Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’

Doug Nussmeier introductory press conference transcript

Friday, January 10th, 2014


Michigan officially welcomed new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier with a press conference on Friday morning. Below is the full transcript. You can watch the full presser on MGoBlue.com.

Brady Hoke

Opening statement
“First I would like to say we addressed what we were going to do as a program on Wednesday and I want to thank Al Borges and his family for their commitment that they’ve made to Michigan and at San Diego State. It’s not easy when you’ve spent five years with a coach and a family and all those things, but we consider him more than just a colleague.

“But as you know, as you go through coaching and the profession itself, we took this job three years ago to make Michigan better. And we took this job knowing that every decision that’s going to be made by me is going to be made what’s best for Michigan and the kids in this program and the legacies and 134 years of teams that have come before. So it’s an exciting day because this change I think is going to be one that we’re all going to benefit from.

“As we look forward and as you move forward, the direction of where we want to go is, we have a vision, we know what that is, and that’s why Doug is here today. It’s a great day for Michigan football in a lot of ways and we’re excited to have Doug here and what we’ll do as an offense and as a football team. A couple things: Doug and I first crossed paths when I was the head football coach at Ball State. We have a mutual friend that I played with and also just happened to be the guy who was representing Doug while he was playing in the National Football League. So Doug and I had a brief conversation and I have tracked his career, obviously, for a long time.

“He’s a great fit and will do a tremendous job with what we’re doing offensively. With Doug himself, number one, he’s got a great family. Christie and Derrick and Ashlan and Colton are a great fit to our football family. We’re excited about that, excited about Doug and his background.

“Obviously, it’s a guy with national championship experience which is the highest goal that we all have, coached in the National Football League, coached in college, and and developed some outstanding quarterbacks. AJ McCarron, Jake Locker, Marc Bulger, at every level, and his tutoring of those guys is excellent.

“I think what’s also exciting is the balance from an offensive perspective that Doug brings. He’s had six 1,000-yard rushers over the last six years and obviously that’s something that we want to do as a program – we want to have that balance and we want to be able to run the football. We’ve talked about that since day one and we will improve that game and what we’re doing. Developing quarterbacks, developing young talent as an offense is something he’s done and proven, and we are a team that is young in a lot of ways but we’re getting older and we’re getting better every day. So we’re excited about that.

“He was a finalist for the head coaching job at the University of Washington. Tells you a little bit about nationally how people think of Doug and his character and what he represents. But the passion that he has for the game of football, the passion that he has for the young men he leads is really what being a coach is all about and having him here to lead our offense and to be a part of this great university and this program and having his family being a big part of it we’re truly excited.

“Today is about Michigan and it’s about Doug in a lot of ways and what he brings, so we couldn’t be more excited and I’m going to have Doug come up here and share. But we’re excited, and we’re excited because of what the Nussmeier family brings to Michigan and also we’re excited because of the fit that we feel we have.

“Doug Nussmeier, please.”

Doug Nussmeier

Opening statement
“I want to say first off, this is a really special day for our family and I can’t say enough how special it is that we are here together, my beautiful wife Christie, my sons Colton and Garrett, my daughter Ashlyn. I want to thank you guys for all that you sacrifice day in and day out.

“We’re very very blessed to be here and I want to say a special thanks to Coach Hoke for giving us this opportunity. Dave Brandon, our athletic director, thank you very much. This is a special place, a special, special place, and that’s why we’re here. We talk about 11 national championships, 42 Big Ten championships, three Heisman Trophy winners. It’s Michigan football and when you say the word Michigan everybody knows about Michigan football.

“I was fortunate enough to be in this conference before. I have a great amount of respect for this league and for all the things that Michigan football stands for. I just can’t say enough about how excited we are to be here, to be a part of the family, and really look forward to working with a great coaching staff.

“Talking about Coach Hoke and how we met each other a long time ago, the respect that I’ve developed over the years for what he’s accomplished as a head football coach. To watch him start at Ball State and to go onto San Diego State and to come here at Michigan, not only as a quality coach when you talk about wins and losses and being a coach of the year in the nation, but you talk about the type of man that he is, the type of person that he is.

“When you talk about Coach Hoke with other people in our profession you hear nothing but class, family, all the right things, cares about his players, as we all do – we want to win – but he also sees the big picture about developing young men both on and off the field. To have the chance to be a part of that, like I said before, we just feel so blessed, and to work with such a great quality of staff. I’ve known Greg Mattison for a long time and what he’s accomplished and the defensive staff, great coaches. To have the ability to come here and work with Heck and Doug and Dan and Fred, just really really excited about that opportunity and I want to thank, once again, coach and Dave for them believing in us as a family and the commitment they’ve made to us and we’re just very very excited to be here. With that, I’ll open it up to questions.”

You’ve talked about the direction and vision with Coach Hoke. In your interpretation, what is that?
“Tough. Physical. Explosive. That’s what we want to be. We want to be able to run the football and we want to be able to put points on the board. We want to force the defense to defend all different elements of the game.”

How much do you know about the Michigan offense? The biggest issue was the offensive line. How quickly do you think you can fix it?
“Well, correct me if I’m wrong but we’re 11 points away from being 11-1, so this is a good football team here with good young talent. If Coach Hoke recruits players, which I know he does because you look at our recruiting rankings over the last years, as well as he recruits coaches – he recruited me – we’re going to do really good with our young players and developing and moving toward the future.

“There is young talent on this team. We’ve got to develop it. We’ve got 45, 46 days before we go to spring football, so getting those young players on the same page, and player development is all about how you view it, and with any young player there’s a steep learning curve. So day to day continuing to improve, that’s going to be the focus. We’ve got to get better each and every day and focus on that day and what that holds and get the players focused on what we’re going to get better at today.”

What does Michigan provide that you didn’t have at Alabama? Why go from Alabama to Michigan?
“Well, obviously I can’t say enough about Coach Saban and the opportunity that we had there at Alabama. It was a great opportunity. Like I said, Michigan football, the opportunity to be here in the Big Ten, to be a part of the winningest program in all of college football, to have the opportunity to integrate into a staff and to take this program to where we all want to go. You talk about the quarterback position, the great quarterbacks that have played here, you go down the list: Brady, Griese, Denard Robinson, Chad Henne. It’s Quarterback U so to say, and the ability to be a part of that room here and help those guys develop and grow, I’m just really really excited about that opportunity.”

What’s your challenge in getting the players as ready to go in the spring as you can?
“I think that communication is essential. It’s essential in anything you do, and it starts with that. We’ve got great communicators on this staff and the biggest thing is for us as we sit down as a staff to evaluate where we are, where we want to go, set like I said a clear path every day for these young men and how we’re going to get better and the things we want to achieve on a day to day basis. As we grow daily, then the end product will evolve.”

Schematically, what are your plans, what do you want to install?
“We’re going to put our playmakers in the best possible position we can to make plays. That’s the goal. What that means is we want to control the tempo of the game on offense, whether that means we need to go fast, we need to go slow, whatever it may be, we want to control the tempo of the game on offense and give our guys an opportunity to make plays. Schematically, look at ways that we can create competitive advantages for our players. So what that means is you could see us in one formation one week running one play and a different one the next week. But like I said, the identity is we’re going to be physical, we want to play fast, we want to be explosive.”

What are your head coaching aspirations? How does becoming offensive coordinator at Michigan fit into your long term career arc?
“I’ve said it before, I’d love to be a head coach in the right situation. As that relates to being here today, I’m excited about the opportunity to learn from Brady Hoke, who in my opinion is one of the best coaches in all of college football. To learn the system here that he has in place, to get into a room with who I feel are very, very good football coaches. Anytime you get a new group of guys together when it comes to football there are so many different ideas and so many different avenues and ways you can go. It’s a really really exciting time for us as a family, I’m really excited, and can’t wait to get here and really get grinding.”

With the perception that Nick Saban likes to control things, do you feel like at Michigan you’ll have some freedoms that maybe you didn’t have at Alabama?
“Coach and I talked about his philosophy. Obviously, I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t all in on what Coach Hoke and I discussed and what he wanted to do on offense, how we wanted to be and how we wanted to move forward. So part of coming here was us being on the same page with what we want to do offensively, and we both agree on the identity we want like I talked about before. As far as schematically how we’ll approach that, we’ll adapt with our personnel. That’s something he and I will work with the offensive staff on a day to day basis.”

When you were at Michigan State, what kind of things did you learn about the Big Ten and how did you view the Michigan program?
“Well, I watched a lot of touchdown passes right here in this corner to Braylon Edwards the one year when we thought we were going to get a W. I have a lot of respect for that program. We had a wonderful time there in the three years we were there. But I said it before, when you say Michigan it’s synonymous with football, and I don’t care if you go to a mall in California, Texas, Florida, you’re going to see somebody wearing Michigan. When you get an opportunity to coach at a place like this and to be a part of this, and let me say this, this isn’t about me, this isn’t about coaching, it’s always about the players. The type of people that come to Michigan, the quality of kids, what they’ve achieved, not only on the field but look at the achievement off the field, it is a special, special place and there’s not many of them. So to have the opportunity to come here and be a part of that was something that after we discussed it as a family was something that we felt was the right move for us.”

What’s the key to being able to run the football even in an era where you see a lot of stacked defenses?
“Obviously, you’re always trying to identify the best way to do things. What’s the best way we can create a fair box count for our linemen to get people blocked, or can we use a receiver with this type of motion to create a numbers advantage? Those are all schematical issues, and there are times too when our players have got to know that there may be a loaded box but you know what, we are who we are, we’re tough, we’re hard-nosed, we’re physical, and we’re going to come downhill and run the ball at people.”

