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Predicting Michigan 2015: The wide receivers

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Receivers

Amara Darboh(Matt Pargoff, Maize and Blue News)

For the last several years, Michigan football has seen a drop-off in the production of its wide receiver unit. Though struggling quarterbacks surely deserve a share of the blame, the Wolverines have sorely missed an offensive playmaker of the Braylon Edwards-Mario Manningham-Jason Avant caliber.

Well, Michigan doesn’t have a wideout of that caliber on the current roster; at least, not that we’ve seen so far. But there are a few solid returning options and some new additions with upside that Jim Harbaugh hopes to turn into a dangerous receiving corps.

Returning leaders

Michigan returns only one wide receiver who made a significant contribution to the offense in 2014, redshirt junior Amara Darboh. Darboh, who came into camp in 2013 primed for a breakout year, missed his whole sophomore season due to injury and settled for a return to the field in Brady Hoke’s final year.

Darboh was the team’s best receiver behind Devin Funchess, catching 36 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns. He set career highs against Indiana when he caught nine passes for 107 yards, including a 34-yard catch that marked his longest of the year. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Darboh developed into Devin Gardner’s favorite third down target and made some big catches for a Michigan offense that struggled to put together consistent drives.

Jehu Chesson spent much of the season lined up alongside Darboh, but caught just 14 passes for 154 yards. Chesson tried to fill Darboh’s void in 2013, catching 15 passes for 221 yards as a sophomore. But he never broke out in a disappointing sequel last year, catching three passes in a game only once and never gaining more than 34 yards.

Chesson and Darboh are the most experienced wide receivers Michigan carries into the 2015 season, and even though they caught only 50 passes for a combined 627 yards last year, they’re likely the frontrunners to win starting jobs.

Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
60 620 10.3 5 47.7
Career Stats
2014 36 473 13.1 34 2 39.4
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 36 473 13.1 34 2 20.6
Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 240 9.6 3 18.5
Career Stats
2014 14 154 11.0 28 0 14.0
2013 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 29 375 12.9 58 1 15.6

Returning contributors

Once you get past Darboh and Chesson, factor in the loss of Funchess and potential departure of Dennis Norfleet, there’s little left to celebrate about the returning Michigan receivers.

Perhaps Freddy Canteen, who had a dynamite spring and put on a show with Gardner in last season’s spring game, will turn into the guy who was outrunning cornerbacks during camp before catching just five passes during the season. Canteen is a former four-star recruit who was touted for his size and athleticism after committing to Michigan in June of 2013. At best, Canteen could give the starting quarterback a Greg Mathews-type target who can go up and get the ball over defenders and make plays over the middle of the field.

Two guys who could factor into the mix this season but caught only one pass each in 2014 are Bo Dever and Da’Mario Jones. Jones should have been exactly what the offense needed in 2014. His strengths as a three-star recruit in the class of 2012 were dependable hands and beating defenders to the ball, but he caught just one pass for 11 yards against Miami (Ohio). Dever, who played in 10 games but made just one catch for 26 yards last season, is entering his senior year. The lightly-recruited wideout clearly worked himself into the rotation, but he was rarely targeted by Gardner.

Projected Stats – Canteen
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 300 12.0 2 23.1
Career Stats
2014 5 22 4.4 8 1 2.0
Totals 5 22 4.4 8 1 2.0
Projected Stats – Dever
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
20 130 6.5 1 10.0
Career Stats
2014 1 26 26.0 26 0 2.6
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 1 26 26.0 26 0 2.4
Projected Stats – Jones
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
10 80 8.0 0 6.1
Career Stats
2014 1 11 11.0 11 0 1.6
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 1 11 11.0 11 0 0.6

Dark horses

If you’re looking for a diamond in the rough or a potential breakout receiver for Michigan during the upcoming season, there are two players who have an outside shot of making a huge difference.

