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Posts Tagged ‘Jourdan Lewis’

M&GB staff predictions: Utah

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015


StaffPicks_banner2015

Game day is finally here, 247 days after Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor as Michigan’s new head coach. This morning we posted our full game preview and now it’s time to allow each of the writers on our staff to make their prediction.

Justin: There’s no doubt that Harbaugh will have the team well prepared for the first game of the season. The question is how much have they improved since last fall? Expected starting quarterback Jake Rudock should provide an upgrade at the position if only because he will take care of the ball and manage the offense. If the offensive line can give him time, Rudock should be able to test the relatively inexperienced secondary. But the line will have to fend off Dimick and Fanaika. Utah ranked sixth in the Pac-12 against the run last season, so look for Harbaugh to pound his running back committee of De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green, Ty Isaac, and Drake Johnson.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Utah
Justin 23 26
Derick 20 27
Sam 21 13
Josh 19 27
Joe 28 35
M&GB Average 22 26

Utah’s offense will do the same, feeding Booker early and often. If Michigan can stop him the Wolverines will have a great chance to win. Wilson wasn’t flashy last season, but he took care of the ball, so Michigan will need to find a pass rush from its unproven defensive line if it wants to force him to make a mistake.

Special teams will likely play a big factor in this game and the heavy favorite in that category goes to Utah, which has arguably the best kicker and punter tandem in the country. Michigan, meanwhile, will be breaking in a new kicker and punter. In last season’s matchup, Kaelin Clay returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown and Michigan may need to return the favor — perhaps from Jabrill Peppers — to get a win.

In a defensive battle where one team has a significant edge on special teams, and that team happens to be the home team, I just have to lean that way.

Utah 26 – Michigan 23

Derick: It’s been a crazy offseason for Michigan, operating under a new president and athletic director, flipping and losing big-name recruits and bringing in the highest profile coach in the country.

But now it’s finally time to hit the field and see what this team can actually do. There’s no doubt Jim Harbaugh inherited a talented roster, but how quickly can he turn around a program that’s been a hot mess for the better part of a decade?

Unfortunately for Michigan, the new system will make its debut on the road against a talented, veteran Utah team that won nine games last season. Running back Devontae Booker runs behind a solid offensive line that will put Michigan’s defensive line depth to the test right out of the gate.

Michigan will improve throughout the 2015 season. Nothing in Harbaugh’s track record suggests otherwise. But I think the Wolverines, behind a new quarterback and a thin group of wide receivers, will struggle to put together a consistent offensive attack in Week 1.

Michigan will battle the Utes in the opener, but fall.

Utah 27 – Michigan 20

Sam: (Sam was unable to provide a full breakdown this week but sent his score prediction)

Michigan 21 – Utah 13

Josh: On the road at night in Rice-Eccels stadium against a team that beat the crap out of you in your own house last year is a tough way to start the season. But thankfully we’ve got Harbaugh this time around. The bad news is it’s probably way too soon for the full Harbaugh effect to have taken place.

Utah is solid defensively and Michigan is probably not going to have a high-octane offense, even IF Drake Harris is who we thought he was. Devantae Booker this year is not the guy who only gained 30-some odd yards on Michigan last year, he’s likely to go over 100 yards and that will open up the pass game for Utah. Michigan has one corner, yes just one, that is proven right now so unless the combo of Stribling and Clark perform up to task they’ll see a lot of balls thrown their way with not so good results for Michigan.

Jake Rudock is a huge upgrade from Devin Gardner, not in talent but in consistency and making the right play-iveness (that’s a new word, mark it down). He won’t turn it over and if the run game can be halfway decent this could be an interesting game. However, I don’t see the run game doing much, and with no threat to take the top off the defense this is going to be a low scoring, defensive battle. That means it’s going to come down to special teams.

While Michigan has gotten an upgrade at special teams coordinator as well, these things take time. Again, Rome was not built in a day (or even one offseason). They’ll play well and we’re guaranteed to see 11 men on the field at all times but if this game comes down to kicking, and it likely will, Michigan is in a heap of trouble. Not one experienced kicker on the roster and no separation among them (word is it’s NOT because no one can miss).

Utah has their cupcakes and eats them too, courtesy of the sports authority publication that is Popular Mechanics. The Harbaugh era starts with a loss but the team does not look lost or too soft or just plain awful. It will get better as the season wears on.

Utah 27 – Michigan 19 (three touchdowns and two failed two-point conversions)

Joe: Game day is finally here and I am officially ready to get this show on the road. I haven’t been able to sleep all week. This has been one heck of an off season and should only get better as this team grows and takes on the coach’s personality. The only question I have is how long will that take to happen?

I think we will have a fundamentally sound team on both sides of the ball with Jabrill Peppers and Joe Bolden leading the way on a solid defense. The offense is led by a solid running backs corps. If Isaac is healthy , the running back threesome will turn some heads. Whoever the starting quarterback is will be asked to manage games and not turn the ball over. This could mean Rudock is the man…ZZZZzzzzzz……… While this doesn’t excite me, it could be for the best. With some “better than average” ball control, this unit can take over some games and surprise some people.

Special teams is still a huge question mark but should be okay with a very good punter in transfer in Blake O’Neill. Did I just reference a punter? Yep, it’s time to get some sleep. I can’t wait for game time, but think we will end up on the wrong side of things in Harbaugh’s debut. At least the tailgate food will be top-notch. Go Blue.

Utah 35 – Michigan 28 

M&GB season preview roundtable 2015

Friday, August 28th, 2015


Harbaugh Michigan(Getty Images)

The last Friday before the first game week is traditionally when we put forth our season previews in roundtable form. That day has come and it’s time to put our predictions in ink. We won’t fully revisit last season’s predictions because, well, why would anyone want to? But our record predictions ranged from 8-4 to 10-2 and we all know how that went. Here’s to hoping this year is a bit more accurate.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: Of course the main source of excitement entering this season is Jim Harbaugh. He has nearly made Michigan fans forget about a 5-7 season and turned what would have been a long, painful offseason into the most exciting in recent memory. But what I’m most excited about this season is seeing a well-coached team play up to its full potential.

One of the areas Brady Hoke succeeded was recruiting, and although he missed on several big targets during his four years, he left the team well stocked in terms of talent. He just had trouble developing that talent to its potential. That’s an area Harbaugh has always excelled at, from San Diego to Stanford to San Francisco. I don’t expect a Big Ten title this year, but I do expect to see a well-prepared team that gets better as the season goes along, which will be a nice change of pace from the last seven years.

Derick: It looks like it’s a full go for the former five-star after an injury-riddled freshman campaign, and his move to safety, along with possible snaps on offense and returning kicks, should give us our first full look at what he can do. If he plays to his ceiling, Peppers could be the best player on both sides of the ball for Michigan this season.

Sam: I’m sure everyone can summarize their excitement in one word: Harbaugh. It’s still yet to hit a lot of Michigan fans, including this one, that one of the premier football coaches at any level of the game is now in Ann Arbor, and it will be a site to behold when Harbaugh joins the team running onto the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. After four years of relative incompetency on the sidelines, the Wolverines will be well-coached, well-prepared, and hungry.

Josh: Competent coaching. I liked Brady Hoke but as time went on it became very clear that he and his staff were way in over their heads and just not cut out for big time college football. Harbaugh and his staff all have high level college and/or NFL experience and a proven track record. If Harbaugh’s past stops are any indication, and I think they are, we won’t be complaining about lack of development or lackluster play-calling. This staff will identify, develop and place their players in the best position available to succeed.

What worries you the most entering this season?

Justin: The non-conference schedule worries me most. Not Oregon State or UNLV, but the opener at Utah and then the fourth game against BYU. Both are very good opponents that could beat Michigan, and those two games will go a long way toward the success of this season. I expect Michigan to gain strength as the season progresses, but no one really knows what to expect next Thursday. So many questions abound offensively, most notably at quarterback. If Michigan can survive Utah and BYU, a very good season awaits. But lose both of those and they’ll have to pull off an upset to get to seven or eight wins.

Derick: The passing game. With the questions at quarterback and the glaring lack of a dominant receiver, Michigan’s passing game could be in for another ugly year. Either Jake Ruddock or Shane Morris will take the reins, and though they can’t be worse than Devin Gardner was last season, there are only a few reliable targets to throw to. Jake Butt will have to finally put together a complete season, and Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will have to make plays downfield.

Sam: There are questions all over the offensive side of the ball, which is certainly not a good sign after Michigan struggled to move the ball in recent seasons, but I think Jake Rudock and the offensive line will be solid enough considering the perceived strength of the defense. What worries me most, however, is the schedule. The season opener will be a battle in a hostile stadium in Salt Lake City, BYU always seems to have a great offense, Michigan State and Ohio State figure to be strong yet again, and Minnesota and Penn State are on the rise and should prove to be formidable road tests.

Josh: I’m still very worried about the offense in general. While we can all assume Rudock is the QB the fact remains that there are no proven game changing play-makers on this roster. What we’ve seen from De’veon Smith and Derrick Green doesn’t exactly instill confidence, maybe Ty Isaac steps up but reports out of camp don’t seem promising. If Drake Johnson was 100 percent I’d feel much better, as he was the only running back that has shown enough to think he could be the No. 1 guy.

At receiver we have two guys with experience, and neither have really lit it up. Maybe Drake Harris or Brian Cole or Grant Perry step up, but they are all unknowns at this point and that is the problem. There is potential on this offense but no one has shown they are the man yet. Until a couple of them prove that this offense could be very pedestrian and unlikely to have the firepower to keep up with higher scoring teams.
Who will be the breakout player on offense this season?

Justin: While I think Jake Butt will have a huge season in Harbaugh’s offense, I see him as an already proven commodity and not worthy of breakout player consideration. That said, Drake Harris has to be the obvious choice here as the preseason hype continues to build. Michigan has lacked a game-changer at receiver the past couple of seasons, and Amara Darbor and Jehu Chesson are running out of time to step up. Harris missed his senior season at Grand Rapids Christian and then a hamstring injury kept him out of his freshman season a year ago. Provided he can stay healthy, he has the size — 6-foot-4, 174 pounds — and talent — he caught 91 passes for 2,015 yards as a junior — to be a star in the Maize and Blue.

Derick: I look for Jake Butt to break out as Michigan’s most reliable target over the middle this season. He should finally have a more accurate quarterback to get him the ball this season, and he’s playing for Jim Harbaugh, who pumps out NFL-caliber tight ends like an assembly line. Butt has had his moments over the past two seasons, but he’s never even put up 250 yards in a year. I think that’ll change in 2015.