Have you had a chance to talk to any of the players?
“A little bit. Got to see a couple of them and great kids. Can’t say enough about the look in their eye and like I said the quality of student athlete that we have here at Michigan is second to none in the country.”

You’ve had success with quarterbacks. How quickly do you think it can take you to make Devin Gardner a very efficient passer?
“The biggest thing I think from a quarterback standpoint is trying to simulate a game type environment for them Sunday through Friday. When you get out on the field on Saturday, things happen fast, and if you’re not prepared you can get exposed very quickly. So you never want to put a quarterback on the field who’s not prepared and the way you prepare them is try to simulate as much as you can a gameday experience Sunday through Friday.

“The biggest thing is the amount of time we spend together in that media room, and obviously we’re limited by NCAA rules, and I think it’s really important at that position that the players possess a quality of self-determination. They’ve got to be self starters, they’ve got to be driven, because you’ve got to do more on your own because we just don’t have the time that you would like with the NCAA rules. But we’ll prepare our quarterback to play and play successfully, and we’ll do whatever we need to do schematically to put him in the best position to have success.”

On the timeline of the hiring
“Coach Hoke reached out to me recently and the conversations we had, like I said, having followed his career, knowing what type of football coach he was and what type of person he was, it escalated quickly. It’s a great opportunity. We’re fortunate to be here and like I said really looking forward to doing big things.”

When did you and Hoke meet?
“We met, shoot coach, it was a long time ago…”

When did you start talking about the job?
“Just recently we spoke.”

When will you get the ball rolling?
“Well, ideally as soon as possible. Obviously we’re in the heart of recruiting season, it’s important as they say, it’s about Jimmies and Joes, not Xs and Os. So the first thing is on the recruiting front. Football will take care of itself. I’m really excited just to get to know these guys more and really dive in and integrate. As soon as we can we’ll get going. Obviously we’re in a little bit of a dead period here, so the convention’s coming up next week and then after that we’ll get rolling.”

Have you sat down with Coach Hoke and discussed other assistants and what your recruiting role will be? Any specific regions or anything?
“I can tell you right now, it’s got to be tropical, coach. No, I’m just kidding [laughter]. Just joking. No, we haven’t and like I said I want to integrate into the staff and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make Michigan football be successful, whatever that may be to recruit I’m all for that. We haven’t gotten to that stage yet. We did have a brief recruiting meeting this morning as a full staff, but wherever I’m needed I’m willing to go.”

How soon do you think this team can be all the things you want it to be?
“Well, like I said and coach talked about, we need to run the football. Just briefly look at statistically where we’re at, we’ve got to eliminate the sacks. We can’t have lost yardage plays, number one thing we’ve got to eliminate that. We can’t have undisciplined penalties, pre-snap penalties. Any time you’re trying to find consistency on offense you’ve got to start from the basis of we’re not going to go backwards. So we’re not going to have lost yardage runs, we’re not going to take sacks, we’re not going to have penalties. So that’s the first thing we’ll start from, as long as the ball’s moving forward and we’re ending every series in a kick we’ll have a chance. That’s where we want to start from, but that will be the key point of emphasis to start.”

How confident are you now that you have the pieces in place to make this work quickly?
“Very confident. Like I said, this football team is 11 points away from being 11-1. That’s a darn good football team and the young players on this roster, having known some that we recruited – Derrick Green and David Dawson and Wilton Speight and Shane Morris and those guys – I don’t know the whole roster, haven’t had a lot of time to familiarize myself with everybody, but knowing the players that we recruited when I was at Alabama that are here and part of this team, really feel good about where we’re headed, and we need to get there quickly.”

How far is this team from being SEC caliber?
“I can’t answer that. I didn’t see a lot of Big Ten football this season, obviously. We didn’t really cross paths anywhere. I know this, when we prepared to play this football team last season down there in Dallas, I thought it was a very, very good football team we were getting ready to play. There were a lot of sleepless nights thinking about Coach Mattison and his blitzes and all the things that we might see the next day.”

Nussmeier in

Thursday, January 9th, 2014


(USATSI)

After announcing the firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges on Wednesday afternoon, Brady Hoke didn’t waste any finding his replacement. Word leaked Wednesday evening and the school confirmed on Thursday that Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was hired to run Michigan’s offense.

From the official release:

“Doug is a highly respected offensive coordinator and has earned a reputation as being a great mentor to quarterbacks, specifically, where he’s coached Pro Bowlers, top NFL draft choices and Heisman Trophy finalists,” said Hoke. “Doug has been successful at every coaching stop with his balanced and explosive offenses, and he brings national championship experience. He is an excellent addition to our coaching staff and football program, and we are excited to have Doug, Christi and their children join the Michigan family.”

“I am extremely excited to join the University of Michigan and work with Brady Hoke, the staff and players,” said Nussmeier. “I’m proud of what we accomplished in two seasons at Alabama, and I owe a great deal to Coach Saban for that opportunity. Michigan is a program I’ve always had deep respect for, and I’m looking forward to getting started in Ann Arbor and being a part of the great tradition there.”

Nussmeier is a graduate of Idaho where he finished his career as one of just four quarterbacks in NCAA history to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000, joining Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper, and Colin Kaepernick. He won the Walter Peyton Award in 1993, which is given annually to Division 1-AA’s top player.

After a stint in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, Nussmeier went to the CFL where he guided the BC Lions to a Grey Cup Championship in 2000. Following that season, he began his coaching career as the quarterbacks coach with the BC Lions and then became offensive coordinator for the Ottawa Renegades a year later.

In 2003 he got his first college coaching gig as Michigan State’s quarterbacks coach. In three seasons in East Lansing, Nussmeier guided Jeff Smoker and Drew Stanton to becoming NFL Draft picks. Smoker set a school record with 3,395 passing yards in 2003 and Stanton passed for 3,077 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2005, Nussmeier’s final season at MSU. Stanton ranked second in the Big Ten in passing average, total offense, and passing efficiency that season. He was also considered a Heisman Trophy candidate entering the 2006 season, but his numbers dropped significantly following Nussmeier’s departure. Michigan State’s offense also ranked second in the Big Ten in 2005 behind only Northwestern.

Quarterbacks under Nussmeier
Year Quarterback Passing Yds Comp % Pass TDs INTs
2003 Jeff Smoker (MSU) 3,395* 61.9 21 14
2004 Drew Stanton (MSU) 1,601 64.1 8 6
2005 Drew Stanton (MSU) 3,077 66.7 22 12
2006 Marc Bulger (St. Louis) 4,301 62.9 24 8
2007 Marc Bulger (St. Louis) 2,392 58.5 11 15
2008 Tom Brandstater (Fresno State) 2,664 59.6 18 12
2009 Jake Locker (Washington) 2,800 58.2 21 11
2010 Jake Locker (Washington) 2,265 55.4 17 9
2011 Keith Price (Washington) 3,063 66.9 33* 11
2012 AJ McCarron (Alabama) 2,933 67.2 30* 3
2013 AJ McCarron (Alabama) 3,063* 67.3 28 7
*School record
Devin Gardner 2013 comparison
2013 Devin Gardner 2,960 60.3 21 11

Nussmeier then jumped to the NFL, serving as the quarterbacks coach for the St. Louis Rams in 2006 and 2007. There, he helped Marc Bulger earn a Pro Bowl spot in 2006 after passing for 4,301 yards, 24 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.

He returned to the college game in 2008 as offensive coordinator at Fresno State and a year later moved on to Washington. In Seattle, he took over an offense that averaged just 13.3 points and 263 yards per game the year before and nearly doubled the scoring in his first season. By his third season at Washington the Huskies averaged 33.4 points and 410 yards per game.

In 2009 and 2010, under Nussmeier’s tutelage, quarterback Jake Locker passed for 5,065 yards, with a 38-20 touchdown to interception ratio and also rushed for 773 yards and 13 scores. He became just the sixth quarterback since 2000 to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft despite a losing record in college. He was selected eighth overall by the Tennessee Titans.

Keith Price took over at quarterback in 2011 and the offense got even stronger. Price threw for 3,063 yards, a school record 33 touchdowns, and just 11 interceptions while completing 67 percent of his passes.

Nussmeier’s offense at Washington
Before Nussmeier
Year Pts/game Total yds Rush yds Pass yds
2008 13.3 3,158 1,192 1,966
Under Nussmeier
Year Pts/game Total yds Rush yds Pass yds
2009 26.1 4,506 1,668 2,838
2010 21.8 4,713 2,238 2,475
2011 33.4 5,328 2,006 3,322

Following the 2011 season, Nussmeier was hired by Nick Saban to replace Jim McElwain as offensive coordinator at Alabama. He inherited a loaded offense and did not disappoint in year one, guiding the Crimson Tide to school records for total offense (6,237), points (542), touchdowns scored (68), and passing touchdowns (31) en route to a national championship.

This past season he had to replace three starting offensive linemen and running back Eddie Lacy, all of whom were drafted, but the offense didn’t see much of a setback. It averaged 38.2 points per game – half a point less than 2012 – and ranked 17th nationally in scoring offense, 33rd in total offense, 25th in rushing, and 49th in passing.

Quarterback AJ McCarron ranked first nationally in passing efficiency in 2012 and eighth in 2013 while throwing for 5,996 yards, 58 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions during those two seasons. He also completed 67.2 percent of his passes and finished second in the Heisman race in 2013.

Nussmeier’s offense at Alabama
Before Nussmeier
Year Pts/game Total yds Rush yds Pass yds
2011 34.8 5,585 2,788 2,797
Under Nussmeier
Year Pts/game Total yds Rush yds Pass yds
2012 38.7 6,237 3,185 3,052
2013 38.2 5,903 2,673 3,230

The common theme from his two big gigs, Washington and Alabama, is that in his first season at each school he improved the offense from the previous season.