As of Monday, Harbaugh revealed that he’s open to the possibility of using safety Jabrill Peppers on offense, where he thrived as a freak athlete in high school.

Peppers hauled in 57 passes for 842 yards and 17 touchdowns as a receiver in high school, and although he could also fit into the running back rotation, the receiving corps is a greater need for Michigan and could get a huge boost from an elite talent like Peppers. Peppers is one of the best pure athletes in the country and is fully healthy as the start of the season approaches. If he sees significant snaps on offense, he’ll instantly become the most dangerous threat on the field for the Wolverines.

Another under the radar addition to the offense is former four-star receiver Drake Harris, who missed the entire 2014 season due to a hamstring injury. Harris was one of the top receiver recruits in the country last season because of his elite athleticism and reliable catching ability. In high school he was a deep threat, which Michigan sorely needs, and consistently beat defenders for the jump ball.

Peppers and Harris weren’t even on the offensive radar last season due to injury, but that doesn’t mean they can’t return and be the two best playmakers on the field as redshirt freshmen. The best case scenario for Michigan would be for at least one of these guys to grab the reins and lead an otherwise uncertain receiving corps.

Projected Stats – Peppers
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
30 350 11.7 3 26.9
Career Stats
2014 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Projected Stats – Harris
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
30 280 9.3 3 21.5
Career Stats
2014 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Incoming freshmen

Michigan has one potential game-changing wide receiver in the 2015 recruiting class: Brian Cole. The Saginaw native joins Michigan as the top receiver in the Midwest and brings another big target into the mix. Cole is 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds but still ran a 4.37 40-yard dash during his recruitment. That combination, along with his good hands, could make Cole a top target for whoever wins the quarterback job this fall.

The key for Cole is the transition to a full-time wide receiver this pre-season. He spent most of his high school career playing running back and safety and will have to develop solid route-running skills to make an immediate impact as a freshman.

Projected Stats – Cole
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 300 12.0 2 23.1

Meet the rest

Kenneth Sloss – junior, 5’11″, 160 from Monroe, Mich. (Monroe), no career stats
Jack Wangler — junior, 6’1″, 201 from Royal Oak, Mich. (Warren De La Salle), no career stats
Jaron Dukes – junior, 6’4″, 204 from Columbus, Ohio (Marion Franklin), no career stats
Brad Anlauf — senior, 6’4″, 199 from Hinsdale, Ill. (Hinsdale Central), no career stats
Maurice Ways – sophomore, 6’4″, 205 from Beverly Hills, Mich. (Detroit Country Day), no career stats

2015 opponent preview: Oregon State

Monday, July 27th, 2015


2015 Opponent Preview_OREGON STATE

Gary Andersen(Scobel Wiggins, Oregon State Athletics)

Our season preview series continues today with the second of our opponent previews. We kicked off the series last week with a preview of the team we feel will be the easiest on Michigan’s schedule, UNLV. Today is the second easiest, the Oregon State Beavers, who come to Ann Arbor on Sept. 12 for Jim Harbaugh’s home opener.

Overview

Like Michigan, Oregon State is ushering in a new head coach this fall. Mike Riley took a step up at Nebraska after 14 seasons in Corvallis (10 as head coach), so Gary Andersen bolted Wisconsin for Oregon State after just two seasons. He inherits a team that has gone backwards in each of the last two seasons.

Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 4 Weber State
Sept. 12 at Michigan
Sept. 19 San Jose State
Sept. 26 Stanford
Oct. 10 at Arizona
Oct. 17 at Washington State
Oct. 24 Colorado
Oct. 31 at Utah
Nov. 7 UCLA
Nov. 14 at California
Nov. 21 Washington
Nov. 28 at Oregon

Andersen made no bones about the fact that Wisconsin’s academic standards pushed him out, so he took a major step down to get to a place that allows him to recruit who he wants. He voluntarily left a school that has been to more Rose Bowls since 1993 (six) than the school he left it for has conference championships in school history (five). In fact, Oregon State hasn’t won the Pac-12 since 2000, and while the Beavers have finished in the top 25 four times since then, it’s not a program with a rich history.