Sam: After nearly two full years off the field, Drake Harris seems to finally be healthy and right in the mix at the wide receiver spot. Harris, a redshirt freshman from Grand Rapids, has all the physical tools and a full set of skills to be an excellent downfield threat or move-the-chains type of pass catcher. If his hamstring holds up and his blazing speed is still there, I think he could potentially emerge as the number one threat at a position of need for Harbaugh’s offense.

Josh: Jake Butt. We all know Harbaugh loves the tight end and now that Jake Butt is healthy he should be in for a monster year. Unlike Devin Funchess, Butt is a decent blocker so he can be lined up on the line, and has the athleticism to line up on the outside, in the slot or maybe in the backfield. Harbaugh and Co. are going to have a field day with Butt. Couple that with Rudock’s reputation, fair or not, for taking the safe, easy throw and Butt is primed for a huge season. I would be shocked if he didn’t lead the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns.

Who will be the breakout player on defense this season?

Justin: Last year’s pick, Jourdan Lewis, enjoyed a successful season as the team’s best defensive back and is poised for an even better season this fall. But how can I pick anyone other than Jabrill Peppers? We had to wait a full year for this, since he only made it a couple of games last fall. But now, with a full year in the program and a coaching staff that will allow him to thrive — potentially in all three phases of the game — his time has come.

Derick: Jourdan Lewis is going to put on a show this season. He burst onto the scene as Michigan’s top cornerback in 2014, and now he’s primed to take the next step as a shutdown defensive back. It’s a bit of a thin secondary behind Lewis heading into the season, so he’ll need to be everything Blake Countess wasn’t during his encore.

Sam: Michigan’s defense looks like it could be excellent on paper, and I think the addition of D.J. Durkin as the new coordinator will boost an already great unit that boasts a terrific linebacker corps, a potentially dynamic safety in Jabrill Peppers, a star-in-waiting in Jourdan Lewis, and a number of stout defensive tackles. Defensive end, however, remains a question mark, making my breakout defensive player pick, Taco Charlton, all the more important. Like Harris, Charlton has the body and raw potential to be excellent, but he needs to get his technique down to be a consistent threat to pressure the quarterback.

Josh: I wish I could pick someone other than Jabrill Peppers but I can’t. He’s just a freak athlete and by all accounts appears to be capable of not only playing multiple positions but playing them well. Depending on where he plays he’s either gonna be a big hit playmaker or a shut down corner. Either way, this should be the guy that takes this defense from good to great.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: Braxton Miller gets hurt. Wait, then J.T. Barrett. And maybe Cardale Jones too? Oh, I give up. Michigan won’t win the Big Ten this season, but by season’s end will look much more like a conference title contender heading into the offseason. Disclaimer: I would never wish a player to get hurt, and I certainly hope it doesn’t happen again.

Derick: the running game is dominant, the passing game is adequate, the defense doesn’t drop off dramatically and Ohio State secedes from the conference to join the SEC. Michigan was a hot mess when Jim Harbaugh got to town, and one year isn’t going to be enough to turn that around. A Big Ten title will be the goal in Year 3 of this regime. Until then, look for obvious improvement across the board and set realistic expectations.

Sam: dogs fly? In reality, I don’t really think Michigan has a legitimate shot at a Big Ten title this season with two top-10 teams in their division and four very challenging conference games. The only way they have a chance is if they win all but one Big Ten game (requiring wins in three of Michigan State, Ohio State, @Minnesota, and @Penn State) and MSU or OSU unexpectedly slips up elsewhere.

Josh: East Lansing and Columbus sink into the center of the Earth. Seriously. Unless both Michigan State and Ohio State don’t show up (in the literal sense, as in they stay at home) to Ann Arbor and Michigan plays perfectly all season I don’t see how this is even something to ponder.

What is your prediction for the season? Record, who will Michigan lose to, and what bowl game will Michigan play in?

Justin: I think we’re looking at a 9-4 team when all is said and done. Losses to Utah, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State. All four losses will be competitive and it will be clear that Michigan isn’t the pushover it has been in recent years. An Outback Bowl win over an SEC squad will heighten expectations heading into 2016.

Derick: I’ll say Michigan goes 9-4, though that might be a bit generous. Utah will be a good test right out of the gate, and I think Michigan will go through some growing pains and drop the opener. The Michigan State and Ohio State games are both at home, but I don’t give Michigan much of a chance in either of those contests. Michigan State plays with the physicality Michigan aspires to attain and Ohio State is one of the deepest teams in the country at all positions, not just quarterback. I also think the Wolverines drop the Nov. 21 game in Happy Valley, with the home game against Ohio State looming. Penn State is an elite defensive team and Michigan’s offense is a complete unknown, so I’ll give the edge to the Nittany Lions.

A late September home game against BYU will be a tough test for Michigan heading into the Big Ten season, and the Golden Gophers won’t be a pushover in Minnesota, coming off an eight-win season. But if Michigan can pull out both of those games and finish the regular season with eight wins, I think they’ll get an invite to the Outback Bowl and beat up on an overrated SEC team. I like Harbaugh’s chances after a month of preparation and a full season of coaching up his players.

Sam: While I don’t think Michigan will win the Big Ten, I do think it will be a very solid season overall, with a 9-3 regular season finish, losses to Michigan State, at Penn State, and Ohio State, and a bowl win in the Gator Bowl (TaxSlayer Bowl) for a 10-3 final record.

Josh: There are two trains of thought when it comes to Michigan’s recent lack of success. One is that these kids weren’t as good as their recruiting rankings suggest and they are just a bunch of busts. The other is that they’ve been victims of a losing culture and very poor coaching. I fall on the inept coaching/losing culture side and while I know Harbaugh will bring us back to the Michigan of old it’s going to take time, likely a few years. Rome wasn’t built in a day, or so I hear.

Right now I think this is a borderline seven or eight win team, the defense should be very good but the offense has a lot to prove and while there may be ‘potential’ I’ll believe it when I see it. The fact that neither of two former five-star running backs (or anyone else for that matter) have separated themselves from the pack and the one consistent commodity (Drake Johnson) is recovering from his second torn ACL concerns me. I think it’ll be better than last year (Rudock isn’t going be a turnover machine) but unless someone like Drake Harris or Ty Isaac step up and just dominate it’s not going to be explosive by any stretch.
Losses will come to Utah, MSU and OSU with another between the “toss-up games” BYU, Minnesota and Penn State. The fact that Minnesota and Penn State are on the road really worries me and but I think we’re still looking at a 8-4 season with a decent pre-New Year’s bowl because it’s Michigan and Harbaugh. However, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if this team got to nine or 10 wins (not including the bowl game).

Predicting Michigan 2015: The special teams

Thursday, August 27th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-SpecialTeams

Blake O'Neill(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously: Quarterbacksrunning backswide receiverstight endsoffensive linedefensive linelinebackers, secondary

Michigan will welcome back most of its offensive and defensive starters in 2015, but the special teams stars will see a huge turnover.
Matt Wile, who went 15-of-21 in field goal attempts last season, and Will Hagerup, who averaged 42.9 yards per punt, both graduated and left two starting kicking spots open. Returner Dennis Norfleet is also absent from the roster after being dismissed by Jim Harbaugh.

Here’s a look at the guys ready to step up as special teams leaders.

Kicker

With Wile’s departure, and little left behind him on the current roster, Michigan needed to fill the empty kicker position from the outside. Enter, Andrew David. The Ohio native is one of the top kicking recruits in the 2015 class and enters his freshman season after handling both field goals and kickoffs in high school.

David’s calling card is his elite leg strength, which will be key in his winning the kickoff job as a true freshman. His field goal accuracy left something to be desired in high school, but if he can sort that out with coach John Baxter, he’s got the leg power — he made a 58-yard field goal at Massillon (Ohio) High School last season — to be one of the top kickers in the Big Ten.

If David struggles, walk-ons Kenny Allen, Ryan Tice, and Kyle Seychel will duke it out for the starting job. Only Allen, who booted a 51-yard punt against Central Michigan in 2013, has seen the field for the Wolverines.

Punter

The open punting position was up for grabs this offseason until Michigan landed Weber State graduate transfer Blake O’Neill. The Melbourne, Australia native averaged 44.1 yards per punt last season in the FCS and should run away with the starting job this season.

To put O’Neill’s final season at Weber State in perspective, only 14 FBS teams averaged more than 44.1 yards per punt last season, and only Ohio State and Minnesota ranked higher in the Big Ten. If he picks up where he left off, Michigan will have a one-year upgrade at punter.

Career Stats – O’Neill
Year Punts Yards Average Long TB FC In-20 Blk
2014 62 2,737 44.1 71 8 17 25 1
Totals 62 2,737 44.1 71 8 17 25 1
*At Weber State

Returner

The battle for the starting return job is one of the most intriguing heading into the mountains of Utah. Michigan averaged a terrible 19.9 yards per kick return and 6.8 yards per punt return last season, neither of which cracked the top 80 in the country.

The player with the most upside is clearly Jabrill Peppers, who was an elite returner in high school. Peppers is perhaps the best all-around athlete on the team and Harbaugh even hinted during the offseason that he could be a three-way player. He’s got elite speed, quickness and vision and would be a home run threat every time he catches the ball.

If Peppers only gets one of the jobs, it’ll likely be as punt returner, where he was excellent in high school and would have more open space to make a big play.

Another option is cornerback Jourdan Lewis, the fastest defender on the team and a standout in the secondary last season. Lewis returned just one kick for six yards last season, but has the athleticism to be a solid returner if Michigan goes in that direction. His ceiling is much lower than Peppers’ however.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The secondary

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Secondary

Jabrill Peppers(Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers

The unit with the most room to improve on Michigan’s defense under Jim Harbaugh is the secondary, which has been a weakness over the past few seasons. With the departure of both preseason starting cornerbacks from last season, Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, there’s room for new guys to step in and make some noise under the new regime.

Luckily, there’s plenty of depth at both cornerback and safety for the Wolverines. A few younger players stepped in and played heightened roles during the 2014 season and figure to hold the reins heading into Week 1 against Utah.

Here’s a look at how the secondary will line up.

Probable starters

Jourdan-Lewis-vs-Miami-OH

Jourdan Lewis looks to build on a breakout season in 2014 (MGoBlue.com)

While the cornerback group might not have the depth of the safeties on paper, two rock solid starters should give Michigan a big lift against the pass. Jourdan Lewis was clearly the defense’s most improved player last season and burst onto the scene as the most consistent cornerback on the roster. Lewis has elite speed to go along with good hands and instincts, and by the end of the season he was matching up with opposing No. 1 wide receivers.