In addition to his work with quarterbacks, Nussmeier’s offenses have produced six 1,000-yard rushers in the past five seasons. At Washington, Chris Polk rushed for 1,113 yards in 2009, 1,415 in 2010, and 1,488 in 2011. At Alabama, Lacy ran for 1,322 and TJ Yeldon 1,108 in 2012 while Yeldon also ran for 1,235 in 2013.

Nussmeier’s proven quarterback acumen bodes well for Devin Gardner and Shane Morris’ development, and with highly touted running backs such as Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith ready for an expanded role, there’s plenty of reason for hope for Michigan’s offense going forward.

His introductory press conference is scheduled for Friday at 11am and will be streamed live on MGoBlue.com.

Stay tuned for more on other potential staff changes.

Inside the Numbers: A departure from postseason custom

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013


The dictionary defines a “custom” as “a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.” The prestige of Michigan’s football program was built on custom. Look no further than its 910 all-time wins, 42 Big Ten championships or its rivalry with Ohio State, which has been U-M’s regular-season finale for all but three years since 1935. Fans have accepted this way of behavior from the Michigan football program.

Another custom Michigan fans have accepted involves a New Year’s Day ritual. After ringing in the New Year with family and friends, they awake the following morning. What each Michigan fan does when it wakes up on New Year’s Day varies from person to person. But they all know that, in a few short hours, they will be watching, whether it be in person or from their couch, the Michigan Wolverines play in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Michigan fans have become accustomed to this New Year’s Day ritual because fans have been able to follow it most years since 1975. Before then, though, participating in any bowl game was a rarity for Michigan. This was not because the Wolverines were undeserving of a bowl bid, but because the bowl system’s structure at that time limited U-M’s opportunities to play in bowl games.

Michigan played in the first ever Rose Bowl game in 1902 (Bentley)

Michigan first appeared in a bowl game on January 1, 1902, shutting out Stanford, 49-0, in the first edition of the Rose Bowl and capping a national championship season. However, in the decades thereafter, the Big Ten prevented its members from participating in bowl games. It was not until 1946 that the Big Ten allowed its teams to play in the Rose Bowl, albeit no school could do so in consecutive years until 1971. Additionally, the Big Ten prevented its schools from playing in any other bowl game until 1975.

Accordingly, Michigan had the opportunity to play in a bowl game only five times—all Rose Bowls and all on January 1st—from 1946 to 1974. Further, from 1972 to 1974, the Wolverines won 10 games in each of those three seasons. And, yet, because of the Big Ten’s rules, U-M did not appear in a single bowl game during that stretch because the conference sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl each year instead.

Then, prior to the 1975 season, the Big Ten announced that it would allow its teams to play in more than just the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines were the first team to benefit from this rule change. After the 1975 season, the Big Ten once again sent the Buckeyes to Rose Bowl. But, because of the rule change, the Big Ten also sent Michigan to the Orange Bowl to face the Oklahoma Sooners on January 1, 1976.

This began a long-accepted custom of January bowl games, especially on New Year’s Day, for Michigan. From 1975 to 2012, there were 38 college football regular seasons. Michigan played in a bowl game in 36 of them. Of those 36 bowl games, Michigan played in 30 of them in January. Of those 30 January bowl games, U-M played in 25 of them on New Year’s Day. Thus, for the past 38 seasons, Michigan has played in a January bowl in 78.9 percent of them and in a New Year’s Day bowl in 65.8 percent of them.

Overall, Michigan has appeared in 42 bowl games and has played in 36 of those in January. Accordingly, U-M has played 85.7 percent of its bowl games in January. No other BCS team has played a higher percentage of its bowl games during the first month of the calendar year:

Highest Pct. Of January Bowl Games Among BCS Schools – Prior to 2013
Rank School No. of Bowl Games No. of Jan. Bowl Games % of Jan. Bowl Games
1 Michigan 42 36 85.7%
2 Ohio State 43 35 81.4%
3 Duke 9 7 77.8%
4 USC 49 38 77.6%
5 Oklahoma 46 34 73.9%
6 Notre Dame 32 23 71.9%
7 Nebraska 49 34 69.4%
T8 Alabama 60 40 66.7%
T8 Arkansas 39 26 66.7%
T8 Stanford 24 16 66.7%
11 Penn State 44 29 65.9%
12 Miami FL 34 22 64.7%
13 LSU 44 28 63.6%
14 Tennessee 49 31 63.3%
15 Wisconsin 24 15 62.5%
16 UConn 5 3 60.0%
17 Florida State 42 25 59.5%
18 Texas 51 30 58.8%
19 Florida 40 23 57.5%
20 Auburn 37 21 56.8%

No, Michigan does not have the most January-bowl-game appearances among BCS teams. That distinction belongs to the Alabama Crimson Tide. But, when a BCS team receives a bowl bid, no BCS team expects it to be from a bowl game played in January more than the Wolverines. This has certainly been the case recently more than ever. Since the 1996 regular season, the Maize and Blue have played in 15 bowl games. Fourteen of those were in the month of January. Thirteen of those were played on New Year’s Day.

So, on December 8, 2013, bowl executives, conference representatives, and school officials were finalizing this season’s bowl lineups. It was no surprise that many Michigan fans expected the Gator Bowl—a bowl game played on New Year’s Day—to be the Wolverines’ destination. This was tradition. This was custom. Why would it be any different this year?

Yet, that evening, ESPN announced that the Maize and Blue received a bowl bid from the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl—a bowl played on December 28, 2013—rather than the Gator Bowl. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl had the luxury of choosing which Big Ten team it wanted to play in its game before the Gator Bowl. Even though some, including the author of this column, believed that the Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl would select Nebraska over Michigan because the Cornhuskers beat U-M in Ann Arbor and had a better record than U-M, among other reasons, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl selected the Wolverines over the Cornhuskers because “Michigan is Michigan.”

So rather than play a New Year’s Day bowl game for the 14th time in its last 16 bowl games, Michigan will play in only its seventh bowl game before the first day of the New Year. Although U-M’s overall bowl record is not stellar, the Wolverines hold only a 2-4 record in their previous six December bowl games. Here is a list of those games:

List of Michigan’s December Bowl Games
Date Bowl Opponent W/L Score
Dec. 28, 1979 Gator North Carolina L 15-17
Dec. 31, 1981 Bluebonnet UCLA W 33-14
Dec. 21, 1984 Holiday Brigham Young L 17-24
Dec. 30, 1994 Holiday Colorado State W 24-14
Dec. 28, 1995 Alamo Texas A&M L 20-22
Dec. 28, 2005 Alamo Nebraska L 28-32

This is a break from Michigan’s postseason custom. And this applies to more than just the month in which the Wolverines play their bowl game. The Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl, which is held in Tempe, Arizona, is scheduled to kick off at 10:15 p.m. ET. This is not the first late start for Michigan. U-M has started bowl games at 8:30 p.m. ET before, doing so in the 1994 Holiday Bowl versus Colorado State and the 2012 Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. Also, the Wolverines have faced Hawaii at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii, twice, but those games started no later than 9:30 p.m. ET. Therefore, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl’s 10:15 p.m. ET kick off may be the latest in U-M history.

So, to recap: Michigan is playing in a December bowl game for only the seventh time and may be participating in a game that starts later than any game in program history. Further, this is the first time the Wolverines have played in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, previously known as the Copper Bowl, and the first time the Wolverines have faced Kansas State. Nothing about Michigan’s bowl game this Saturday resembles its postseason custom.

Unfortunately, for Michigan fans, this separation from U-M’s postseason custom was bound to happen. When the four-team College Football Playoff starts next season, many of the prestigious bowl games involved with the playoff will played on New Year’s Eve rather than New Year’s Day. Yes, Michigan still will find itself playing in bowl games on New Year’s Day, but no longer will it hope to play in bowl games that occur only in January as it has under the current bowl system.

So, when Michigan fans wake up on New Year’s Day in 2014, they will have to follow a ritual different from the tradition they have become accustomed to in recent years. However, if U-M plans to compete for national championships for the next dozen years, Michigan fans were going to break away from their custom of rooting for Michigan in January bowl games, especially those on New Year’s Day. They just so happen to need to do so one year early.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Kansas State

1. If Jeremy Gallon catches at least five passes for 42 yards against Kansas State, he will be the only receiver ranked in the Top 3 for most receptions and receiving yards in a game, in a season, and in a career in Michigan history. Additionally, Gallon needs 47 yards to surpass Braylon Edwards’ single-season record mark of 1,330 receiving yards in 2004.

2. Devin Gardner’s status for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is uncertain. If Gardner plays, he can set new school records for most passing yards, most total touchdowns, and most passing touchdowns in a season with a 372-passing-yard, five-passing-touchdown performance. This seems unlikely, but, given his stat lines against Notre Dame, Indiana, and Ohio State, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Of course, Gardner must play first.

3. If Gardner does not play, Shane Morris will make his first career start at quarterback. Morris would be the fourth true freshman to start at quarterback for the Wolverines in the past decade. The other three were Tate Forcier, Ryan Mallett, and Chad Henne. Morris would have tough acts to follow as those three combined for 411 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, and only one interception in their first starts.

Your bye week Saturday viewing guide

Friday, October 25th, 2013


Michigan’s second bye week in four weeks provides another great chance to relax, get your fall yardwork done, and ultimately get ready for the final five-week stretch of the season. All five of the next Saturdays feature big-time matchups for Michigan, each of which is a must win if the Wolverines want any chance of winning the Big Ten this season. This stress-free Saturday sets up nicely to scout each of the five teams Michigan has left on its schedule with a nice slate of games. Here’s your viewing guide.