Riley was able to attain unusual success in Corvallis, averaging nearly eight wins per season since 2003 at a school that had only seven eight-win seasons in 110 years before that. Riley’s Beavers won at least nine games four times, including a 10-4 season in 2006. But he followed that up with back-to-back 9-4 seasons, then 8-5, 5-7, and 3-9. OSU rebounded with a 9-4 campaign in 2012, but again went downhill with a 7-6 2013 and 5-7 2014. If history repeats itself Andersen is on track for 3-9 this fall.

Andersen has a good track record. He inherited a very bad Utah State squad in 2009, and while it took a couple of 4-8 seasons to build his foundation, he got over the hump with a 7-6 season in 2011 and broke through with a 11-2 season, a conference championship, and a bowl win a year later. He left for Wisconsin and didn’t miss a beat, taking an 8-6 team and going 9-4 and 11-3 with a Big Ten championship game appearance.

When he jumped to Oregon State, Andersen brought in a solid pair of coordinators. Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin has been around the block, coaching at 12 different schools since 1978. He served as offensive coordinator at Cincinnati in 2001, Baylor in Michigan State from 2003-06, New Mexico from 2007-08, Utah State (win Andersen) from 2009-11, and most recently, Colorado State from 2012-14. He served as CSU’s interim head coach in the Las Vegas Bowl last December when Jim McElwain left for Florida.

Andersen’s hand-picked defensive coordinator is up-and-coming Kalani Sitake, who has run Utah’s defense since 2009. In fact, since 2005, Sitake has continued adding roles to his title, going from linebackers coach from 2005-08 to defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 2009-11 to associate head coach, defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach from 2012-14.

Let’s take a look at Oregon State.

Offense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
QB Seth Collins (Fr.) 6’3″, 186
RB Storm Woods (Sr.) 6’0″, 203 121 rush for 766 yds (6.3 avg), 5 TD; 26 rec, 179 yds, 1 TD
WR Hunter Jarmon (So.) 5’11″, 198 20 rec for 334 yds (16.7 avg), 1 TD
WR Victor Bolden (Jr.) 5’9″, 172 72 rec for 798 yds (11.1 avg), 2 TD
WR Jordan Villamin (So.) 6’4″, 235 35 rec for 578 yds (16.5 avg), 6 TD
TE Caleb Smith (Sr.) 6’6″, 263 20 rec for 202 yds (10.1 avg), 1 TD
LT Sean Harlow (Jr.) 6’4″, 298 12 starts (21 career starts)
LG Isaac Seumalo (RS Jr.) 6’5″, 310 Redshirt (25 career starts)
C Josh Mitchell (Sr.) 6’3″, 306 12 starts (15 career starts)
RG Gavin Andrews (Sr.) 6’6″, 343 10 starts (10 career starts)
RT Dustin Stanton (Jr.) 6’5″, 289 6 starts (6 career starts)

Baldwin has his work cut out for him with an offense that ranked 72nd nationally in total offense. While the Beavers ranked a very respectable 31st in passing offense last season, it was largely due to quarterback Sean Mannion, who was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. The Beavers’ running game ranked 110th nationally and second-to-last in the Pac-12, averaging just 118.1 yards per game, and that’s where Baldwin will have to apply his expertise. At Michigan State, he turned the Big Ten’s worst rushing offense in 2003 into the second-best in 2004. At Utah State, his rushing offense ranked sixth nationally in 2011 and 26th in 2012. In 2013, his Colorado State offense ranked 27th nationally in rushing.