Lewis started seven games and picked up 39 tackles and two picks. He was Michigan’s best defense against downfield passes and broke up six passes. If he can build on his fabulous sophomore season, he’ll be the leader in the Michigan secondary.

Across from Lewis will be Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons, who played parts of four seasons for the Cardinal. Lyons injured his foot after two games as a freshman, qualifying for a medical redshirt and allowing him to transfer to Michigan as a graduate student.

Lyons enjoyed a decorated career at Stanford, playing 41 games at cornerback and appearing on the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list prior to the 2014 season. He picked up 30 tackles as a senior and broke up three passes. He recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles, and picked off two passes as a junior in 2013.

Lyons was recruited by Harbaugh in 2011 when he committed to Stanford and will rejoin his coach in Ann Arbor for his final college season. Lyons will likely win a starting job after Countess decided to transfer for his final season.

Harbaugh and his staff have a handful of options at secondary, though one of the starters will certainly be the dynamic Jabrill Peppers. Peppers, the best pure athlete on the team, was moved to safety this offseason after struggling to stay healthy as a true freshman. He played in only three games and recorded eight tackles, but the flashes of his ability have Michigan fans eager for his true coming out party.

Peppers joined Michigan as a five-star recruit who dominated his senior season at Paramus Catholic High School under Coach Chris Partridge. Peppers was a star on offense and defense in high school, but was recruited as a defensive back. In two years at Paramus Catholic, Peppers picked up 134 tackles, seven picks, and two sacks.

If Peppers stays healthy, he’ll likely be the best player on the Michigan defense.

At free safety, Jarrod Wilson returns from a fine junior season in which he recorded 50 tackles and two pass break-ups. At 6-foot-2, Wilson has size to go with his quickness and his ball skills have gotten better throughout his career. Wilson was huge for Michigan last season with the struggles at corner. If the Wolverines improve in front of Wilson this season, he’ll have more reign to force turnovers and break up passes.

Projected Stats – Lewis
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
40 2.0 4
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
25 42 14 56 0.0 1.5 0 8 2
Projected Stats – Lyons
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
45 2.0 3
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
43 81 46 127 0.0 4.5 3 7 3
Projected Stats – Peppers
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
50 3.0 4
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
3 6 2 8 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Projected Stats – Wilson
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
40 1.0 2
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
36 56 52 108 0.0 3.0 1 4 2

Returning contributors

Michigan returns only one other cornerback who played a major role during 2014, Channing Stribling. Stribling played 10 games as a backup corner last season, making seven tackles. He has been a decent rotational guy in two college seasons, but will be asked to play a larger role as an upperclassman. Stribling is tall for a cornerback and is fast enough to stick with Big Ten receivers. His playmaking ability isn’t up to par with the likes of Lewis or Lyons, but he can hold his own.

Safety is a different story for Michigan in terms of depth. Delano Hill started five games for Michigan last season and made 21 tackles. He’s only six feet tall, but Hill is a great tackler and stands out as a security blanket downfield. Hill’s value lies in his versatility. He was used to cover both receivers and tight ends in 2014 and has a good nose for the ball. He’ll be on the field for a ton of snaps this season.

Right there with Hill is redshirt junior Jeremy Clark, who played in 11 games and made 18 tackles in 2014. Clark is huge for a safety – 6-foot-4 – and shares strengths with Hill. He’s a great tackler, a hard hitter and has good speed for his size. Clark is strong in the run-stopping game as a safety and can match up with any position player on the offense.

Dymonte Thomas also played a big role in 2014, playing in 10 games and making 27 tackles. He’s got the highest ceiling in this group of defensive backs after coming to Michigan as a five-star recruit. Thomas is fast and athletic, which allows him to stay with receivers downfield and play physical with ball carriers in front of him.

Hill, Clark, and Thomas give Michigan a ton of depth at safety and lift much of the weight off the cornerbacks’ shoulders. A.J. Pearson is another name to watch in the rotation, though he didn’t get much time last season. He could fill in anywhere in the secondary.

Projected Stats – Stribling
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
25 0.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
23 20 3 23 0.0 0.5 1 0 0
Projected Stats – Hill
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
22 0.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
20 14 7 21 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Projected Stats – Clark
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
20 1.5 0
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
19 10 8 18 0.0 0.0 0 1 0
Projected Stats – Thomas
Total Tackles Tackles for Loss INT
25 1.0 1
Career Stats
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF PDef INT
23 24 10 34 0.0 0.0 1 0 0

New faces

Michigan brought in two new cornerbacks this spring, led by Alabama native Keith Washington. Washington is defined by his elite speed in the secondary and will use it to make plays on the ball. If Washington can stick with receivers at the college level, he’ll be a dangerous corner when the ball is thrown to his side of the field.

Tyree Kinnel comes out of high school with just as much upside as Washington, though he doesn’t possess his elite speed. Kinnel is a sound tackler and can defend both the run and the pass.

Both true freshmen will get a chance to earn playing time in 2015, as Michigan’s cornerback group isn’t as deep as others. They’ll have to prove they can effectively cover Big Ten-caliber receivers to get a chance.

Meet the rest

Terry Richardson – senior, 5’9″, 174 from Detroit, Mich. (Cass Tech), 14 career games played
Travis Wooley – senior, 6’0″, 195 from Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. (Sault Area), no career stats
Matt Mitchell – sophomore, 5’10”, 179 from Dexter, Mich. (Dexter), no career stats
Brandon Watson – sophomore, 5’11”, 189 from Wilmington, Del (Eastern Christian Academy), no career stats
Reon Dawson – junior, 6’2″, 175 from from Trotwood, Ohio (Trotwood-Madison), no career stats
Francois Montbrun – junior, 5’10”, 183 from Ishpeming, Mich. (Westwood), no career stats
Anthony Dalimonte – junior, 5’9″, 176 from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (Brother Rice), no career stats
Shaun Austin – senior, 6’1″, 202 from Plymouth, Mich. (Plymouth), no career stats

Michigan releases Spring Game rosters

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015


Michigan spring practice(Melanie Maxwell, MLive)

With the 2015 Spring Game just three days away, Michigan announced the rosters for the two teams on Wednesday afternoon. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will coach the Maize team, while offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will head the Blue team.

Instead of a simple practice format that Brady Hoke, Rich Rodriguez, and late-era Lloyd Carr preferred, Jim Harbaugh is bringing a jolt of life to the event with a full game consisting of four 10-minute quarters. The team hosted a draft last Saturday to determine the two squads that will face off this Saturday.

Gates open at 10 a.m. with kickoff scheduled for noon. The game will be televised on Big Ten Network and Jim Brandstatter, Dan Dierdorf, and Doug Karsch will have the call on the Michigan/IMG Sports Network.

Maize team Blue team
No. Name Pos. No. Name Pos.
4 DeVeon Smith RB 2 Blake Countess DB
5 Jabrill Peppers DB 3 Bo Dever WR
6 Brian Cleary QB 5 Kenneth Sloss WR
7 Henry Poggi DE 7 Shane Morris QB
8 Channing Stribling DB 12 Allen Gant LB
9 Ramsey Romano QB 13 Terry Richardson DB
10 Da’Mario Jones WR 13 Matt Thompson QB
12 Alex Malzone QB 14 Drake Harris WR
15 Garrett Moores QB 16 Jack Wangler WR
17 Freddy Canteen WR 18 Antonio Whitfield RB
18 A.J. Pearson DB 19 Wilton Speight QB
19 Jared Wangler LB 20 Matt Mitchell DB
23 Dennis Norfleet WR 22 Jarrod Wilson S
27 Derrick Green RB 23 Jeffrey Houston DB
27 Travis Wooley DB 25 Dymonte Thomas DB
30 Reon Dawson CB 26 Jourdan Lewis DB
31 Nick Benda LB 28 Brandon Watson DB
34 Jeremy Clark S 29 Ross Taylor-Douglas CB
35 Joe Bolden LB 31 Kyle Seychel K/P
37 Bobby Henderson FB 32 Ty Isaac RB
40 Joe Beneducci FB 32 Shaun Austin DB
41 Ryan Tice K/P 33 Wyatt Shallman RB
42 Ben Gedeon LB 36 Joe Kerridge FB
44 Delano Hill DB 38 Francois Montbrun DB
44 Chase Winovich TE 38 Nick Volk FB
45 Brady Pallante FB 43 Chris Wormley DE
46 Deyanco Hardwick LB 43 Scott Sypniewski LS
49 Anthony Dalimonte DB 48 Desmond Morgan LB
49 Andrew Robinson LS 52 Royce Jenkins-Stone LB
50 Tom Strobel DE 55 David Dawson OL
51 Greg Froelich OL 55 Garrett Miller DL
52 Mason Cole OT 61 Graham Glasgow OL
57 Patrick Kugler OL 62 Alex Kaminski LB
62 Blake Bars OL 63 Ben Pliska OL
67 Kyle Kalis OL 66 Dan Liesman LB
73 Maurice Hurst Jr. DT 69 Willie Henry DT
75 Nikhil Brueggeman OL 71 Ben Braden OL
78 Erik Magnuson OL 72 Logan Tuley-Tillman OL
81 Brian Cole WR 74 Dan Samuelson OL
84 A.J. Williams TE 76 Juwan Bushell-Beatty OT
85 Maurice Ways WR 82 Amara Darboh WR
86 Jehu Chesson WR 83 Jaron Dukes WR
89 Brad Anlauf WR 88 Jake Butt TE
90 Bryan Mone DT 94 Ian Bunting TE
91 Kenny Allen K/P 95 Michael Jocz TE
93 Lawrence Marshall DE 96 Ryan Glasgow DL
97 Cody Zeisler DE

New in Blue: Stanford CB transfer Wayne Lyons

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015


Wayne Lyons

Wayne Lyons – CB | 6-1, 193 | Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Dillard (Stanford University)
ESPN: 4-star, #7 Saf, 81 grade Rivals: 4-star, #6 Saf 247: 4-star, #4 Saf Scout: 4-star, #8 Saf
Other top offers: Stanford, Nebraska, UCLA, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Florida
*Class of 2011

Wayne Lyons became the second transfer to sign with Michigan since signing day Tuesday, joining D.J. Durkin’s defense as a fifth-year cornerback. Lyons spent the last four years at Stanford University, playing 41 games from 2012-2014 after his freshman season was cut short due to a broken foot.