Early games

At noon, two Big Ten games are worth at least casually keeping your eye on. They won’t necessarily be good games, but three of the four teams involved are among Michigan’s next four opponents. Iowa hosts Northwestern (12pm, Big Ten Network) in a battle of 4-3 squads. The Wildcats began the season 4-0 and battled Ohio State punch-for-punch in Evanston, but a combination of factors including injuries to several of their top playmakers have them reeling with three straight losses. Suddenly, one of the Legends Division favorites from the beginning of the season is now relegated to playing spoiler.

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Following the Iowa game, Northwestern has Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan state in three consecutive games before finishing the season at Illinois, so beating Iowa is a must-win for the Wildcats to be assured of bowl eligibility. But that’s easier said than done in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes won the last matchup at home and are always tough to beat at home, especially in late fall when the wind starts whipping.

Iowa has shown to be pesky this season, playing Michigan State and Ohio State tough each of the last two games, so while neither of these teams is likely to win the Legends, Michigan will have to get through both of them – on the road – to have a chance.

The other noon game to keep an eye on is #24 Nebraska at Minnesota (12pm, ESPN). The Cornhuskers may be the Legends Division favorite at this point, but as Derick described on Wednesday, they have beaten just one team this season that has a winning record (4-3 Wyoming). The other four have come against winless Southern Miss, FCS school South Dakota State, and Big Ten bottom feeders Illinois and Purdue. The one team with a pulse Nebraska has faced, then-16th ranked UCLA, stomped the ‘Huskers 41-21 in Lincoln.

Minnesota is coming off a big win at Northwestern with head coach Jerry Kill taking a leave of absence. The Gophers likely don’t have enough in the tank to hang with Nebraska, but after last weekend’s big road win they’ll at least be playing with confidence.

Outside of the Big Ten there aren’t really any other big early games worth watching. Wake Forest vs #7 Miami (12pm, ESPNU) and #16 Texas A&M vs Vanderbilt (12:21pm, ESPN3) are the only others even remotely good, the latter because the Aggies are a potential bowl opponent.

Afternoon games

The afternoon slate features a few games worth watching, most notably Michigan State at Illinois (3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2), only because the Spartans are Michigan’s next opponent. It’s not likely to be much of a battle as MSU’s top-ranked defense should be able to handle Illinois’ offense that was held to just 25.5 points per game against Nebraska and Wisconsin the past two weeks. Conversely, Michigan State’s offense, which hasn’t been much to talk about this season should be able to move the ball and score against the Illini’s 98th-ranked scoring defense which allows over 32 points per game. The Spartans shouldn’t have much trouble beating Illinois, but it will be a good chance to get acclimated with them if you haven’t seen them play yet this season.

Outside of the Big Ten will feature a few solid matchups worth paying attention to. Tennessee visits #1 Alabama (3:30pm, CBS), #2 Florida State hosts NC State (3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2) and #9 Clemson visits Maryland (3:30pm, ESPN). Tennessee isn’t likely to pull off the upset in Tuscaloosa, but the Vols have shown some fight this season under Butch Jones, including last week’s win over #11 South Carolina and taking then-#6 Georgia to overtime earlier this month. Similarly, Florida State shouldn’t have trouble dispensing of NC State, but an unranked Wolfpack squad has beaten a ranked FSU team four times since 2005, including a 17-16 upset last season. Florida State is coming off a huge primetime win at Clemson and faces #7 Miami next week, so this could be a classic trap game. Finally, the team that was on the losing end of that Florida State win last Saturday, Clemson is licking its wounds as it travels to College Park to face a 5-2 Maryland squad. The Terps, however, were blasted by FSU (63-0) and last week by Wake Forest (34-10).

Another one to at least flip over to during commercial breaks is #10 Texas Tech at #15 Oklahoma (3:30pm, FOX). The Red Raiders are a surprising 7-0 and the Sooners’ only loss of the season was two weeks ago at the hands of Texas. Both of these teams are potential bowl opponents if Michigan either gets a BCS at-large bid or limps through the rest of the season falling to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl or Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

Evening games

The evening set of games features several ranked foes squaring off. The one that most pertains to us is Penn State at #4 Ohio State (8pm, ABC). The Nittany Lions had a week off last week after beating Michigan, while Ohio State got an unexpected fight from Iowa. With two weeks to prepare, could Penn State pull off a big upset in Columbus? The big play threat of Christian Hackenberg throwing to Allen Robinson and the rest of Penn State’s receivers is sure to test Ohio State’s beleaguered secondary, but the Buckeyes will look to put pressure on the freshman quarterback. Expect a close game in what’s likely to be Ohio State’s final test before visiting Ann Arbor on Nov. 30.

The biggest battle of the day will be #12 UCLA at #3 Oregon (7pm, ESPN). The Bruins lost to 13th-ranked Stanford last week and will be looking to bounce back in Eugene against the high-powered Ducks.

Two other games feature battles of ranked teams: #21 South Carolina at #5 Missouri (7pm, ESPN2) and #6 Stanford at #25 Oregon State (10:30pm, ESPN). Missouri is the surprise of the SEC this season, but a team many feel is overrated at fifth in the BCS standings. South Carolina is coming off a disappointing loss at Tennessee, looking to pull off an upset of its own and stay in the SEC East race. Stanford got upset by Utah two weeks ago and now finds itself a game behind Oregon State and Oregon in the Pac-12 standings. If UCLA is able to upset the Ducks, this game could either put Oregon State in the conference lead or leave a three-way tie, and both teams still have to play Oregon in the final month of the season.

Your bye week Saturday viewing guide

Friday, September 27th, 2013


Since you don’t have to worry about making the pilgrimage to the Big House or blocking off a chunk of time to watch the beloved Wolverines on TV tomorrow, there are any number of things to do. Yardwork, that home improvement project you’ve been putting off, appeasing your significant other, take the kids to a fall festival, or…maybe watching other games? Without much at stake tomorrow, you may not have paid much attention to the slate of games, but don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Here’s your guide to tomorrow’s games that relate to Michigan.

Early games

There are no noon kickoffs that have any bearing on Michigan’s season so use this time to do any of the aforementioned tasks. Spend the morning and early afternoon with your significant other or getting stuff done around the house before you settle in for the afternoon games. There are three ranked teams in action at noon: #11 Oklahoma at West Virginia (ESPN), #12 South Carolina at UCF (ABC), and #15 Miami at South Florida (ESPNU), so perhaps you could have one of those on in the background.

Afternoon games

LSU and Georgia are potential bowl opponents to keep an eye on (Dale Zanine, US Presswire)

The first big matchup of the day that relates to Michigan is #14 Oklahoma at #22 Notre Dame (3:30pm, NBC). The Sooners are out for revenge after getting throttled by the Irish in Norman a year ago. OU has given up just 27 points in three games this season, and they have had two weeks to prepare for Notre Dame, but this will be their first road test. Quarterback Blake Bell looked good against Tulsa two weeks ago, completing 27-of-37 passes for 413 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Michigan fans will want to cheer for the Irish in this one since Michigan already beat Notre Dame. The more games ND wins the rest of the season the more it will help Michigan’s BCS chances should the Wolverines keep winning.

Also at 3:30 is a Big Ten matchup between Iowa and Minnesota (ABC/ESPN2). This certainly won’t be the best game on but it’s a chance to scout out two future opponents including next week’s. Minnesota is 4-0 so far and Iowa is 3-1, though neither has beaten a quality opponent. It will be a good early season barometer of how good both of these teams really is before they face the upper tier of the Big Ten in the coming weeks. It’s a rivalry game, played for the Floyd of Rosedale, and two of the last three meetings have been decided by three points or less.

The biggest game on at the 3:30 time slot is one that may or may not be relevant to Michigan: #6 LSU at #9 Georgia (CBS). GameDay will be in Athens in the morning, which might be worth flipping on to see Bubba Watson and Willie Robertson as the guest pickers. You may not enjoy watching SEC football, but one of these teams could very well end up being Michigan’s opponent in January, and it’s sure to be a great game.

Evening games

Wisconsin may be the best chance for Ohio State to lose before Nov. 30 (Kirk Irwin, Getty Images)

If you weren’t able to catch any of the games during the day, now is definitely the time to kick back, enjoy a cold one (or a few) and watch some football. At 8pm #4 Ohio State hosts #23 Wisconsin on ABC. While Michigan doesn’t play the Badgers this season, it may be the best chance for the Buckeyes to lose before they come to Ann Arbor on Nov. 30. Wisconsin has one of the nation’s top running games with two very good backs, both of which are on pace for well more than 1,000 yards. Melvin Gordon has 624 yards on 11.8 yards per carry through four games, while James White has 442 on 7.2 yards per carry. Even freshman Corey Clement has more yards than Michigan’s leading rusher, Fitzgerald Toussaint, does (334 on 7.6 yards per carry).

Ohio State has played four cupcakes to start the season and is coming off a 76-0 thrashing of Florida A&M. What’s more is that Braxton Miller is set to start after missing the last two games with a knee injury. He entered the season as a Heisman favorite, but his backup, Kenny Guiton has looked phenomenal the last two weeks. It will be interesting to see how Urban Meyer handles it if Miller struggles.

Two other evening games will be worth checking out similar to the LSU-Georgia game for the potential of Michigan facing them in January. Top-ranked Alabama hosts #21 Ole Miss (6:30 on ESPN) and #10 Texas A&M visits Arkansas (7:00 on ESPN2). Alabama hasn’t been as dominant to this point as it has been the past few years, and Ole Miss is in the midst of a resurgence, so it should be a good one to watch.