Storm Woods is an experienced back with 2,183 career rushing yards and 932 receiving yards

Storm Woods is an experienced back with 2,183 career rushing yards and 932 receiving yards

The good news is he has a starting running back returning in senior Storm Woods, who averaged 76.6 yards per game last season with three 100-yard games. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Woods rushed for 940 yards and 13 touchdowns, so he has as much experience as any back on Michigan’s team. However, behind Woods is a bunch of nobodies. Terron Ward the second half of the one-two punch the past two yeas. He was second on the team with 696 rushing yards and lead the team with 10 touchdowns last fall. He also led the team in rushing in 2013, but now he’s gone, leaving Woods to carry the load himself.

The biggest loss, however, is quarterback Sean Mannion, who finished his career as Oregon State’s and the Pac-12′s all-time leading passer with 13,600 yards. By comparison, Michigan’s all-time leader, Chad Henne, passed for 9,715 yards in his career. With Mannion gone — as well as Luke Del Rio, who transferred to Florida — Oregon State doesn’t have a quarterback on the roster with game experience. That leaves Andersen with a choice of redshirt freshmen Nick Mitchell or Marcus McMaryion or true freshman Seth Collins. The latter is the presumed pick, but it will be worked out in fall camp.

Regardless of who wins the job, he’ll at least have experience to throw to. Junior Victor Bolden caught 72 passes for 798 yards and two scores last season, while sophomore Jordan Villamon was second with 35 for 578. He led the team with six touchdowns. And while Bolden stands just 5-foot-9, 172 pounds, Villamon is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds. That’s a nice one-two punch to have back. Fellow sophomore Hunter Jarmon led all receivers with 16.7 yards per catch and also returns as a big-play threat.

The offensive line was a game of duck-duck-goose last fall, but by season’s end, a competent five was solidified. And the good news for Andersen is that four of the five return, in addition to Isaac Seumalo, who started 25 games in 2012 and ’13 before taking a redshirt last season due to an injury. Combined, the five have 77 career starts and should at the very least be able to improve on last season’s poor showing.

Defense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
DE Jaswha James (Sr.) 6’2″, 264 16 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR
DT Jalen Grimble (Sr.) 6’2″, 291 6 tackles, 1 TFL
DT Lavonte Barnett (Sr.) 6’3″, 262 18 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks
DE Luke Hollingsworth (Jr.) 6’3″, 270 11 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack
LB Caleb Saulo (Jr.) 6’1″, 232 6 tackles
LB Rommel Mageo (Jr.) 6’2″, 232 23 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 FR
LB Darrell Songy (RS So.) 6’0″, 223 Redshirted
CB Larry Scott (Sr.) 5’11″, 192 43 tackles, 2 TFL, 11 PBU
CB Dwayne Williams (RS Fr.) 5’9″, 176 Redshirted
FS Cyrill Noland-Lewis (Jr.) 6’1″, 206 33 tackles, 2 PBU, 1 FR
SS Justin Strong (So.) 5’9″, 195 56 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PBU

While Baldwin at least has some experience to work with on offense, Sitake is essentially playing with a blank slate. Only two starters return from a defense that ranked 74th nationally in total defense, 96th in scoring defense, 51st in rush defense, and 91st in pass defense. Only three Pac-12 teams allowed more points per game than Oregon State did (31.6). Sitake had Utah’s defense the second-best in the Pac-12 last fall behind only Stanford.

He’ll have a lot of work to do to replace its top six tacklers. The leading returning tackler is strong safety Justin Strong, who started just three games in 2014 and recorded 56 tackles, five for loss. He’ll be joined in the back by junior free safety Cyrill Noland-Lewis, who has bounced back and forth from outside linebacker. His 33 tackles last season are the third-most returning. The elder statesman of the secondary is senior cornerback Larry Scott, who brings back a team-high 11 pass breakups in addition to 43 tackles. The other corner spot will likely fall to redshirt freshman Dwayne Williams, a former high school national champion track star from Killeen, Texas.

The linebacking corps returns just 29 total tackles and no starters. Middle linebacker Rommel Mageo was the unit’s first reserve last fall and recorded 23 tackles, though he did start seven games in 2013. Junior Caleb Saulo has a lot of special teams experience, but not much game experience, while the other likely starter, Darrell Songy, redshirted last season.