Lyons’ calling card is his athleticism. He played both linebacker and cornerback in high school, so his tackling and ball-hawking skills help him stay with bigger receivers. He also ran track and specialized in hurdles, giving Michigan a dangerous speed combination to go with Jourdan Lewis.

Lyons picked up 30 tackles in 13 games last season, breaking up three passes and forcing a fumble. He recorded 69 tackles as a redshirt sophomore in 2013.

As a four-star recruit, Lyons was a top-10 cornerback out of Florida. He joins a Michigan secondary that lost starting cornerback Raymon Taylor to graduation and returns 2014 standout Lewis, senior Blake Countess, and gets mega-hyped Jabrill Peppers back from injury.

Fourth annual M&GB HAIL Awards

Monday, January 12th, 2015


HAIL Awards banner

The 2014 college football season officially comes to an end tonight, and while Michigan’s season has been over for a month and a half and everybody is swept up in Harbaughmania, we’re going to close the book on 2014 with one more look back at Michigan’s season by handing out our annual HAIL Awards for the top players, plays, and moments.

Despite coming off of a 7-5 season, the team entered the season with high expectations, most ranging from 8-4 to 11-2. With the majority of the offense back, an expected leap forward from the two Devins, a new offensive coordinator, and an offensive line that had nowhere to go but up, most assumed the offense would avoid the pitfalls that the 2013 season saw. And with the majority of the defense back, an offseason shuffling of position coaches, switching Jake Ryan to middle linebacker, and a predicted senior season breakout of Frank Clark, most assumed the defense would be among the nation’s best.

But following a season-opening blowout of Appalachian State, it quickly became clear that those preseason expectations would need to be tempered as Michigan visited South Bend and left embarrassed by a 31-0 defeat. A 34-10 win over Miami (Ohio) did nothing to turn the season around as Michigan dropped three straight to Utah, Minnesota, and Rutgers, and suddenly a season that began with hope was relegated to simply hoping for a winning record.

A controversy over the handling of backup quarterback Shane Morris and his “probable, mild concussion” suffered against Minnesota further clouded the season and set the wheels in motion for a coaching change. Michigan responded with an Under the Lights win over Penn State that offered a brief respite, but was summarily mopped off the field by rival Michigan State two weeks later. Needing to win three of four to make a bowl game, Michigan topped Indiana and Northwestern, but fell to Maryland, making a season-ending trip to Columbus a must-win. And while Michigan held its own for the better part of three quarters, even holding a halftime lead, it was unable to stop the Buckeyes, and the season ended at 5-7.

Brady Hoke was fired following the season, and exactly four weeks later, Harbaugh was hired as the 20th head coach in Michigan history. But before we turn our attention completely to Harbaugh, let’s relive the top moments of Team 135.

To revisit previous years awards: 20132012, 2011, or click here for a breakdown of each award.

Harmon Player of the Year Jake Ryan

RyanThe first three years of our HAIL Awards produced offensive players as Michigan’s player of the year. But in 2014, it was only fitting that a defensive player win it for the first time. Michigan’s offense sputtered to 112th nationally in total offense, 109th in scoring, 110th in passing, and 62nd in rushing.

Jake Ryan switched positions in the offseason, moving into the middle of the linebacking corps in order to stay on the field for more plays and keep opposing offenses from game planning away from him. It paid off with a team-leading 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss to go along with two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

“For a team that relied so heavily on the defense to keep the game close, Jake Ryan was the anchor and leader from the linebacker position,” said Derick.

“Hands down rock star on this team,” said Joe. “He may have started slow, but came on strong as the season progressed. His presence on the field will be missed!”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Denard Robinson

Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year  Devin Gardner & Devin Funchess (tie)

Gardner-FunchessMichigan’s offense stunk this season. There’s no denying it. It finished second to last in the Big Ten in scoring, last in total offense, eighth in rushing, 11th in passing, second to last in first downs, eighth in third down conversions, and tied for last in turnovers. Does anyone really deserve to be named offensive player of the year? Alas, we had to vote, and the Devins each received two.

“The lone bright spot (at least for a few games) was junior Devin Funchess, whose physical skillset on the outside went underutilized,” Sam said. “Funchess still had fewer receiving yards than he did in his breakout sophomore campaign, but his fireworks in the first few games were pretty much the lone bright spot on the year.”

Joe made the case for Devin Gardner:

“Okay, stick with me on this one. His numbers weren’t great, but he showed tremendous heart and never gave up on this team in spite of all the adversity. Love him or hate him, he is a heckuva young man.”

Votes: 2 each
Others Receiving Votes: Amara Darboh (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Schulz Defensive Player of the Year  Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan vs Miami OHHad Frank Clark not had an off-the-field incident and been kicked off the team, he would have been in the running for defensive player of the year. But Ryan was the best player on a defense that was pretty good but never really lived up to expectations. He led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss and recorded two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

“Jake Ryan made some head-scratching mistakes in his role as middle linebacker, but he also reminded us how great of a player he can be on more than one occasion,” said Sam. “He was the unforgettable heart and soul of a very forgettable team.”

“Easy pick, and we look forward to watching him play on Sundays,” said Joe.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Jourdan Lewis (1), The field (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Blake Countess
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Mike Martin

Yost Coach of the Year Greg Mattison

MattisonThe defense brought high expectations into the season, and although it finished a very respectable seventh nationally in total defense, no one would consider it one of the top seven defenses in the country. The failures of the offense had a lot to do with that, putting the defense in tough spots time and again and forcing the defense to carry the team, but the defense often struggled to get key stops and takeaways. Even so, there’s no question who the most important coach on the staff was this season.

All told, it ranked third in the Big Ten in total defense, fifth in scoring defense, third against the run, sixth against the pass, seventh in sacks, second in opponent first downs, and eighth in opponent third-down conversions.

“Greg Mattison’s defense was underrated because of the massive amount of time it spent on the field,” said Derick. “The offense constantly put them up against a wall, and the defense still ranked among the best in the conference.”

“The defense was the one bright spot of the team this year, if there was one,” said Josh.

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeff Hecklinski
2012: Greg Mattison
2011: Brady Hoke & Greg Mattison (tie)

Little Brown Jug Game of the Year Under the Lights III win over Penn State

UTLIII winFor the second straight year a loss to Ohio State nearly won this category. What does that say about the state of the program the past couple years? Instead, Michigan’s 18-13 win over Penn State took the cake. The third night game in Michigan Stadium history was a festive occasion amidst an otherwise forgettable season, and although Penn State wasn’t anything special in 2014 either, it was a big win at the time.

Wearing all blue uniforms for the first time ever, Michigan held Penn State to just 214 total yards and sacked Christian Hackenberg six times. Devin Gardner went 16-of-24 for 192 yards and a touchdown, Devin Funchess caught seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, and Matt Wile made field goals of 37, 42, and 45 yards. Michigan moved to 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in the Big Ten, but remained perfect under the lights in the Big House.

“The night game against Penn State was the only game that really brought magic to the Big House,” said Derick. “Penn State was considered a solid team at the time.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Sticking with Ohio State (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Under the Lights II win over Notre Dame
2012: Last second field goal to beat Michigan State
2011: 40-34 win over Ohio State

Howard Play of the Year Frank Clark stops Northwestern two-point conversion

Frank Clark vs NorthwesternHis Michigan career ended unceremoniously, but Frank Clark gets the nod for play of the year. It ended up being the last play of his career, and at the time kept Michigan in postseason contention. For the third straight season, Michigan and Northwestern played an ugly, down-to-the-wire game. Michigan had won the previous two in overtime, and this time Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald wanted no extra football to be played.

When the Wildcats scored a touchdown with three seconds to play, Fitzgerald kept the offense on the field instead of kicking the extra point that would have tied the game. Quarterback Trevor Siemian rolled to his right, planning to stop and throw back to his left, but Clark shot right through the blockers to cut him off. As Siemian tried to stop, he lost his footing and fell to the ground untouched to end the game. After the game, Clark and other Michigan defenders said they knew exactly what play was coming.

“Frank Clark’s stop looked like the play that would get Michigan into a bowl game,” said Derick. “Even though that didn’t happen, it did essentially win a game on its own.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Willie Henry fat-guy touchdown (1), Ben Gedeon blocked punt return vs App State (1)

Past Winners:
2013: Fire drill field goal to force overtime at Northwestern
2012: Roy Roundtree’s acrobatic catch against Northwestern
2011: Denard’s touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to beat ND

Biakabutuka Performance of the Year Devin Gardner’s 254 yards, 2 TDs vs Ohio State

Devin Gardner vs OSULike the season as a whole, there weren’t many individual performances that stood out. Drake Johnson’s 122-yard, two-touchdown performance against Indiana won two votes, while Devin Funchess’ seven-catch, 95-yard, three-touchdown performance and Derrick Green’s 15-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Appalachian State were nominated. But for the second straight year, Devin Gardner’s performance against Ohio State gets the nod.

Gardner finished his career with his best game of the season, completing 22-of-32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns to keep the game much closer than anyone expected. He began the game with an interception that led to Ohio State’s first touchdown, but shook it off and found Jake Butt for Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. On Michigan’s next drive, Gardner ran for 10 yards on third down to keep the drive alive and set up a Drake Johnson touchdown run. Late in the game, Gardner connected with Freddy Canteen for another touchdown.

“The most impressive performances come in the biggest games, and the fact that Gardner kept this Michigan team in the game for nearly three quarters against a national championship game participant was nothing short of a miracle,” said Derick.

“Once again, Michigan looked to be toast heading into The Game, and once again, the Wolverines hung around long enough to tease the Michigan faithful,” said Sam. “Surprisingly, it was Devin Gardner who had his best game of a miserable season, picking apart the Buckeye defense in the first half to give the Maize and Blue a fighting chance.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Drake Johnson’s 122 yards, 2 TD (7.6 ypc) vs Indiana (2)

Past Winners:
2013: Devin Gardner’s record-setting performance against Ohio State
2012: Denard recording 101% of offense vs Air Force

2011: Denard’s five TDs in win over Ohio State

Friedman Quarterback of the Year Devin Gardner

GardnerGardner had his struggles this season, but his heart and commitment to Michigan can never be questioned. He lost his starting job to Shane Morris five games into the season, but kept his head up and fought hard the rest of the way. Morris’ woeful performance and injury against Minnesota let Gardner retain the job the rest of the season and he closed his career with a good performance against Ohio State.

He finished the season 174-of-283 (61.5 percent) for 1,896 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, and rushed 98 times for 258 yards (2.6 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He finished his career sixth in career touchdown passes (44), fourth in career passing yards (6,336), and fourth in career completions (475).