Overall, it’s a pretty good slate of games this weekend so enjoy a stress free weekend of football and whatever else is on your agenda.

MMQ has more questions than answers through two weeks

Monday, September 10th, 2012


Two weeks are gone and the Michigan football team is right where it should be at 1-1. No one expected this team to beat Alabama and everyone expected them to beat Air Force. So 1-1 is not a surprise. But does anyone else feel like I do – that we don’t really know much about this team? I think there are some major question marks surrounding this team right now. For example, the running game. Does Michigan have one other than Denard Robinson?

Devin Funchess became the first Michigan tight end with a 100-yard game since 1997 (photo by Getty Images)

How about a passing game? Yes, Denard threw the ball better in Week 2 against Air Force, as he was able to complete some passes to his tight ends and receivers using quick hitting passes and play action. But can Denard continue to do that against a defense that actually puts pressure on him and one that isn’t returning only three starters from last season?

And how about the defense? Do we really know anything about the team yet after being totally overmatched against Alabama and then having to lineup against the triple option of Air Force?

The running game, or lack thereof, concerns me the most. I’m not worried about the Alabama game so much. Every team that plays them this year is going to struggle to run against that defensive front seven. I would have liked to see Al Borges call more zone-read plays for Denard out of the shotgun, and some play-action passes off of that, since that is where he is the most dangerous, but I understand. It was Alabama.

What I saw in Week 2 against Air Force has me worried though. Everyone thought that the return of Fitzgerald Toussaint would mean that Michigan’s running game would be back to looking like it did last season. That was not the case. He didn’t do anything. In the few times when Michigan lined up in the I-Formation (or some other pro-style set) and ran the ball, the result was a carry for only a few yards at a time. In fact, it seemed that this was even a concern for Borges, as he rarely called these standard running plays. Michigan did have success running the ball with Denard out of the shotgun, but against an Air Force defensive front that was extremely undersized as compared to the rest of the teams which Michigan will see this year, I expected Toussaint and the other running backs to be more effective. And I’m not blaming this all on the running backs either. On anything except the zone-read, I didn’t see a whole lot of holes open for the backs to run through. Next week against UMass won’t tell us anything either, as they are barely out of Division 1-AA (FCS) and have lost to UConn and Indiana by a combined score of 82-6.

Fitz Toussaint rushed for just seven yards on eight carries (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

Less concerning to me is the Michigan passing game. Denard didn’t have a spectacular game against Alabama, but most quarterbacks don’t. In reality, I think he did the best he probably could while under a lot of pressure and while the receivers were extremely well-covered and forced into poor routes. Week 2 showed us what I’ve said since last season is the best way to utilize Denard’s arm: a short, quick passing game out of the shotgun, using play-action to keep the defenders honest, and throwing to tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. This also allowed Denard to hit some deeper passes once the secondary started to cheat up on the short routes. Borges also got Denard out of the pocket some, allowing him to create with his feet if the receiver wasn’t open. All of this coming against an Air Force defense not known for holding opponents to low scores. What will happen when the Michigan offense needs to pass against the defenses of the Big Ten, which won’t be as good as Alabama, but will certainly be better than Air Force? Will Borges abandon the passing game which has worked over the past two years as it did in Week 2, or will he try throwing from the pocket as is his preference?

The Michigan defense hasn’t really shown anything to anyone yet either. They were gashed by an Alabama offense featuring one of the best offensive lines in the country and a stable of running backs that were extremely talented. Quarterback A.J. McCarron didn’t have much trouble throwing either. In Week 2, they had to defend the Air Force triple option attack. Not an easy task when you never see that offense and when you only have one week to prepare for it.

But there are some bright spots. Jordan Kovacs continues to be the leader and play-maker, and the linebacker corps seems to be doing okay for being so young. The defensive line showed more promise in Week 2 as well, especially Frank Clark, whose name was called often as he made some good plays including a ball batted down at the line of scrimmage.

The concern for me is the secondary and their pass coverage ability. I don’t think we know much about this yet, as Courtney Avery was picked on when he replaced the injured Blake Countess against Alabama. Air Force moved the ball through the air to some degree, although their play-action off the triple option created some headaches for a defense that was not used to seeing it and was more focused on containing the option run. But even against Air Force, Avery and Raymon Taylor split time for much of the game after Avery’s struggles in Week 1. And for being the #1 defensive back on the team, J.T. Floyd has yet to show that he can consistently cover the best receivers on the better teams in the Big Ten.

Raymon Taylor split time with Courtney Avery (AP photo)

So at this point, do we really know anything about how good the secondary will be after the loss of Countess? Alabama passed wherever they wanted and Air Force wasn’t much of a test. So what will happen when they go up against some of the better offenses in the Big Ten? I guess we have to wait to see, but the good thing is that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has another two weeks of practice to get the secondary ready before they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.

So this is where Michigan is at. The coaches have another game to get the team ready for Notre Dame and the Big Ten. That’s another week to get the offensive line to gel and start opening up some holes for the running backs. And another week to prepare the defense for weekly play in the conference. So while there are still a lot of questions surrounding the Wolverines after two weeks, they have a couple of weeks to smooth things out before what will likely be a challenging game at Notre Dame at night. Brady Hoke and the coaching staff have done a good job of making this team better since their arrival in Ann Arbor. No one on the team can relax. I like their chances of getting things up and running as they should be.

The Michigan Medley looks for benefits of the ‘Bama blowout

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012


Using the Alabama game to our benefit

I’ll never say a loss is a good thing, but perhaps losing the way Michigan did on Saturday can be beneficial going forward. Most of us can agree that Michigan was overrated at No. 8 entering the season. With the unfavorable schedule and key losses, we all knew it was going to be hard to repeat the successes of last season.

After the Week 1 blowout, all of the hype and high expectations are gone, and now the team and coaching staff can get back to work in the underdog role. Of course, this is Michigan and we’re used to being the the ones at the top looking down. But the reality is that right now Michigan isn’t there. Another couple of recruiting classes like Brady Hoke has been securing and they’ll get there, but right now the underdog role suits his team quite well.

Most of us expected a loss to Alabama, but very few of us thought it would be as bad as it was. But, in my opinion, that speaks more to how good Alabama is than how bad Michigan is. Just listen to Al Borges talk about the game.

“The game plan didn’t look very effective, but the whole thing was geared to if they loaded the box up, we were going to throw the ball. If they left the box light, we were going to run it. We ran the ball into a light box 12 times and had plus-four runs three times out of the 12. And we hit two out of 10 shots down the field. So the other alternative is to plus-one run with the quarterback. We did some of that, too, but they weren’t going to let you do that. As much as you wanted to give that a shot, that wasn’t going to happen. No one’s done that to them. Look at the numbers in the past. No one’s done that to them.”

Michigan's D-line essentially went up against the Super Bowl offensive line (photo by MGoBlue.com)

In other words, Alabama dictated Michigan’s offensive game plan, forcing Borges to all but abandon the run. Now, listen to these words from Alabama defensive back Dee Milliner about the slants that were broken up early in the game.

“We knew coming in any time that they got in that formation that they like to run the quick slants backside,” Milliner said. “So I was anticipating that and knew it was coming.”

So Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart forced Michigan to essentially abandon its usual running game, and the defense knew what plays were coming. Either Hoke and his staff got severely out-coached or he decided all along that the deck was stacked against him on Sept. 1, and the rest of the season was more important than one Cowboys Classic.

With an offensive line the exact same size as the Super Bowl champions and a defense that is the best in college football, Alabama would have won with Chad Henne under center and Mike Hart in the backfield for this Michigan team. So why put the rest of the season on the line trying to run Denard 20-25 times? Work on the passing game, work out a few kinks, put up your best effort, and move on. I’m not at all saying Michigan threw the game; I’m merely saying that there’s no point in going all in against a stacked deck at the expense of the number one goal – winning the Big Ten championship.

The loss dropped Michigan all the way to 19th in both the AP and Coaches polls and already has some counting Michigan out of the Big Ten race. This season, I’d rather have Michigan coming up from behind to start the season than playing with a big target on its back. It’s just not good enough for that yet.

The loss allows Hoke and the rest of the staff to show the team they’re not as good as they thought they were. They need to work harder and execute better if they want to win the Big Ten.

The loss gives Michigan the experience of playing the best team in the nation and knowing that every game the rest of the season will be easier than that one. Not that they’ll be easy, but in comparison to the closest thing to a professional team, they’ll seem like the minor leagues. The lines won’t be as big. The linebackers won’t be as fast. The corners won’t be as strong. They’ll be what Michigan has been used to the past few years: beatable opponents.

Michigan likely won’t run the table the rest of the way. There will be some bumps along the way, but I think what happend in Dallas on Saturday will be good for this team in the long run.

___________________________________________________________________________________

A big recruiting weekend

Much of Michigan’s success going forward depends on Hoke’s recruiting classes. He has already secured a highly-ranked class and has another on the way. It could get even better with a commitment from Rivals’ number one receiver, Laquon Tredwell. The 6’3″ receiver from Crete, Ill. is one of many highly touted recruits that will be on campus when Michigan opens the home portion of its schedule this Saturday against Air Force. He’s one of the top two remaining targets for Hoke and carries offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Ohio State, USC, and many more. But he won’t be the only one on campus. Cass Tech athlete Damon Webb, who may be Michigan’s top 2014 target, will be there as well.