The defensive line returns only senior end Jaswha James, who recorded 16 tackles and just one sack. The other end should be junior Luke Hollingsworth, a junior college transfer who started two games last season. Senior tackle Lavonte Barnett started four games last season and led the team with 4.5 sacks. The other tackle will likely be senior Jalen Grimble, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered against USC last season.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
K Garrett Owens (So.) 5’9″, 181 11-of-13, Long 46
P Mitch Seeley (So.) 5’10″, 183
KR Chris Brown (Jr.) 5’10″, 205 1 ret, 27.0 avg
PR Rahmel Dockery (Jr.) 5’10″, 179 8 ret, 6.1 avg

Kicker Garrett Owens gets the job to himself after sharing it with Trevor Romaine last season. He made 11-of-13 field goals, five of which came in the season opener against Portland State, and four of which came against Washington State. Punter Keith Kostol is gone, leaving only sophomore walk-on Mitch Seeley and Snow College transfer Nick Porebski to battle for the job. Not much is known about either, but Seeley is the one currently on the roster.

In the return game, last season’s leading kick returner, Malcolm Marable, is gone, leaving the job to backup running back Chris Brown, who returned one kick last fall. Junior receiver Rahmel Dockery resumes his punt return duties after averaging 6.1 yards per return a year ago.

Outlook

The offense is sure to improve in the running game with experience along the line, the return of Woods, and Baldwin’s run-heavy system. But the passing game will take a major step back without Mannion, so it will likely net out pretty evenly. However, it will take mite for Sitake to transform the Beavers defense. In all reality, Sitake should be able to keep the defense at least even with where it was last year. But a schedule that finds Oregon State traveling to Michigan, Arizona, Utah, and Oregon, and hosting Stanford and UCLA, will be near impossible to produce a winning record in 2015.

What it means for Michigan

If Michigan can survive Utah in Week 1, the Wolverines will return home with a great chance to go 2-0 and give the fans hope for an exciting season. Since Michigan plays Utah on Thursday night, they’ll get an extra day to prepare for Oregon State, which opens with Weber State on Friday, Sept. 4. The Beavers will give Harbaugh’s squad a good test on the ground, as well as an opportunity to put up some points offensively. Michigan should cruise through Harbaugh’s home opener.

2015 opponent preview: UNLV

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015


2015 Opponent Preview_UNLV

Decker-Whitely UVNL(John Locher, AP)

Today, we continue our season preview series with our first opponent preview. As we have done in past years, we are going in order of easiest to toughest on Michigan’s schedule. First up is the UNLV Rebels, who come to town in Week 3, on Sept. 19.

Overview

In a departure from Michigan’s usual non-conference schedule that features the directional Michigan schools and Notre Dame, the Wolverines open the season this fall with four teams that reside on the west coast. In 2013, UNLV achieved only its second winning season this century (7-6), but struggled to a 2-10 record a year ago, leading to the resignation of head coach Bobby Hauck, who went just 15-48 in five seasons.

Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 5 at Northern Illinois
Sept. 12 UCLA
Sept. 19 at Michigan
Sept. 26 Idaho State
Oct. 3 at Nevada
Oct. 10 San Jose State
Oct. 16 at Fresno State
Oct. 31 Boise State
Nov. 7 Hawaii
Nov. 14 at Colorado State
Nov. 21 San Diego State
Nov. 28 at Wyoming

So the Rebels hope to strike gold with the hiring of a local high school coach. Tony Sanchez turned Bishop Gorman High School into a state power, compiling a 85-5 record from 2009-’14 and winning the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association 4A state title all six years. He didn’t lose a single conference game and is hoping to bring that winning attitude to the next level. During his time at Bishop Gorman, Sanchez sent 30 players to Division 1, an average of five per season, and with his connections in the Vegas area he can certainly improve on this year’s 109th-best recruiting class.