“Gardner wasn’t great, but the Minnesota game made it painfully obvious that he was the best Michigan had,” said Derick.

“As previously mentioned, he really did play his tail off for this team and left it all on the field,” said Joe. “Despite the results, you have to admire this young man’s character and work ethic.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Devin Gardner
2012: Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
2011: Denard Robinson

Heston Running Back of the Year Drake Johnson

Drake Johnson vs IULast season, Michigan’s running back situation was so bad that we didn’t even award a Running Back of the Year. This season, the running back play was much better and there were breakout performances by multiple backs, but injuries kept one back from running away with it. Derrick Green opened the season with a 15-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against Appalachian State. Two weeks later, he rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against Miami (Ohio). But midway through the season he broke his clavicle and missed the rest of the season.

Not to be outdone, DeVeon Smith rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries in the season opener, and while he stayed healthy, he managed just one more 100-yard game the rest of the way, an 18-carry, 121-yard, one-touchdown game against Northwestern. He finished the season as the team’s leading rusher with 519 yards and six touchdowns.

But anyone who watched Michigan over the last half of the season would be hard-pressed to say anyone looked better than Drake Johnson. The redshirt sophomore began 2013 as the backup, but tore his ACL in the season opener. He returned behind both Green and Smith, but once Green went down, he filled in nicely. Against Indiana, Johnson rushed 16 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, then he closed the season with 14 carries for 94 yards against Maryland and 15 carries for 74 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State before tearing his ACL once again in the third quarter. While he finished third on the team in rushing with 361 yards and had the fourth-most carries (60), he led all backs in yards per carry (6.0) and tied Gardner for second with four rushing touchdowns.

“With Green hurt and Smith never really breaking out, I believe that Johnson’s performance earned him this award,” said Joe. “If he had not have been sidelined in the Ohio game, who knows how that one could have turned out.”

“Forget recruiting rankings, Drake Johnson was the only running back who hit holes hard enough to pick up consistent gains, and he did it against OSU before the injury,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: De’Veon Smith (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: None
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Fitzgerald Toussaint

Carter Receiver of the Year Devin Funchess

FunchessAfter losing Jeremy Gallon to graduation, Michigan’s receiving corps looked to Devin Funchess to carry the load. He officially made the full-time switch from tight end to receiver and switched his jersey number from 87 to 1, the first Michigan receiver to wear the iconic number since Braylon Edwards. And he opened the season in style with seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns against Appalachian State. Of course, no one expected him to match those numbers the rest of the season, but it was fun to project his stats out over the course of 13 games: 91 catches, 1,235 yards, 39 touchdowns.

He followed it up with 107 yards on four catches against Notre Dame, but Michigan was shut out and Funchess suffered an injury that kept him out the following week. It took until the seventh game of the season — the Under the Lights game against Penn State — for Funchess to catch his fourth touchdown and then he was held without another the rest of the season. He closed with 108 yards on seven catches against Ohio State, but with no other breakout receivers stepping up, Funchess struggled with consistency and concentration all season.

He finished the season with a team leading 62 receptions for 733 yards and four touchdowns, but while he caught more passes than 2013, his yards fell by 15 and touchdowns decreased by two, and after that first game he was never the dominant threat he should have been. Still, with enviable size, he will enter the NFL Draft this April.

“Funchess could be a force in the NFL with his lethal combination of size, speed, and athleticism, and he could have been a dominant college receiver on a better team,” said Sam. “Unfortunately, Michigan simply wasn’t able to get him the ball much, even if he did make some crazy how-did-he-do-that catches (like against Penn State) and some my-grandma-could-have-caught-that drops.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Amara Darboh (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Jeremy Gallon
2011: Junior Hemingway

Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year Mason Cole

Mason ColeThe biggest reason for Michigan’s offensive ineptitude a year ago was the offensive line. Brady Hoke mixed and matched lineups, trying to find the right combination to protect his quarterback and pave the way for something resembling a running game, but often to no avail. Despite losing two tackles to the NFL — Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield — the line grew up a little bit in 2014. But it was a newcomer that took home the award.

Mason Cole became the first true freshman in Michigan history to start a season opener on the offensive line, replacing Lewan at left tackle from Week 1, and while he made his share of mistakes throughout the season, he generally made people forget he was in high school a few months prior. Michigan’s line allowed 25 sacks, which ranked eighth in the conference, but was 11 fewer than last season. It paved the way for an improvement of an improvement of 37.1 rushing yards per game. And Cole was a major reason why.

“Mason Cole was thrown into the fire as a true freshman left tackle and managed to not be a glaring weakness,” said Sam. “That’s a huge win in my book.”

“Cole has a bright future after a decent redshirt freshman season,” said Derick. “I was impressed with how he hung in there during the Big Ten season.”

Votes: 5

Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Taylor Lewan
2012: Taylor Lewan
2011: David Molk

Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year Willie Henry

Willie HenryDue to Frank Clark’s dismissal from the team with two games left in the season, this category suffered from a lack of standout performers at the position, which split the vote. Had Clark finished the season, his 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks — totals that would have had two more games added to them — would have won the award going away.

Instead, Willie Henry was the only lineman that received multiple votes, while Ryan Glasgow, Brennen Beyer, and Mario Ojemudia garnered one apiece. Henry finished the season with 20 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and three sacks, but he made one of the most memorable plays of the season. Trailing Utah 10-3 midway through the second quarter, Michigan needed a big play and Henry provided it. On 3rd-and-12 from their own 13, Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson dropped back to throw a screen pass, but Henry leapt up and snagged it at the 6-yard line and rumbled into the end zone to tie the game.

“Tough pick here, but since Clark dug his own grave, I was quite impressed with Henry,” said Joe. “His ceiling looks to be quite high and I look forward to watching him pressuring opposing quarterbacks in the future.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Ryan Glasgow (1), Brennen Beyer (1), Mario Ojemudia (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Frank Clark
2012: William Campbell
2011: Mike Martin & Ryan Van Bergen (tie)

Simpkins Linebacker of the Year Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan vs NorthwesternAfter winning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, this one was a lock, although it wasn’t unanimous. James Ross III received one vote after recording 32 tackles, and three tackles for loss. Sam explains his decision to vote for Ross:

“I know, I know…Jake Ryan wins MVP and Defensive MVP and isn’t even the best linebacker? My vote is probably a lie here, but I feel that James Ross deserves some recognition for a couple bone-crushing hits on opposing linemen. This was the best unit on the entire team, and Ross should have an excellent senior season.”

The other four votes went to Ryan, giving him the Linebacker of the Year award for the third time in four years. He led the team with 112 tackles (67 solo) and 14 tackles for loss, and added two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles three pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries. His 112 tackles were the most for a Michigan defender since Jonas Mouton recorded 117 in 2010, but Mouton did so in 13 games. It was the most in a 12-game season since Jarrett Irons recorded 115 tackles (80 solo) in 1994.

“Ryan moved over to middle linebacker despite being one of the top outside linebackers in the country. He anchored one of the top defenses in the Big Ten,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: James Ross III (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Desmond Morgan
2012: Jake Ryan
2011: Jake Ryan & Kenny Demens (tie)

Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan LewisLast season’s winner, Blake Countess, took a step back this season as Michigan’s secondary was constantly tested by opposing offenses. And while freshman Jabrill Peppers was expected to make the biggest impact, an early-season injury kept that from happening and it was another youngster that rose to the occasion. Sophomore Jourdan Lewis started seven of 12 games, and after being picked on in a Week 2 loss to Notre Dame, proved to be Michigan’s best corner as the season progressed.

Lewis finished the season with 39 tackles (28 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, and a team-leading two interceptions and six pass breakups. His third-quarter interception of Christian Hackenberg led to a game-tying field goal in Michigan’s win over Penn State, and he also made a touchdown-saving tackle against Utah in which he out-raced everyone across the field to bring down Ute running back Bubba Poole at the 25-yard line. That kind of effort was there all season from Lewis.

“Jourdan Lewis can guard any receiver in the Big Ten with his speed and coverage skills, but his work ethic is what sets him apart,” said Derick.

“Tough year for the defensive backs overall, as the passing game seemed to hurt when it counted,” said Joe. “However, Jourdan Lewis looks to have a promising future in Ann Arbor, and when matched up alongside Peppers, perhaps a few more interceptions will be in his future.”

Votes: 5
Others Receiving Votes: None

Previous Winners:
2013: Blake Countess
2012: Jordan Kovacs
2011: Jordan Kovacs

Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year Dennis Norfleet

NorfleetThe Special Teams Player of the Year vote was close between return man Dennis Norfleet and senior punter Will Hagerup, but Norfleet edged it out. Michigan’s special teams were a disaster for much of the year, often failing to even get 11 men on the field, but Norfleet was always a constant. Although he is still looking for his first return touchdown, he is reliable at catching kicks and punts and holding onto the ball, and he had a punt return called back against Maryland.

He finished the season with a 23.1-yard average on kick returns — which ranked sixth in the Big Ten — and a 3.8-yard average on punt returns. This season, he also moved into first place in Michigan career kick returns (90) and yards (2,203), and third place in career total return yards (2,293). He also fired up the home crowd with his dance moves while awaiting kicks and punts.

“Dennis Norfleet dances, and dances well. He wins,” said Sam.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Will Hagerup (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Brendan Gibbons
2012: Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Jeremy Gallon (tie)

Hart Newcomer of the Year Drake Johnson

Drake JohnsonAlthough a redshirt sophomore in 2014, Drake Johnson was a newcomer since he tore his ACL in the first game of the 2013 season. The Ann Arbor native began the year behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, and after getting three carries for 28 yards in mop-up time against Appalachian State, didn’t see a carry again until the Michigan State game after Green was lost for the season. The following week, he ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries against Indiana, and then finished the season with 168 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries (5.8 yards per carry) against Maryland and Ohio State.

“Tough choice between Mason and Drake, but Drake came alive late and provided a much needed spark to an otherwise sputtering offense,” said Joe. “I look forward to seeing him take snaps in a rotation with Isaac and Green.”

“Before the injury, Drake Johnson was looking like the running back Michigan’s been looking for over since the Sugar Bowl win,” said Derick.