A couple of basketball targets will be on campus, most notably the top overall recruit in the 2015 class, Karl Towns. The 6’11″, 210-pound center from Metuchen, N.J. is still years away from stepping foot on any college court, but just getting him on campus is huge for John Beilein. Call me a skeptic, but the Kentucky’s of the world will certainly lead for him. However, a recruit that Beilein has a much better chance of landing is Jae’Sean Tate and he’ll be there this weekend as well. He visited Ohio State last weekend and was at Michigan just a month ago. ESPN ranks him as the 46th overall player in the 2014 class.

A win during a big recruiting weekend doesn’t always mean much, but it would certainly help. Dropping to 0-2 and losing at home to a team like Air Force would put a bad taste in a recruit’s mouth. So let’s hope for a big victory for the maize and blue this weekend for more reasons than one.

We should have seen this coming

Monday, September 3rd, 2012


What seemed like a good idea two years ago and we were cautiously excited about after going 11-2 last season, was in reality a disaster from start to finish on Saturday night. Michigan forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s first drive, but it quickly went downhill from there. We all know the story. We all watched in disbelief as the snowball got bigger and bigger and became an avalanche. And then halftime mercifully came.

When all was said and done, Michigan limped away battered and bruised, both physically and mentally, and the SEC superiority was proven once again. In reality, it was just Michigan’s seventh loss all-time against current SEC teams, compared to 20 wins and one tie. Alabama fans act as if Alabama has always been superior to Michigan, but it was just six years ago that the script would have been reversed as Michigan went 11-2 and ‘Bama just 6-7.

DeAndrew White scores on Courtney Avery, a few plays after Countess was lost for the season (photo by LM Otero, AP)

But we’re talking about this year. A year in which Michigan is still rebuilding from the disaster that was the Rich Rod era. A year in which Alabama will likely win a second straight national championship, and third in four years. Entering Saturday’s game, we all underestimated the significance of losing three defensive linemen, both in performance and leadership. We all underestimated Nick Saban’s ability to turn an extra 20 recruits over a five year period into a reloading machine. We should have seen this coming. It’s not 2006 anymore.

I’ve seen many a comment since Saturday night from Michigan fans calling for Denard Robinson to switch to receiver once and for all. These are likely the same fans who tout his Heisman candidacy after each big game, and this Jekyll and Hyde mentality needs to stop. This team would not have won on Saturday with Chad Henne or John Navarre or Jim Harbaugh under center. Whether we like it or not, Denard is the quarterback this season, and provides the best chance to win. Come February 2013 we can start discussing who Michigan’s quarterback should be.

The biggest problem on Saturday night was not who the starting quarterback was; it was how he was used. Denard has never been, nor ever will be a pocket quarterback, and yet that’s how he was used from the start. It’s easy to look back and critique the game plan when all is said and done, but that recipe is doomed to burn the biscuits every time against a defense like Alabama’s.

Obviously, Michigan wanted to win the game, but in the grand scheme of the season, beating Alabama was not high priority. Beating Purdue, and Illinois, and Michigan State, and Nebraska, and Minnesota, and Northwestern, and Iowa, and Ohio State are. Winning the Big Ten is. Whether we, as fans, like it or not, maybe the game plan was as it was to keep Denard healthy for the rest of the season. The coaches will never admit as much, but could you blame them if it was? You can call that a loser’s mentality, but Michigan would not have won with Denard running 15-20 times either. So why doom the season for one game?

A game plan that involves rushing Vincent Smith into the 'Bama defensive line 13 times is doomed to fail (photo by Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

While Denard stayed relatively healthy, except for making a tackle following an interception and contorting his body trying to reach a first down, the injury bug still struck the Wolverines in a bad way. Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess was lost for the year on Michigan’s first punt of the game. Left tackle Taylor Lewan injured his right leg and his status is unknown, though he reportedly told the coaches he could go back in. Tight end Brandon Moore also left the game with an injury.

Coutness’ loss was felt immediately, as Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron went after his replacement, Courtney Avery. His loss will be a big one the rest of the season, turning a position of strength into a position of uncertainty. Lewan’s loss was also felt immediately, as on the very next play, Alabama’s D.J. Pettway ran right by Michael Schoefield, who had shifted over to left tackle, and sacked Denard – the Tide’s only sack of the night. If he’s out for an extended period of time, Michigan’s strong line will be greatly reduced.

We saw the makings of what could become a great receiver in Devin Gardner. He started slow, failing to pull in a couple of grabs and running imprecise routes, but it was against a great secondary. He did make his first touchdown grab, and the more time he plays, the better he’ll get.

We also saw a glimpse of what should be a really good kickoff returnman in freshman Dennis Norfleet. He’s an instant upgrade from last season and should help with field position.

This week, Michigan will get back Fitzgerald Toussaint who was suspended for the opener following a DUI. His return will immediately shore up the running game for the rest of the season, although had he been on the field on Saturday, the outcome would not have changed. Alabama is just that good.

All we really found out is that Alabama was far superior and that Michigan still isn’t where it needs to be to compete with the nation’s best. End of story. Eleven regular season games remain and Michigan gets a pair of should-win games against Air Force and UMass to get everything sorted out before facing a Notre Dame team that looked strong on Saturday morning. We’re still in store for a great season, and while the excitement is tempered by Saturday’s performance, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

None of the Big Ten looked great this weekend, save Ohio State and maybe Nebraska. Michigan State struggled against a greatly reduced Boise State. Penn State lost to Ohio. Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana all struggled to wins over inferior teams. Michigan gained a great learning experience from Saturday, and that should not be overlooked. The team we see the rest of the season will hardly resemble the one that took it on the chin Saturday night. Let’s forget about Alabama and set our sights on winning the Big Ten.

#2 Alabama 41 – #8 Michigan 14: Tide sweeps Michigan out to sea

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012


Despite forcing Alabama into a three-and-out on its first series and looking like they could be formidable opponent, the Michigan defense was completely overmatched the rest of the night. They did record two sacks (and Will Campbell was looking quite nimble on his) but they were dominated up front by the best offensive line in the country.

Alabama's defense gave Michigan no room to run. This was a familiar sight (photo by Leon Halip, Getty Images)

After the three-and-out to start the game, Alabama proceded to score on its next three drives, all in a span of about five minutes. The Tide dominated the line play and created gaping holes for its backs to run through as Alabama ran the ball to the tune of 232 yards, including an astounding 111 yards from true freshman T.J.Yeldon on only 11 carries.

The passing game, however, left much to be desired for the Tide. A.J. McCarron finished a pedestrian 11-for-21 for 199 yards. But when throwing out of play-action, he was 6-for-9 for 123 yards with both of his touchdowns; a 2-yard pass to tight end Michael Williams to start the scoring and then a 51-yard pass on which Courtney Avery slipped and fell during a double move from DeAndrew White.

Denard Robinson injured his throwing arm making a tackle after throwing a pick in the first quarter but recovered as the game went along and looked to be fine. The same can not be said for cornerback Blake Countess, who left the game with an apparent knee injury after a special teams tackle. It appeared as though the trainers were giving him the ACL test on the sidelines and his status going forward has yet to be announced.

Denard threw another interception in the second quarter which went for six and Alabama was up 31-0 before Michigan found the endzone on a Denard 6-yard run towards the end of the first half. The run was preceded by a beautiful 71-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon, but it was one of the few bright spots of the day.

Denard and the offense looked completely out of sync; though his passes in the early going did have good velocity, he overthrew his receivers on several occasions. Devin Gardner got the starting nod at receiver and was targeted several times but didn’t make the most of it until late in the third quarter when he caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Denard after the Tide defender fell down.

Neither team was any good on third down. Michigan went 3-for-11 while Alabama only managed 3-for-10, but the Tide had 20 first downs to Michigan’s 11. The passing yards were almost equal but most of Michigan’s yards came on two big plays, the 71-yarder to Gallon and the 44-yard touchdown pass to Gardner.

Bama's running backs ran through arm tackles all night (photo by Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Alabama is an elite program and while incredibly disappointing, Michigan should not hang their heads after this loss. This is a program that could conceivably win its third national title in four years, and not many teams, if any this season, will hang with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

According to ESPN, the Tide are now 40-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they run for at least 150 yards. Alabama’s running backs were only hit in the backfield on four of their 38 runs, and on 13 runs, they were not hit until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s not a recipe for success for any defense.

Perhaps Hokeamaniac put it best last night on his Facebook page, saying, “Alabama was the superior team and outplayed the Michigan Wolverines from open to close. The physical mismatch was glaring. The Wolverine offense was incapable of doing anything and the play execution of the maize and blue was, pathetic at best.”

It’s not that they were not prepared; it’s just that Alabama was physically (and perhaps schematically as well) superior. Michigan looked like a JV team against professional athletes, showing that while they may be on the right track to regain national prominence they are still years away. Alabama is what happens when you have elite athletes playing in the same system under an elite coach. This is what Michigan is striving for and we must be patient while Brady Hoke builds this program back to elite status.

In the grand scheme of the season this does not hurt Michigan’s main goal, though the press will inevitably call this a confidence shaking loss and will posit that the Wolverines may not recover in time. Michigan’s goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and this game does not affect their pursuit of that goal. While there were some big mistakes made, like Denard’s pass directly to CJ Mosley which led to the pick-six, the outcome of the game was not because of poor execution. Michigan was simply overmatched. Luckily for them, they won’t face another team with the type of talent and size that Alabama possesses and should be just fine the rest of the year.

We will have more reaction to the game in the next couple of days as well as a first look at the Air Force Falcons.