He’ll have a lot of work to do to turn a team that ranked near the bottom nationally on both sides of the ball. UNLV beat just Northern Colorado and Fresno State last season and even those were near losses. The Rebels beat Northern Colorado — an FCS school — just 13-12 after Northern Colorado missed a 24-yard field goal late in the game. UNLV then beat rival Fresno State by a field goal in overtime.

One good move Sanchez made already was to avoid bringing his high school staff up with him, and instead go out and get veteran college coaches to fill out his staff. Among those is his new offensive coordinator, Barney Cotton, who spent the last six seasons as Nebraska’s associate head coach and offensive line coach. Cotton ran Nebraska’s running game from 2012-14 and served as the ‘Huskers’ interim head coach in the Holiday Bowl loss to USC last December.

Entering this season, Sanchez’s squad is picked to finish dead last in the Mountain West’s West division, and with a tough schedule ahead of them and just 10 returning starters, any win improvement over last season will be a success this fall.

Offense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
QB Blake Decker (Sr.) 6’2″, 205 231-401 for 2,886 yds, 15 TD, 18 INT; 147 rush, 366 yds, 5 TD
RB Keith Whitley (Jr.) 5’9″, 185 118 rush for 504 yds (4.3 avg), 2 TD; 22 rec for 185 yds
WR Devonte Boyd (So.) 6’1″, 175 65 rec for 980 yds (15.1 avg), 4 TD
WR Kendal Keys (So.) 6’3″, 200 24 rec for 310 yds (12.9 avg), 2 TD
WR Anthony Williams (Sr.) 5’11″, 190 24 rec for 234 yds (9.8 avg), 1 TD
TE Jake Phillips (Sr.) 6’6″, 255 5 rec for 67 yds (13.4 avg)
LT Kyle Saxelid (So.) 6’7″, 270 5 starts (5 career starts)
LG Eric Noone (Sr.) 6’2″, 300 6 starts (6 career starts)
C Will Kreitler (Jr.) 6’0″, 295 JC transfer, 0 career starts
RG Ron Scoggins (Sr.) 6’3″, 335 5 starts (24 career starts)
RT J’Ondray Sanders (So.) 6’5″, 270 0 career starts

Despite going just 2-11, UNLV’s offense wasn’t a complete bust. It ranked 78th nationally, averaging 387.4 yards per game (54 more than Michigan), but had trouble finding the end zone. The Rebels ranked 104th nationally with an average of 21.9 points per game. And while the rushing offense ranked 102nd, averaging just 129.2 yards per game, the passing offense was a respectable 43rd, averaging 258.2 yards per game.

Sophomore Devonte Boyd was the MWC freshman of the year in 2014 with 980 yards (Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA Today Sports)

Sophomore Devonte Boyd was the MWC freshman of the year in 2014 with 980 yards (Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA Today Sports)

Cotton’s expertise in the run game — Nebraska ranked 17th nationally last season, 19th in 2013, and eighth in 2012 — will be counted on to improve one of the nation’s worst running games. UNLV topped 150 yards rushing in a game just four times all season and was held to just 15 yards rushing against Utah State, 33 against Air Force, and 51 against Hawaii.

Last year’s leading rusher Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is gone and junior Keith Whitely will step into the role. Whitely had just 52 fewer yards than Murray-Lawrence, but found the end zone twice compared to M-L’s nine. George Naufahu is the only other running back that brings back more than 37 rushing yards. He gained 210 yards on 52 carries a year ago.

Quarterback Blake Decker certainly factors into the running game. He ranked third on the tam last season with 366 yards (sacks included) and five touchdowns. He ranked third in the Mountain West with an average of 222 passing yards per game, finishing the season with 2,886 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, he led the conference with 18 interceptions. Decker has no one with experience to push him for the starting spot, but Sanchez  brought in junior college transfer Kurt Palandech to compete.