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Mason Cole (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jake Butt
2012: Devin Funchess
2011: Blake Countess

Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year Jake Ryan

Jake RyanRyan came to Michigan as a three-star recruit from Cleveland St. Ignatius, choosing Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines over a handful of Mid-American Conference offers. Four years and a different coaching staff later, Ryan leaves Michigan as one of the top linebackers in program history. Despite missing the first five games of the 2013 season following a torn ACL in spring practice, his 44.5 tackles for loss rank seventh in Michigan history and his seven forced fumbles rank second. He started 41 career games and earned Bennie Oosterbaan’s #47 legends jersey.

“A model student athlete for the University of Michigan,” said Joe. “He has seen the ups and downs of this program as well as his own personal uphill battle with injury. In spite of it all, he was always a dominant playmaker on the field and the face of the defense as far as I’m concerned.”

“I’ll be sad to see all of these seniors go,” said Sam. “All had their moments, and though each of them leave the University of Michigan on a sour note, they played their hearts out for four or five years on the team. I will always be particularly fond of Jake Ryan’s wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks early in his career though, and his leadership was tangible even watching on TV. Ryan was a gritty linebacker, an athletic rusher, and a guy that defenses were afraid of, and for that, he’s my Senior of the Year.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner (2)

Previous Winners:
2013: Jeremy Gallon
2012: Denard Robinson
2011: Mike Martin

Harris Most Improved Player of the Year Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan Lewis vs Miami OHMichigan entered the season with plenty of experience in the secondary, led by Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, and a true freshman — Jabrill Peppers — who most expected to be a breakout star. But injuries plagued Peppers’ season and it was another youngster who rose to the occasion.

Jourdan Lewis played in eight games as a reserve defensive back in 2013, recording 17 tackles and two pass breakups, but broke out in his sophomore campaign with 39 tackles, 1.5 for loss, six passes defended, and two interceptions. He got better as the season went on and proved to be a good cover corner, leaving fans excited for him to team up with Peppers in 2015.

“If Lewis can become more of a ball hawk, he’ll become one of the better cornerbacks in the country,” said Derick. “His speed and coverage skills were the best on Michigan’s roster this season.”

“Lewis is making strides in his game, basically doubling all of his stats from last year with similar playing time,” said Joe. “As mentioned before, it’ll be fun to see him playing in the same backfield as a healthy Jabrill Peppers.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Joe Bolden (1), None (1)

Previous Winners:
2013: Devin Funchess
2012: Devin Gardner
2011: Brendan Gibbons & Fitzgerald Toussaint (tie)

Final Look: Penn State

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014


Jourdan Lewis INT vs Penn State(MGoBlue.com)

It seems like it was a lot longer than a week and a half ago that Michigan beat Penn State, but the bye week certainly came at the right time, allowing the team to heal up a little bit and gain an extra week of preparation for Michigan State. We took it pretty lightly last week as well and used that time to get started on some basketball previews, so today it’s time to take one final look back at Michigan’s 18-13 win over Penn State.

Advanced Statistics
Michigan Stat (National Average) Penn State
57 Total Plays 68
 38.3 Avg. Starting Field Position (29.8) 27.8
12 Possessions 12
4 Scoring Opportunities 4
 4.5 Points per Opportunity (4.69) 3.3
 58.2% Leverage Rate (68.3%) 58.8%
 32.1% Success Rate (42.0%) 35.3%
 26.1% Success Rate Passing Downs (30.5%) 25.0%
 37.5% Success Rate Standard Downs (47.3%) 42.5%
 26.1% Success Rate Passing (40.4%) 35.9%
36.4% Success Rate Rushing (43.5%) 34.5%
1 Turnovers  1
13.9 Equivalent Points 12.1
0.25 Equivalent Points Per Play 0.18

As I mentioned last week, I’m working to expand this section in the future, and hoping to put in some work to go back and calculate the previous games this season as well as last season so I can draw comparisons between this year’s offense and last year’s. The stats and formulas used are from Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall.

Like the Rutgers game, Michigan had considerably fewer plays, this time 11 fewer plays than Penn State. But Michigan had a 10.5-yard advantage in average field position thanks to the second half when neither offense could move the ball. Both teams had equal possessions and scoring opportunities. The leverage rates* were basically equal, but both were well below the national average of 68.3 percent. Penn State had a slightly better total success rate**, Michigan was slightly better on passing downs*** and success rushing, Penn State much better on standard downs and success passing. However, both teams were well below the national averages on all five of those success rate categories.

As far as how the offense’s performance against Penn State compares to the previous six games this season, Michigan’s average starting field position was its best so far, its 12 possessions were tied for the most (which they have done in three of the previous six games), and the one turnover matched the fewest in a game this season, along with the Appalachian State and Rutgers games. Michigan’s 12 first downs tied the Minnesota game for the fewest in a game this season. Michigan’s total success rate, success rate on standard downs, success rate passing, and success rate rushing were the second-lowest outputs of the season. Basically, this was Michigan’s second-worst offensive performance of the season behind the Minnesota game (yes, even worse than the Notre Dame game despite, you know, actually scoring points).

*Leverage Rate: Standard downs/(Standard downs + passing downs)
**Success Rate: 50% of necessary yards on first down, 70% on second down, 100% on third or fourth down
***Passing Down is considered 2nd & 7 or more, 3rd & 5 or more, 4th & 5 or more

Let’s take a look at the Five Factors.

Five Factors
Michigan Stat Penn State
4.6 Yards Per Play 3.1
 32.1% Success Rate 35.3%
38.3 Avg Starting Field Position 27.8
4.5 Points Per Opportunity 3.3
Even Turnover Margin Even

Michigan won three of the five factors, split the turnover margin, and Penn State won just one. Per Football Study Hall, here are the chances of winning based on each of these five factors:

Yards Per Play (weighted 35%)
– Michigan +1.5 = 86.2 percent chance of winning

Success Rate (25%)
– Penn State +3.2% = 59.2 percent chance of winning

Average Starting Field Position (15%)
– Michigan +10.5 = 86.7 percent chance of winning

Points Per Opportunity (15%)
– Michigan +1.2 = 74.7 percent chance of winning

Turnover Margin (10%)
– Even = 50.0 percent chance of winning

Michigan won Yards per Play (35 percent), Field Position (15 percent), and PPO (15 percent). Added together, that equates to a 65 percent overall chance of winning, which they did.

Drive Chart
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*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics, Dash indicates direction of drive, Green dash = scoring play, Grey = punt, Red = turnover, Pink = missed field goal, Black = end of half or turnover on downs, Shaded line = special teams or defensive touchdown

The numbers game

113,085: The game attendance, the largest this season and the eighth largest in Michigan Stadium history

5,543: Devin Gardner’s career passing yards, passing Tom Brady (5,351) and Jim Harbaugh (5,449) to move into sixth place in Michigan history

7: Devin Gardner’s spot in career pass attempts (648) and completions (392), passing Steve Smith and Jim Harbaugh, respectively

6,350: Devin Gardner’s career total yards, passing Elvis Grbac (6,221) for sixth in Michigan history

20: The number of consecutive games in which Devin Funchess has caught a pass, tying Anthony Carter for 10th in Michigan history

52: Dennis Norfleet’s 52 kickoff return yards set the school record in career kickoff return yards (2,029). That total also ranks seventh in Big Ten history

6: Michigan’s six sacks were the most in a game since the first game of the 2008 season against Utah

39.5: Jake Ryan’s career tackles for loss, moving into 10th place in Michigan history

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, September 26th, 2014


Game Preview_Minnesota_banner

Michigan limps into conference play with a 2-2 record, but as Brady Hoke has said over and over again in the last couple of weeks, the goal of a Big Ten championship is still within reach. A turnaround in conference play can erase the futility of the first four weeks of the season and get back the fans that jumped off the bandwagon. It all starts tomorrow when Minnesota comes to town looking to beat Michigan for just the fourth time since 1968.

UM-Minnesota-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
Minn. Head Coach: Jerry Kill (4th season)
Coaching Record: 147-95 overall (20-22 at Minn)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (4th season)
Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 8-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 73-24-3
Record at Mich Stadium Michigan leads 33-10-1
Last 10 Meetings: Michigan leads 9-1
Current Streak:  Michigan 6

Minnesota entered Jerry Kill’s fourth season on an upward swing, having gone from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 the past three seasons. If they can improve their record again this fall — a tall order, to be sure — Kill will have done something that hasn’t been done since the 1940s — improve Minnesota’s record for three straight seasons. Minnesota’s legendary coach, Bernie Bierman, was the last to do it from 1945-48. Glen Mason had a chance to achieve the feat twice during his tenure, but each time fell back to earth. He did, however, reach 10 wins in 2003, and Kill will hope to parlay the momentum he has built into a similar outcome.

Kill got a nice vote of confidence in the offseason in the form of a new contract that bumps his salary up from $1 million per year to $2.3 million through 2018.

Minnesota enters Ann Arbor winners of three of their first four this season, the only loss a 30-7 defeat at the hands of TCU. The Gophers beat Eastern Illinois 42-20, Middle Tennessee 35-24, and San Jose State 24-7. Unlike Michigan, who has out-gained all four of its opponents offensively, Minnesota has actually been out-gained in three of its four games.

Michigan has had Minnesota’s number the last half century, winning the last six, 22 of the last 23, 30 of the last 32, and 41 of the last 46 since 1964. The Little Brown Jug basically lives in Ann Arbor these days, and even during Michigan’s 3-9 season in 2008, the Wolverines found a way to beat the Gophers. So how do the teams match up this season? Let’s take a look.

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

Through the first four games, the Minnesota offense averages a field goal more per game than Michigan (27 points). The Gophers rank 104th in total offense (336 yards per game), 29th in rushing (236.2 yards per game), and 121st in passing (99.8 yards per game). The also rank 95th in third down conversions (37 percent) and 90th in red zone scores (10-of-13).

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

Senior David Cobb is one of the best running backs in the conference. Our former feature writer Drew Hallett ranked him seventh-best in his preseason Big Ten position rankings. He came out of nowhere to rush for 1,202 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, becoming the first Gopher to eclipse 1,000 yards since 2006. He was held to just 22 yards on seven carries against Michigan, but had six 100-yard games, including against Michigan State. So far this season, Cobb has been the Gopher offense, averaging 134.8 yards per game on the ground. But he has gained most of that yardage in just two of the four games — 220 yards against Middle Tennessee and 207 against San Jose State last week. TCU held him to just 41 yards on 15 carries in Week 3 and you can be sure Michigan will load the box to do the same.

Cobb is the workhorse with 92 carries, but three other running backs have double-digit carries. Berkley Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan star receiver Braylon, has 16 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Rodrick Williams and Donnell Kirkwood each have 10 carries for just 35 and 24 yards, respectively.