M&GB Pick’em: Alabama Staff Predictions

Saturday, September 1st, 2012


Last season, on the day before each game, each of the writers at Maize and Go Blue submitted our game predictions. Sometimes we were way off, but for the most part we were pretty close. This year, we’ve added a couple of staff, so it should make things more interesting and diverse. We’re not doing weekly prizes this year, but we are doing a nice grand prize at the end of the season, so follow along every Friday to see who’s the best M&GB prognosticator.

Justin: As I mentioned in yesterday’s game preview and Thursday’s Friend vs Foe, I think the number one key to winning this game is the ability of Michigan’s defensive line to stop the run. Alabama’s passing game should be held in check by Michigan’s secondary, and Michigan will score some points offensively, so it’s up to the line to at least slow down the run game. Unfortunately, asking a line with several new starters to win the battle against the best offensive line in the country is a bit too much. Michigan will put up a valiant effort and stay close, but Alabama will pull it out.

Alabama 27 – Michigan 23

Chris: Well, here we are folks!  It’s time for some college football!  As we all know, the Maize and Blue open up with the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide in the Jerry Dome in Arlington, TX.  Let’s take a closer look at this matchup.

Trent Richardson is gone. Can Eddie Lacy pick up where he left off?

Alabama opens this season having retuned 11 starters from last year’s squad.  They lost their top RB, their top WR, and a good portion of their D to the NFL (4 first rounders, 8 selected overall).  This kind of loss of players generally hurts programs, but Alabama is a different story, as they have consistently brought in Top 5 recruiting classes since Head Coach Nick Saban’s arrival and they have reloaded for he 2012 season.

It is very tough to see any place where the Wolverines are going to have any particular advantage in this game.  For example, Alabama lost 4 of their top 5 secondary players.  You would think this would be an advantage for the Wolverines.  However, Michigan’s WR corps is a question mark as well after the losses of Junior Hemingway, Darryl Stonum, and TE Kevin Koger.  Michigan does have the advantage of returning 7 of their top 10 offensive linemen, which will help against the athletic defensive front 7 which Alabama always has.  If the Michigan line can hold their blocks long enough for QB Denard Robinson to find an open receiver, or tuck the ball and find an open lane to run, then I could see the Michigan offense moving the ball some.  The problem I see with this is Saban’s defenses are generally very smart and I believe that Saban will have his guys prepared to face a highly mobile QB like Robinson.

I do like the uncertainty which Alabama is facing in their RB and WR situation.  RB Eddie Lacy has been out part of fall camp with a knew injury and is rumored to be playing, but how effective will he be?  We all know Alabama’s 2nd-team RB, Dee Hart, from when he decommited from the Wolverines last year and went to Alabama.  He was injured in the 2011 fall camp with a torn ACL and he hasn’t played in a live game since high school.  At least the Michigan RB situation is a little better off even if RB Fitz Toussaint doesn’t play.  RB Thomas Rawls has the potential to be a gamebreaker and RB Vincent Smith has playing experience.  Can Offensive Coordinator Al Borges find a way to call plays which will keep the Alabama D guessing as to where the ball is going?

Like I said before, this game is a tough matchup for the Wolverines in all areas.  I like the fact that Michigan scheduled this game because it can’t hurt them, win or lose.  If they win, then they will have shocked everyone because know one is expecting that to happen.  If they lose, Michigan has the benefit of having played one of the top teams in the nation, which will give both the players, coaches, and fans an idea of just where this program is at.  The game is also being played on national TV on Labor Day weekend, which boosts recruiting.  And a loss thie early in the season to the #1 ranked team doesn’t hurt either, as the Wolverines will have plenty of time to recover over the next 11 games.  I think Michigan will come out excited to play and the coaches will have some plays drawn up to surprise the Alabama D.  The same will happen on defense.  But this will only last so long, as the Alabama coaches will make adjustments and the athleticsm of the Alabama team will take over.  I think the game stays close for the first half but Alabama eventually takes over and puts the game away.

Alabama 24- Michigan 13

Josh: Aside from the RichRod years there has nary been a game I felt Michigan couldn’t win. Saturday is one of those few and far between games where I think Michigan will be completely overmatched. Nick Saban has rebuilt Alabama into a national powerhouse and they boast a top 10 defense year in and year out. Which, ironically, is something he couldn’t do at State because he couldn’t out-recruit Michigan there (just saying). Their calling card is their run defense; Alabama has surrendered only 10 individual 100-yard rushing games dating back to the 2005 season (90 games), a mark that leads the nation. Since Saban came on board, 2007, they’ve only allowed 5 100-yard rushers in 67 games. Not to mention they’ve only give up 32 rushing TD’s since 2005, a mark that also leads the nation. They simply do not allow you to run on them, which does not bode well as Michigan’s greatest asset on offense is Denard Robinson’s running.

Nick Saban may be the best coach in the game right now, but Michigan had a 3-2 record against him at Michigan State

Michigan is back on its way to being a national powerhouse but they’re not quite there yet. RichRod didn’t leave the cupboards completely bare for the defense (Mike Martin, RVB, etc.) but Michigan’s talent level is nowhere near Alabama’s right now. I think Michigan has a better shot than most people think (Alabama fan seems to think they’re gonna win 70-0 and Michigan won’t even cross the 50) but at the end of the day it is hard for me to pick my Maize and Blue in this game.


Alabama has arguably the best offensive lineman in the country in last year’s Outland Trophy winner, Barrett Jones. Who, incidentally, is so good he has moved from tackle to center for this season. Coming in this line looks to be one of the best in a long time. Which, again, does not bode well for the Wolverines as Michigan is already thin, and mostly unproven, on the defensive line and has a steep hill to climb against these hog mollies. Not to say they will get manhandled up front and not stand a chance, but any plays behind the line will be well-earned. Brady Hoke had this to say about Alabama’s offensive line, “I’m a defensive coach and watching that offensive line, that’s as good an offensive line as I’ve seen in college football.” Call me a pessimist but I just don’t see Michigan matching up very well against these guys.

Trent Richardson is gone to the NFL but much like when Richardson picked up where Heisman winner Mark Ingram left off I expect Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon to do the same. AJ McCarron may not be as sexy a name as Matt Barkley coming in this season but he is a junior with one great year of experience under his belt. His stats won’t blow you out of the water (and they don’t need to with the balanced attack and stable of stud RB’s they throw at you), but he managed to toss 16 TD’s to only 5 INT’s last year and hit receivers at an almost 67% clip, not too shabby. Most of his WR production has left Tuscaloosa but I’m sure their replacements are capable athletes. The offense also takes great care of the ball, in the past four years they’ve only turned the ball over 54 times (just over 1 per game). Yep, you guessed it, leads the nation in the span.

The front seven worries me against the run but I think Michigan’s secondary might really surprise people against the pass though. Blake Countess, while having some struggles late in 2011, has the potential to be a really good CB. Not Charles Woodson or Leon Hall good, but maybe Marlin Jackson good. JT Floyd worries a lot of people but he has a lot of experience and should show marked improvement in year 2 under Mattison’s defense, as should Countess. We all know about Jordan Kovacs, a kid who I must admit I was not a fan of until recently, but he is as solid as they come and a great leader on that defense. He is going to be in position and will make some plays, regardless of who Alabama throws out there. Thomas Gordon was Johnny On the Spot last year with his fumble recoveries and seems to have a knack for being around the ball. All in all, I think Michigan’s secondary is the strongest unit on Team 133 and should fare well against the pass, if ‘Bama even chooses to pass the ball that is.

On the defensive side Alabama lost a lot to the NFL, and are replacing 7 total starters on that side. But they are replacing them with elite level talent, mostly inexperienced but very talented nonetheless. Saban runs a fairly complex defense that is not typically plug and play, kids can’t just come in off the street and be studs in his system. So while the newbies may not have a ton of game experience they do know the system well enough to be starters come Saturday. Expect them to focus on making Denard pass while taking away any opportunities to burn them on the ground. Not an easy task but we’ve seen physical teams, like State, do well playing that way.

Alabama will try to bottle up Denard like MSU did last season

Michigan’s offensive line is anchored by Taylor Lewan and he is a good one, but its cohesiveness (and effectiveness) hinges on Ricky Barnum’s ability to transition to center from guard and replace All-American and Rimington winner, David Molk. A tall task but I think Barnum will handle his job well and perform admirably. However, Alabama has been recruiting to their style for quite some time now while Michigan is still trying to turn quicker, smaller spread-type guys into smash-mouth lineman. It could get ugly and Denard might make friends with the backfield’s turf on more than one occasion.


As I mentioned before, Alabama does not give up rushing yards, to anyone and they will almost assuredly focus on shutting down the run game and force Denard to pass. Denard will be much improved but how much is yet to be seen and the fact that his first real test is against a Nick Saban defense does not exactly make me feel confident. I don’t care who is running the ball for Michigan (Denard, Fitz or Rawls) it will be a big challenge for the line to create holes and for those guys to elude a speedy defense. Of course Denard is always a threat to score six any time he touches the ball but everyone and their mother knows that and I doubt he will eclipse 50-yards rushing against this defense.

We all know about Denard’s passing woes of last year, and to be honest they don’t really concern me. He knows what he did wrong and what he did well and he has worked on his areas of weakness. As we’ve mentioned here on MaizeAndGoBlue.com, the first year in Borges’ system is very tough (Borges’ own admission) and there is always a great improvement in year 2. Do I expect Denard to morph into Tom Brady or Elvis Grbac? No, but I fully expect better decision making, no more back foot throws into traffic and a big drop in his INT’s from last year. 2,500 yards and 18 TD’s to 9-10 INT’s would be great as far as I’m concerned. The question now is who will be catching those balls? We know Roundtree has the talent, and Jeremy Gallon is a consistent WR but after that it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Devin Gardner is a freak athlete who may very well be their best receiver, but we don’t know how much time he will see at WR. True freshman Amara Darboh has shown glimpses in fall camp and Roundtree has lauded not only his play but ability to learn and apply. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how much Denard has progressed if these guys cannot get open and catch some passes against Alabama.