The good news for whoever is slinging the ball is that receiver Devonte Boyd is back. The sophomore caught 65 passes for 980 yards and four touchdowns last season, earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors. In fact, he ranked third in the conference in yards per game (75.4) and fourth in receptions per game (6.4). The next two from last season are gone, so sophomore Kendall Keys and senior Anthony Williams will need to step up. They each caught 24 passes last season for 234 and 186 yards, respectively, and only one touchdown between them.

The offensive line returns three players who started games last season, though none started the entire season, and they only have 35 career starts combined. Left tackle Kyle Saxelid and right guard Ron Scoggins each started five games, while right guard Eric Noone started six. Junior college transfer Will Kreitler should man the center spot and sophomore J’Ondray Sanders is expected to step into the right tackle role.

Defense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
DE Sonny Sanitoa (Sr.) 6’3″, 260 44 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks
DT Mike Hughes (So.) 6’3″, 300 18 tackles, 2 TFL
DT Tuli Fakauho (Sr.) 6’1″, 300 2 tackles
DE Iggy Porchia (Jr.) 6’2″, 225 28 tackles, 2 TFL
LB Tau Lotulelei (Jr.) 6’1″, 220 100 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 3 sacks
LB Ryan McAleenan (Jr.) 6’2″, 230 70 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
LB Matt Lea (So.) 5’10″, 210 52 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 FR
CB Jay’Onn Myles (Jr.) 5’8″, 175 JC transfer
CB Torry McTyer (Jr.) 6’0″, 180 30 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 PBU
FS Blake Richmond (Sr.) 6’3″, 190 33 tackles, 2 PBU, 1 FR
SS Peni Vea (Sr.) 6’1″, 205 88 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT

Like Cotton on offense, Sanchez brought in a veteran to run his defense. Kent Baer is in his 10th stint as a defensive coordinator at a different school, having served the role at Utah State (1983-85), Idaho (1986), Cal (1987-91), Arizona State (1992-94), Stanford (1999-2001), Notre Dame (2002-04), Washington (2005-07), San Jose State (2010-12), and Colorado (2013-14). Twice, Baer has served as an interim head coach — at Notre Dame in 2004 and SJSU in 2012 — but there’s something to be said for a guy who hasn’t spent more than five years at a single school in 32 years.

If he’s going to improve a unit that ranked 123rd nationally in total defense, 113th in scoring defense, 123rd in rush defense, and 112th in pass efficiency define, at least he has an entire corps of linebackers returning. Sophomore Matt Lea and juniors Tau Lotulelei and Ryan McAleenan form the center of the Rebels defense. Lotulelei led the team with 100 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss a year ago, while McAleenan ranked fourth with 70 and Lea ranked sixth with 52.

The line ranked ninth in the Mountain West with 23 sacks and allowed a conference-worst 293.8 rushing yards per game. That’s 25 yards more than the next-worst, New Mexico. One starter returns, senior end Sonny Sanitoa, who started all 13 games and recorded 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The other end spot could be filled by either junior Iggy Porchia or junior Dominic Baldwin. The former came out of spring practice atop the depth chart, but neither is a great option. In the middle, senior Tuli Fakauho and sophomore Mike Hughes should step in with minor experience.

The secondary is led by senior strong safety Peni Vea, who ranked second on the team last season with 88 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and four passes defended. He earned honorable mention All-MWC honors each of the last two years. However, only seven career starts return for the rest of the group. Senior Blake Richmond should man the free safety spot with one career start in his pocket, while junior Torry McTyer and junior college transfer Jay’Onn Myles should grab the corner spots. Myles was rated as the eighth-best juco corner in this year’s class.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2014 Stats
K Jonathan Leiva (Sr.) 5’11″, 175 11-of-17, Long 46
P Logan Yunker (Sr.) 6’2″, 200 40.5 avg, 30 in-20, 14 50+
KR Keith Whitely (Jr.) 5’9″, 185 12 ret, 24.4 avg
PR Keith Whitely (Jr.) 5’9″, 185 6 ret, 0 avg

Virtually all of UNLV’s specialists return. Senior kicker Jonathan Leiva made 11 of 17 attempts last season with a long of 46 yards, while senior punter Logan Yunker ranked 10th in the Mountain West with an average of 40.5 yards per punt. Last year’s leading kick returner, Marcus Sullivan, is gone, but running back Keith Whitely will assume the role he shared with Sullivan. He’ll also return punts.