With last year’s starting quarterback, Phillip Nelson, gone the man who supplanted him by the end of 2013 was supposed to grab the reigns. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner threw just 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns last season. About a third of that came in the bowl game in which he completed 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two scores. He also saw extensive action against Michigan, completing 14-of-21 for 145 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He was much more of a running quarterback last season, rushing 102 times for 407 yards and seven scores.

But after starting the first three games this season and completing just 48.1 percent of his passes for 362 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions, he missed last week’s game with turf toe. In his place was redshirt freshman Chris Streveler, who threw just seven passes and completed just one for seven yards. On the other hand, Streveler rushed 18 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. He’s likely to be the starter tomorrow.

The receiving corps is young, led by tight end Maxx WilliamsDrew’s second-best tight end in the conference this fall, who caught 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Williams leads the team with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns so far, also missed last week’s game with an injury, but should play tomorrow. Last year’s leading wide receiver, Derrick Engel, is gone, leaving Donovahn Jones, K.J. Maye, and Drew Wolitarsky to step up. Jones has six catches for 92 yards and a score, while Maye has two for 65, and Wolitarsky has four for 31.

Experience isn’t an issue with the offensive line. Of the nine linemen that started a game last season, seven returned, and those seven started a combined 55 games in 2013 and 124 in their careers. Left guard Zac Epping is the most experienced of the bunch, having started 38 career games. While none of Minnesota’s linemen rank among the Big Ten’s best, and the line as a whole won’t be the best, it has paved the way for a powerful running game.

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defensively, Minnesota has allowed exactly the same number of points as Michigan has, 20.2 per game. The total defense ranks 66th nationally (383.8 yards per game), the rush defense ranks 51st (131.5 yards per game), and the pass defense ranks 82nd (252.2 yards per game). In addition, the Gophers are allowing opponents to convert 40 percent of their third downs, which ranks 72nd nationally. By comparison, Michigan allows 33 percent.

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

The main loss from last season is a big one in nose tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the NFL Draft. He led Minnesota with 13 tackles-for-loss in 2013 and also recorded two sacks. Defensive tackle Roland Johnson, who added 5.5 tackles-for-loss, also departed, leaving a big hole in the middle of the defense.

Senior Cameron Botticelli is now the main man in the middle and leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. He also has one sack. Nose tackle Steven Richardson has started the last two games and has eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, and one sack. The ends are redshirt junior Theiren Cockran, who ranked third in the Big Ten last season with 7.5 sacks, and senior Michael Amaefula, who recorded 19 tackles for loss a year ago. The two have combined for 12 tackles, three for loss, and a sack so far this season. Sophomore Hendrick Ekpe started the first two games and has 10 tackles, three for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Two of the top three linebackers from last season are gone, but middle linebacker, senior Damien Wilson, returns. He was Minnesota’s second-leading tackler last season with 78, and had the third-most tackles-for-loss with 5.5. He currently leads the team with 44 tackles and also has three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Junior De’Vondre Campbell, who started three games last season, is the second leading tackler with 21 to go along with one tackle for loss. The Gophers have gone with more nickel the past two weeks, but when they use a third linebacker it is usually redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn, who is third on the team with 20 tackles and two for loss.

The strength of Minnesota’s defense was supposed to be the secondary, despite the loss of cornerback Brock Vereen, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round. The other starting corner from last season, Eric Murray, led the team with 10 pass breakups, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. Just a junior this fall, Murray has 16 tackles, one interception, and two pass breakups so far. The other corners are junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tore his ACL last season, and senior Derrick Wells, who was hampered most of 2013 with a shoulder injury. Boddy-Calhoun leads the team with two interceptions and five pass breakups so far.

The safety spots are filled by Cedric Thompson — last season’s leading tackler — junior Antonio Johnson, and junior Damarius Travis. Johnson and Travis each have a pick so far this season.

Special Teams: The other third

Redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Santoso was rated the seventh-best kicker in the 2013 class by ESPN and is replacing Chris Hawthorne, who made 14-of-18 last season. Santoso has made just 1-of-3 so far this season with a long of 38. Redshirt junior punter Peter Mortell is a nice weapon to have after ranking third in the Big Ten with a 43.3-yard average a year ago. He’s currently averaging 46.2 yards, which ranks second in the conference, behind only Nebraska’s Sam Foltz.

Defensive back Marcus Jones ranked sixth in the Big Ten in kick returns last season, averaging 24.9 yards per return. He’s currently right on pace, averaging 24.4 yards. He’s also handling most of the punt return duties with six returns for an average of eight yards.

Prediction:

Minnesota is going to try to run the ball, run the ball some more, and run the ball some more. The good news is that plays right into Michigan’s defensive strength. Expect Greg Mattison to load the box to stop the run and force Streveler to try to make big plays with his arm. He has completed just 4-of-11 passes for 37 yards in his career, so that’s a good thing for Michigan’s young corners, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers.

Offensively, Michigan is also going to try to run the ball a lot with Derrick Green, but given the success teams have had passing on the Gophers so far, Michigan can have some success through the air. Could this be Shane Morris’ coming out party? I wouldn’t go that far, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do as the (presumed) starter.

Expect a fairly low-scoring game with neither team able to pull away. Michigan will win, and while I don’t think it will be decisively, it won’t be too close for comfort either.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

M&GB season preview roundtable

Friday, August 22nd, 2014


Roundtable-banner

It has become our tradition at the beginning of each season to preview the upcoming season via a staff roundtable. We answer several questions with our predictions and expectations for what the season will bring. Drew has moved on, but we still have Justin, Sam, Derick, and Josh. We also invited our partner at MmmGoBluBBQ, Joe, to join us for the roundtable. We also invite you to give your answers in the comments below. Tell us what you agree with or disagree with. Next week we will begin our game week coverage.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: I’m most excited about what should be a very good defense. With so much talent and experience returning, it should be one of the top defenses in the Big Ten and may have to carry the team, at least in the early going. The best Michigan teams in recent history have featured stifling defenses — most notably 1997 and 2006 — and I think I can speak for most Michigan fans when I say I miss the days of Michigan having a dominating defense. It’s a major stretch to say this year’s unit could be as good as the 1997 one, but anywhere close would make for a very good season.

Michigan's defense won't be as good as the 1997 version, but it is one to be excited about

Michigan’s defense won’t be as good as the 1997 version, but it is one to be excited about

With most of the big questions on the offensive side of the ball, the defense is going to need to be very good, and if it is we have two recent examples that could foreshadow the upcoming season: Notre Dame in 2012 and Michigan State in 2013. Notre Dame’s offense ranked 80th nationally in scoring, 38th in rushing, and 72nd in passing that year but still made it to the national title game thanks to its defense. Last season, Michigan State’s offense ranked 63rd in scoring, 59th in rushing, and 84th in passing but still won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl thanks to its defense. I’m excited for the possibility that Michigan’s defense, which should be more aggressive this fall, could carry the Wolverines to a special season.

Sam: I’m most excited about…football! After last year’s dreadful, seemingly never-ending season, I never thought I’d be so excited to see the Maize and Blue on the field just a season later, but I suppose hope reigns eternal right now. As far specific excitement about this team goes, I am really looking forward to seeing the whole defense working to live up to its enormous expectations. Every single position has an extremely strong two-deep, and every unit has at least one potential game-changer. With names like Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, James Ross III, and Jabrill Peppers, there’s no telling how good this defense could be. A consistent pass rush could mean a top-10 or even top-five defense nationally.

Derick: The most exciting storyline has to be the beginning of Jabrill Peppers‘ career in Ann Arbor. The No. 2 overall recruit has a chance to be a difference maker on defense and revive a kick return game that has been dormant since Steve Breaston left Michigan.

Josh: The defense and its personnel and scheme changes. I’d much rather see an aggressive, menacing defense with an average offense than an average defense with a high octane/high scoring offense. Luckily for Michigan it appears as though we just might get that menacing defense in 2014. That is something to be very excited about after we had to watch last year’s ‘bend but don’t break’ defense sit back and give up big gain after big gain.

Joe: I have a feeling that Coach Nussmeier will focus on building a strong run game with Green and Smith and help control the ball a little more than in recent years. Michigan has the horses to build an above avg. run game with these 2 and it will be fun to see if we can get back to a little smash mouth football at the big house. I’m also looking forward to some great BBQ on “Tailgate Tuesdays”.

What worries you most entering the season?

Justin: Okay, so this question is pretty rhetorical this year. The offensive line has to be the answer after last year’s meltdown and the loss of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. If it’s as bad as last season, even a high-caliber defense won’t save the team. But I really don’t think it will be. Do I expect it to be a mauling, classic Michigan offensive line? Absolutely not. But I do think it will be more cohesive than last season and more sound with a simplified playbook. Even so, until we see it in action, the worry is there.

The huge question obviously lies with Erik Magnuson and the rest of the line (Matthew O'Haren, USA Today Sports)

The huge question obviously lies with Erik Magnuson and the rest of the line (Matthew O’Haren, USA Today Sports)

Sam: If anyone’s biggest concern at this point is not the offensive line, he or she may want a quick crash course in foot-ball (American style). I can say with a straight face that Michigan has some sort of chance of having a First Team All-Conference player at every single position on the field (yes, this is still optimistic, but it’s at least feasible in some universe) besides the offensive line, where Michigan may not have a single Third Team-caliber performer, feasibly. The line is replacing two senior tackles who will most likely start one day in the NFL; even with those stars, Michigan’s big uglies up front last year were atrocious. Most people have been taking the glass-half-full approach in saying that there’s no way it can get any worse; it’s hard for me to look at the names on paper and wonder how in the world it could get any better.

Derick: After watching the spring game and the ‘Under the Lights’ scrimmage, how can the offensive line not be the No. 1 concern? Michigan’s defensive line was average for much of 2013, but looked like an elite unit against their offensive teammates. If Doug Nussmeier can’t improve this group, it won’t matter how much Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith have progressed.

Josh: The entire offense. They say that on defense 10 guys can fail as long as one guy makes the play. But on offense 10 guys can be doing their job and if one fails, then the play is lost. While the o-line clearly needs to be a cohesive unit that plays well, it’s not all on them and there are too many variables to work out before they can be a solid unit. Devin Gardner needs to be consistent and the running backs (whomever they may be) need to run with vision and be decisive. I see Michigan in a similar situation as Michigan State was coming into 2013; a potentially great defense that would be enough to carry them but no identity on offense. Last year the defense played well but faded late in the season as it was completely worn down after carrying the offense all year and it really showed in losses to Ohio State and Kansas State I fear we’ll see more of the same this year.

