Moving on to the WRs, the duo of Greg Mathews and Junior Hemmingway won't exactly live up to Adrian Arrington and Mario Manningham right away, but it should still do pretty good. Toney Clemons has entered the rotation as the third option at WR and Carson Butler also comes back at TE. The offensive line will only return one starter in Stephen Schilling who is a sophomore. The rest of the line though are juniors who were, for the most part, recruited strongly out of high school. These guys have talent, just lack the game experience. Mark Ortmann will probably be under the most scrutiny taking over for Jake Long at LT.
THE DEFENSE: The defense was the glue to this team last season. Even though they looked absolutely clueless as to how to stop a spread offense, at least in the first two games of the year against Appalachian State and Oregon, they buckled down and played much smarter and harder. Ron English will be gone and taking over this underratedly talented defense will be Scott Shafer who has presided for some aggressive defenses that registered a ton of sacks (Stanford saw improvement last year and Western Michigan had Ameer Ismail to rack those sacks up). The coaching staff has relentlessly stated that this won't be a 3-3-5 defense like it was at West Virginia, but a multiple defense look that will use different formations. The defensive line has the ability to become one of the better ones in America with Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson on the inside and Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison on the outside. These guys should come up with sacks like no other and they'll do great jobs defending the run if they can keep healthy. The LB corps isn't the most experienced group out there, but I really do like their potential. Austin Panter was a big haul from junior college in the Carr era, but now he'll be given the reigns to start at LB. James Mouton is a gifted athlete and should do a good job alongside Obi Ezeh, the player with the biggest potential at this position. Ezeh is just a sophomore and he should do a solid job for the next three years as a starter. In the secondary, Morgan Trent is the leader as his production skyrocketed from 2006 to 2007. He was not very good in '06 but he really took a turn for the better in his development. Stevie Brown should make some waves at S and if Brandon Harrison can get healthy, this should be a solid team of safeties.
Aug. 30 Utah
Sept. 6 Miami Univ.
Sept. 13 at Notre Dame
Sept. 27 Wisconsin
Oct. 4 Illinois
Oct. 11 Toledo
Oct. 18 at Penn State
Oct. 25 Michigan State
Nov. 1 at Purdue
Nov. 8 at Minnesota
Nov. 15 Northwestern
Nov. 22 at Ohio State
Michigan opens up with a dangerous game against Utah and they have to go on the road to South Bend this year. They need to make it out of that stretch 2-1 if they want things to be going smoothly. The Big Ten schedule looks pretty difficult with road games against Penn State, Purdue, and Ohio State. At least they get Wisconsin and Illinois at the Big House.
Don't Even Think About It:
Ehhhhhh.....Maybe....: Wisconsin, @ Penn State, @ Ohio State
Good/Probable Shot At It: Utah, Miami OH, @ Notre Dame, Toledo, Michigan State, @ Purdue, @ Minnesota, Northwestern, @ Ohio State
THE OUTLOOK: Michigan will get a ton of attention this year, but they will be sort of irrelevant on the national scale. An early loss to Utah will kind of put a damper on things for the rest of the season and that'll lead to people pressing the panic button after one week. Even though they are in transition offensively, the defense will carry this team. These guys are a pretty talented group and they'll do just fine this year. When it comes down to it, more than scheme and more than anything, football is football and Michigan is Michigan; meaning they have talented athletes. There's no way they'll miss a bowl game. I've got this team pegged at 8-4.
BOWL GAME?: Champs Sports Bowl.
Michigan State Spartans
It was nice to see Michigan State not melt when the pressure got too high. Previous teams would have quit after suffering heartbreakers against Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Michigan, but this team didn't, and that's a testament to the mental toughness that Mark Dantonio has instilled in his program after one season. Is this the year that Michigan State steps up and challenges as one of the best in the Big 10?
THE OFFENSE: Brian Hoyer may not have had all that impressive of a year, but the lightbulb clicked on late in the year. Forget the Champs Sports Bowl, Hoyer did look very impressive over the last three games of the regular season against Purdue, Michigan, and Penn State. Basically, the goal of the offense will be to play smashmouth football and pound the rock. The main guy doing that will be Javon Ringer who has been an impressive back ever since the 2005 season. This will be his senior season and he should be ready to crank out, at the least, a 1500 yard campaign. Andre Anderson should take over that backup role that has served the Spartan running game well over the past few seasons but Ashton Leggett fits more of that Jehuu Caulcrick mold of being a power runner. No Devin Thomas? No problem? Well, yeah, I suppose that is a problem, but it doesn't mean Mark Dell can't lessen the blow. Dell has a ton of upside and he should come through as the top weapon in the Spartan passing game. Deon Curry isn't a great receiver, but he has been a decent option in the passing game over the last few seasons. Jesse Miller is the best of the offensive line bunch and should have a big season over at RT. Roland Martin still has some developing to do as a senior, but he's got solid potential and he'll be playing at his more natural role at RG. This line did an underrated job run-blocking because, don't forget, MSU did rank 25th in the nation running the football. The pass protection could use some work though.
THE DEFENSE: Mark Dantonio is a conservative head coach by nature and his strength, the defense, reflected those principles. The team will be desperately scrambling to find a suitable replacement for Jonal Saint-Dic, the sackmaster of a year ago. Trevor Anderson followed his head coach from Cincinnati to Michigan State and should start right away at DE and Brandon Long is a good all-around player. Antonio Jeremiah may work his way into the starting lineup at DT and it'd be hard to keep him out of it with his size. Greg Jones had a monster season at LB as a freshman and he should keep that up. Look for him to garner more national attention. Eric Gordon did his job as a defender last year and he'll be working the OLB position on the strongside this year. Otis Wiley has been the leader of the defense for a few years now and he'll be ready to go for his senior season. He's played great ever since his freshman year in 2005 and should be ready to go out on a high note (and an NFL paycheck). His safety buddy, Nehemiah Warrick, will be gone though and that does leave a hole that still has to be filled. Kendall Davis-Clark and Ross Weaver will be the starters of a decent CB group.
Aug. 30 at California
Sept. 6 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 13 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 20 Notre Dame
Sept. 27 at Indiana
Oct. 4 Iowa
Oct. 11 at Northwestern
Oct. 18 Ohio State
Oct. 25 at Michigan
Nov. 1 Wisconsin
Nov. 8 Purdue
Nov. 22 at Penn State
Michigan State doesn't have a bye week until November, so there's that tough stretch to worry about. However, I give them a good shot of opening up the year in Strawberry Canyon with a win against Cal and Notre Dame shouldn't be that difficult of a task, but the Irish have had success in East Lansing. Sparty is dealt Michigan and Penn State on the road in Big 10 play.
Don't Even Think About It:
Ehhhhh.....Maybe....: Ohio State, Wisconsin, @ Penn State
Good/Probable Shot At It: @ Cal, Eastern Michigan, FAU, Notre Dame, @ Indiana, Iowa, @ Northwestern, @ Michigan, Purdue
THE OUTLOOK: Mark Dantonio has something brewing at Michigan State, but it'll be a few years before we see this team competing for Rose Bowls. Last year was a good step in the right direction and there is talent. The offense is pretty lame, boring, and downright tedious at times to watch, but there's no question that it gets results. The defense should have a really good year as well under Dantonio's watch. However, I don't think Michigan State will have a huge year even with the amount of solid seniors. I've got MSU at 7-5 with a 4-4 Big 10 record.
BOWL GAME?: Motor City Bowl
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