For Michigan to win the game they need to be clicking on all cylinders, for all four quarters. Is an upset possible? Of course, anything can happen. Is an upset likely? I just don’t see it happening. Michigan will give Alabama more than most casual (or non-Michigan fans anyway) think they will but in the end Alabama will be too big, too strong and too talented for my beloved Wolverines to overcome. They play a close game in the first half as they feel each other out but Alabama blows it open in the second half to create a score that belies Michigan’s effort and play. Here’s to hoping I am wrong though, Go Blue!

Alabama 38 – Michigan 16

Matt: Like a kid on Christmas Day. I am so excited it’s finally collegevfootball time, and even better, it’s Michigan college football time!!!

With no Junior Hemingway, can Michigan have a vertical passing game?

We ended on a big high, not only beating Ohio State, but also beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl! Our team looked good. We were on top of the world!

This year scares me a little. I think we are only getting better, but we’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us. So let’s get started with game one…vs the defending National Champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Obviously they have more depth, and quite possibly more talent. They’re the defending National Champions. Seems like the deck is stacked against us, but haven’t the Wolverines had the deck stacked against them for years now?

Let’s start with QBs. Alabama has AJ McCarron. McCarron is a good QB. Obviously, he led the Crimson Tide to the National Championship last year. Michigan obviously has Denard Robinson (ever heard of him?!). Denard is a threat. Not only with his feet, but with his arm too. He has solid power with his arm. The scariest thing about Denard last year, was he would just throw the ball up in the air. He’d throw it, we’d all hold our breath, and hope that someone like Junior Hemingway would jump up and catch it.

That brings me to my next point. Junior Hemingway bailed Denard out quite a few times last season. But Hemingway is gone. Granted we have Roy Roundtree back, we’ve got Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson, and others. However, Junior seemed to be able to make plays every single down.

Running backs are question for this game. Michigan has Fitzgerald Toussaint coming back for his junior year. But due to off field shenanigans, he could possibly not play this Saturday. He’s on the depth chart, but we’ll have to see. If not we have a little bit of depth at that position, so we could possibly see 5-foot-10, 218 pound Thomas Rawls run the ball on Saturday. He’s younger than Toussaint, but he has seemed impressive. I have confidence with him running the ball for our beloved Wolverines.

Alabama running back Eddie Lacy could possibly be injured also. I’ve heard you may not play on Saturday, but again, I don’t think we’ll know until Saturday.

Our offensive line has some questions as well, just because our team is so young. We really need the young players to step up the best they can for us to be able to pull this one out Saturday night in Dallas.

Our defense is another concern, after we lost Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, among others to the NFL. We still see Craig Roh, as well as Jake Ryan, Jordan Kovacs and others. I feel like we have more depth at defense than what some people think. There has been a lot of switching back and forth on our defensive line, but I figure Greg Mattison seems to know what he’s doing. I have faith that he’ll put the right guys in the right positions, and our D will be ready for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama’s defense has some questions as well, as they only have a few returning this year. They have a young defense, but then again, their defending National Champions, so they’re going to have depth there. Nick Saban is a great coach, and he’ll have his crew ready for Saturday just as much as Brady Hoke does.

Overall, I honestly see this game being a high scoring affair. Our defenses have question marks, and so do some of our offensive players. A lot of people are counting Michigan out, and I hope I’m not just being a homer. But I feel like Michigan really does have a chance to go into Dallas and steal a victory from Alabama. If Michigan wins, would I call it an upset? Absolutely. But do I think it’s very much possible? Yes.

If you guys read my predictions last year, I never picked against my Michigan Wolverines, and I’m not going to start today. I have Michigan pulling this one out, in a high scoring very exciting game. And when the game starts on Saturday night, I will be so excited. Like a kid on Christmas Day.

Michigan 45 - Alabama 38

Sam: Certainly all eyes of the college football world this weekend will be on Jerry Dome, where the 2nd-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will travel west to take on the 8th-ranked Michigan Wolverines, who will themselves be traveling southwest to duel in the Cowboys Classic. I still am having trouble believing that college football, America’s true pastime, is here, but I must trust the calendar on the wall.

One of these is 'Bama's starting quarterback

Alabama comes into this game the prohibitive favorite, and probably for good reason. Despite losing five defensive starters, including four to the first 35 picks of the NFL Draft this April, the Tide will most certainly reload while looking to match last year’s defense that gave up a measly 8.2 points per game. The secondary is a little banged up and All-Everything Dre Kirkpatrick is off to Cincinnati, but that shouldn’t matter much to Nick Saban. Alabama signed six four-star and two five-star (not including Kirkpatrick) defensive backs from the 2009-2011 recruiting classes. The point is, this team has talent that could easily go three-deep at nearly every position. The defensive line is led by 6’4, 320-pound behemoth Jesse Williams, and you can always count on Alabama’s linebackers to hit hard from sideline-to-sideline.

Obviously the talent will be there staring Denard Robinson and the rest of the Maize and Blue offense in the eyes. The problem for Michigan, however, could be much worse than talent. Let’s get one thing straight – Nick Saban is one hell of a shady coach and recruiter. But the man knows what he is doing on the field. One radio broadcaster put it perfectly the other day in saying that Saban’s forte (straight out of Bill Belichick’s book) is in stopping the other offense’s bread and butter. We all know that is Denard. And we all know that Saban is going to do everything he can to force Denard to throw the ball and to test Michigan’s still-questionable run game early and often. This may sound stupid, and it’s probably – check that, excessively – redundant, but Denard Robinson’s legs are the key to this game for Michigan. If he can run for more than 120 yards and a touchdown, I’ll take the Wolverines straight up.

Fitzgerald Toussaint has been ruled out, and yes, I do think this makes a big difference. Toussaint is by far our best all-around back; I cringe just thinking about Thomas Rawls, a bowling ball of a runner, going up against bigger bowling balls on the other side of the line. Those pins aren’t falling. I still think it comes down to Denard though, as usual.

Going the other way, Michigan’s defense shouldn’t have too many nightmares Friday night. Eddie Lacy is 220 pounds of solid rock who averaged 7.1 yards per carry on 95 attempts last season, but I don’t think he is Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram just yet. He’ll run for more than 100 yards on 20 carries and probably score once, but as long as we can contain decently, Alabama shouldn’t score more than 24. AJ McCarron is just a guy at quarterback. He’s efficient (8.03 YPA, 66.8 completion % last season), but he isn’t great. You keep hearing Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison refer to McCarron first as a great leader and then as a good passer. That is coach speak for “he’s pretty average”. He’s Tim Tebow without legs and minus 30 pounds. Michigan’s experienced secondary should be able to stop the killer pass plays before they happen and Mattison will certainly look to pressure McCarron into some awkward throws with blitzes from Jake Ryan and Kenny Demens. Also look for my defensive breakout player, Jibreel Black, to make some noise with a sack. The only problem with getting to McCarron, however, is his offensive line, which is being talked up as one of the best in the nation. If we struggle to get pressure, McCarron can nickel and dime us to our grave, but if we consistently get in the backfield, our chances go way up.

Nick Saban is getting all the hype, but Brady Hoke proved last year he can win the big game

Here comes the tough part. I think Alabama’s defense is going to bottle up Denard a little too well and we are going to come up short. A full-strength Roundtree would help, and an accurate Robinson might give us the game, but two turnovers and we are done for. I like the defense to stand strong but the points to be hard to come by.

Alabama 21 – Michigan 13

Katie: The time has nearly come to suspend our fervent predictions that we have developed around our team for these coming months (welcome back Wolverines and any other football fanatics). Now is the time to sit back and enjoy the greatest game in sports and hopefully watch even the most outlandish dreams of victory come true.

With that being said I think that Michigan’s first game against Alabama is going to be a long, hard-hitting, hailstorm of passing kind of game. The trouble is it’s all up in the air, and if there is any reminder of last year that can be a good thing, or something that comes down into the wrong hands. Personally, I like Michigan in this one. I don’t think Hoke is the kind of man to take last year’s winning season to heart or allow his players to feel that they have vaulted Michigan back into a status that sees us playing three different night games. But levelheadedness isn’t everything. Passion isn’t everything, not without fundamentals, or without practice, or without leadership.  Hoke, however, has provided those things and that’s why he will usher in a new reign at Michigan. He will see to it that we earn the big stage night games, and that the Wolverines never lose sight of the prize: the Big Ten championship.

I know that Alabama is the returning National Champs, and I know they have one massive offensive line and an experienced quarterback to boot. Michigan on the other hand, has something to prove that’s even bigger than a No.1 at the end of the season. We have to get to that ranking, and that’s something that boils in the blood on nights like tonight.

So am I overestimating us? We’ll see, but I think that Denard will be more composed in the pocket and a more efficient, confident passer. And I believe that Robinson’s confidence will inspire not only the line, but his receivers and the backs. I think our defense will step up and fill the gaps left by Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Maybe not perfectly, but sustained effort for a long period reveals the character of a team, and with it perhaps a bit of fear in the hearts of our opponents.

Alabama lost its top four receivers. Michigan should be able to capitalize on that to try and outscore the Crimson Tide. Bama also lost its starting running back and has holes to fill on defense with so many going into the NFL Draft. The Wolverine defense isn’t without its shortcomings, but I think there’s enough of an upward swing from last year to propel us forward and to a win.

Michigan 34 – Alabama 28