Joe: The offensive line is a HUGE concern due to the loss of both Schofield and Lewan. It wasn’t exactly a strong point last year and now it looks even more troubling. This group needs to gel quickly and improve on the “tackles for loss” that plagued them last year. 114 is way too many!

Who will be the breakout player on offense?

Justin: I would absolutely love to look into the crystal ball and pick a lineman that breaks out and puts together an all-conference season, and while it’s certainly possible, it’s impossible to predict. I also think Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith will split the workload, keeping either from truly breaking out. Therefore, it has to be a pass-catcher, and I’m going to go with Jake Butt. He’s out for the first couple of games at least, but is progressing very well in his return form a torn ACL. We got a taste of what he’s capable of last season — 20 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns — and once he returns, he could put up some solid numbers.

We all know Devin Funchess will be the go-to receiver for Devin Gardner, but he’s going to have to find others to distribute the ball to so opposing defenses can’t simply game plan Funchess out. It’s very likely that either Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh breaks onto the scene, but as a tight end, I see Butt becoming a crutch for Gardner. Butt fits right into Nussmeier’s offensive system and could be primed for a big season as long as he fully recovers from his injury.

Sam: This one is pretty easy for me. I don’t think the offensive line is going to be good enough for Michigan to have a star running back, so I immediately look to the outside. There I find Amara Darboh, a gentlemanly sized 6’2″, 211-pound redshirt sophomore wide receiver who was held out all of last season with a foot injury. Devin Funchess is the closest thing the Wolverines have to a sure thing this year, so Darboh should have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of cheating defenses, and his nice hands, solid size, and football IQ should make him a favorite of Devin Gardner.

Derick: Freddy Canteen will probably have one of the greatest impacts on the offense, but I think Devin Gardner will be the breakout player. Gardner struggled for much of the 2013 season, but pressure from the defense and a non-existent rushing attack made his job much harder. A healthy Gardner should take advantage of a deeper receiving core and become the quarterback fans saw for a few games at the end of 2012.

Josh: I’m really down on the offense heading into this season. True, I’m not in Schembechler Hall, but nothing I’ve seen or read since last season has given me any indication that this offense will be any better than last year’s. A simplified system and zone blocking schemes will help but they haven’t had much time with Nussmeier and development takes time and many reps. Plus the mere fact that a TRUE freshman is in line to start at left tackle tells me that this line is still in shambles and that could derail the entire offense, again. That said, I think Jake Butt (once he returns) is prime for a breakout season. I foresee Gardner looking for a safety valve as he runs for his life behind an inept line and Butt should be that safety valve. We saw glimpses of what Butt could do late in 2013 and I expect him to pick up where he left off.

Joe: I am hoping that an in shape and focused Derrick Green turns into the five-star tailback we recruited two years ago. If he can pound the ball and help control the clock, this offense can put up some big numbers. An effective Green would free up some young receivers and an elite Funchess down field.

Who will be the breakout player on defense?

Justin: Yeah, it’s a pretty generic answer that I’m sure others will give, but I’m going with Jourdan Lewis. The hype coming out of the spring and fall camp is too much to ignore. The coaching staff has talked about being more aggressive defensively, and Lewis fits that mold at corner. If he truly has beaten out either experienced corners like Raymon Taylor or Blake Countess, he’s earned it and it will only make the secondary better.

Can Jourdan Lewis live up to the hype he has garnered throughout the offseason?

Can Jourdan Lewis live up to the hype he has garnered throughout the offseason?

Sam: Defensive breakout players are a little bit harder for me to predict, and I admittedly don’t even know who would rightfully qualify as a “breakout” player this year. Would a senior Frank Clark, who has been solid but never great, qualify? How about a junior linebacker who has been playing plenty of snaps for two full seasons? I’ll assume I’d get picked on for taking either of those guys, so let me go with Jourdan Lewis, a 5’10”, 175-pound sophomore cornerback from Cass Tech. If preseason reports and practices are to be believed, it seems that Lewis has managed to wrestle away a starting spot from either senior Raymon Taylor or redshirt junior Blake Countess, both of whom were pretty solid contributors a season ago. The coaches have been emphasizing increased physicality and aggressiveness on defense, particularly from the cornerbacks, which fits right into Lewis’s strengths. If he indeed plays the first snap on defense against Appalachian State next week, Jourdan Lewis must have something going for him.

Derick: It has to be Jabrill Peppers. If he can’t contribute in the secondary then Michigan will be vulnerable to the pass all season, since Blake Countess is the only proven cornerback that can cover Big Ten recievers.

Josh: Jourdan Lewis, and it’s not even close. Yes, I do think Jabrill Peppers will show us why he was one of the best incoming recruits in recent memory but my money is on Lewis to really make massive strides from last season. He got his feet wet last year while relying on great athletic ability but now he has the technique and mental aspect to add to it. I fully expect him to be an All-Big Ten performer, and one of the best defenders in the conference, by season’s end.

Joe: Can I say Jake Ryan as my breakout player? I know he is a team captain and a stud at linebacker, but after missing five games last year due to a torn ACL, he will shine all season if healthy. He is a must for this team to keep pace defensively.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: The offensive line improves to simply average and the defense is as good as advertised. The defense will have to carry the team early on while the offense finds its feet, but I truly believe this is a team that has a lot of potential. It will all rely on improvement from the offensive line, but like I said above, if the defense lives up to the hype, a 2012 Notre Dame or 2013 Michigan State season is not out of question.

Sam: Michigan will win the Big Ten if the defense doesn’t allow a single point. In all seriousness, the defense has to be elite (probably allowing 15 or fewer points a game in Big Ten play) and the offensive line has to be above-average for Michigan to compete for their first conference championship since 2004. I think the defense can be elite, but I still think the offensive line is going to struggle a little bit too much for the team to reach Pasadena or beyond.

Derick: Michigan will win the Big Ten if the quarterback pressure we saw throughout camp was actually because of the elite defensive line Greg Mattison has assembled. If the offensive line can actually protect Gardner and create holes for the running game then the rest will fall in place.

Josh: Michigan State and Ohio State completely implode and each have multiple conference losses, a miracle happens with the offensive line’s development early on, Devin Gardner finally becomes the consistently good QB we know he can be all while Jabrill Peppers exceeds the hype, plays both sides of the ball and becomes the first true freshman to win the Heisman (read: I don’t think it’s even remotely possible for Michigan to win the B1G Ten this year). I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, Michigan won’t be ready to legitimately compete for the B1G Ten until 2015.

Joe: We can get strong and smart play up front, as well as from our quarterback position. We must eliminate the untimely sack or tackle for loss that killed us on important drives last season. C’mon O-line, make it happen!

What’s your prediction for the season? Record, who will Michigan lose to, what bowl game will Michigan play in?

Justin: Regardless of how much improvement the offensive line shows, I don’t see Michigan winning less than eight games this season. But I think they’ll win more than that and finish the regular season 10-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Michigan State. I don’t think Notre Dame will be that great this year, but early on Michigan will still be trying to get its offense up to speed, and despite a valiant effort from the defense, bad things just happen in South Bend. The latter because Michigan State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten this season and, while Michigan will play closer than they have the past two years, it will be extremely tough to pull one out in East Lansing.

I do think Michigan will go into Columbus at season’s end and pull off a big win, leaving a three-way tie atop the East Division, but Michigan State will get the nod into the Big Ten Championship game. Michigan will go to the Capital One Bowl. I never predict the outcome of bowl games before the season because so many variables come into play about who the opponent will be.

Our predictions range from 8-4 to 10-2 with the Capital One Bowl being the most likely destination

Our predictions range from 8-4 to 10-2 with the Capital One Bowl being the most likely destination

I’m optimistic about this season and think this team will be very close to having a really special season that will surprise some people, but in the end it will come up just short, setting up big expectations for 2015.

Sam: My final prediction for the 2014 Michigan football season is as follows:

Record: 10-2, losses at Michigan State and at Ohio State
Bowl game: Wherever generic 10-2 Big Ten teams end up this season (too many to keep track of).

I think it will be a successful season overall that falls just short of the ultimate goals of conference and national championships. Michigan State’s defense should be able to wreak havoc on the offensive line yet again, and though Ohio State will be without Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller all season, their backup will have enough time to gel by the end of the season that the Buckeyes will edge the Wolverines once again at home.

Derick: I think Michigan’s season should be pretty straightforward. The Maize and Blue are great in Ann Arbor, so an easy home schedule should translate into seven wins. But tough road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State make me shudder, and Brady Hoke’s resume on the road should turn all three games into losses. Michigan should take care of Northwestern and Rutgers on the road, giving it a 9-3 record for the season. Two Big Ten losses isn’t going to cut it for a trip to Indy, so Michigan will end up in the Capital One Bowl. Could Michigan win every single game on its schedule? Absolutely. But until fans see this team play solid football, there’s little reason to believe that more than nine wins are on tap.

Josh: My heart wants to be optimistic but my gut says this team’s lack of sufficient development spells doom in 2014. The offense has too many question marks for me to feel comfortable about having anything but very low expectations for them, which in turn puts more pressure on the defense to carry the team, again. The schedule does not set up in Michigan’s favor, with both MSU and OSU on the road (both of which are all but guaranteed losses in my mind). And as we’ve seen in the past Hoke’s teams consistently lose games they shouldn’t, mostly on the road (at Iowa in ’11, at ND and Nebraska in ’12 and atPSU, Nebraska and Iowa last year). They’ve gotten incredibly lucky against Northwestern the past two seasons and something tells me that luck may run out in 2014. Notre Dame, while losing several key players, is still on the road and that tilts the odds slightly in favor of the Irish. Utah could be a very dangerous trap game, sandwiched Miami (Ohio) and perennial bottom feeder Minnesota. Throw in the perennial inexplicable loss we’ve come to expect from Hoke’s Michigan teams and we’re sitting at 4 or 5 losses.

Right now I don’t see this team being better than 8-4, and not in the hunt for the East division. I see losses to MSU, OSU and then two more out of Notre Dame, Utah, Penn St. and Northwestern. They’ll still end up in a decent bowl because they’re Michigan, so something along the lines of the BWW Bowl like last year. Of course, I hope I’m completely wrong and the offense can come together and prove me horribly wrong but I won’t hold my breath.

Joe: I am predicting a 9-3 record for the Maize and Blue with losses at MSU, Northwestern and Ohio. Don’t ask me to explain the Northwestern loss, I just have a bad feeling. This will put them in the Outback bowl on Jan 1.