Outlook

With a tough schedule that sees UNLV travel to Northern Illinois to open the season, then return home to face UCLA, and then travel back to the midwest to face Michigan, it will be a tough start for the Rebels. They do get conference favorites Boise State and San Diego State at home an don’t have to face Utah State, but with all the holes on the roster, it’s hard to find more than a couple of wins on the schedule. Sanchez may get the Rebels on the road to progress, but not much will be shown this fall.

What it means for Michigan

If the Wolverines can survive Jim Harbaugh’s opener at Utah on Thursday, Sept. 3, they’ll return home for a pair of “cupcake” games against Oregon State and then UNLV with a great opportunity to start 3-0 before BYU comes to town to present a stern test. Unless Baer vastly improves the run defense, Michigan’s deep stable of backs could have a field day like they did against Miami Ohio a year ago. Boyd will provide Michigan’s secondary a good challenge, but there’s not much else on the offense to be worried about. Don’t count on Harbaugh to go easy on the Rebels as he looks to make his mark and put the rest of the Big Ten on notice.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The running backs

Thursday, July 16th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-RunningBacks

Miami Ohio v Michigan

It seems long ago that five-star recruit Derrick Green’s commitment to the University of Michigan sent former head coach Brady Hoke into tears of joy. Ever since that day (Jan. 26, 2013), Michigan’s offense has left fans crying for another reason.

Though much of the blame for the team’s poor rushing performance over the past few years belongs to the offensive line, a few highly-regarded running backs have certainly struggled to live up to the hype. Green and classmate De’Veon Smith, once regarded near-elite talents in the running game, have failed to combine for 1,000 rushing yards in a single season midway through their college careers.

With an improving offensive line and even more viable options in the backfield, the rushing game should see a marked improvement in 2015.

Potential starters

For a team that struggled to rush the ball consistently under Hoke, Michigan does return a slew of potential weapons for Jim Harbaugh’s maiden voyage. Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Drake Johnson, who took the reins in the second half of last season before an injury ended his campaign a few quarters early at Ohio State.

Ty Isaac

Ty Isaac showed promise as a freshman at USC in 2013 and will get a chance to lead Michigan’s backfield this fall (David Cleveland, AP)

Johnson earned a chance at the top spot against Indiana, when he rushed for 122 yards and two scores on 16 carries. Though he only gained 30 yards on 10 carries against Northwestern, the junior finished on a strong note, gaining 168 yards and scoring twice on 29 carries in the team’s final two games. He averaged just over six yards per carry in 60 total attempts and scored four touchdowns. If he fully recovers in time for the season, Johnson will get a shot to win the starting job.

But even with a full recovery, Johnson’s ceiling is much lower than that of Derrick Green, who started to run more effectively before breaking his collar bone midway through the 2014 season. Green rushed for 170 yards on 15 carries in the opener against Appalachian State and averaged 6.2 yards per carry against both Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers.

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Green didn’t show up to the two biggest games of his season, rushing for only 31 yards on 19 combined carries against Notre Dame and Minnesota. As a freshman in 2013, Green averaged fewer than four yards per carry in eight of the 11 games he played in and failed to record a single 100-yard game.

Green offers the best combination of power and athleticism in the Michigan running back unit, which should give him a leg up as the Wolverines transition into a more power-based offensive attack under Harbaugh. But the junior will ultimately have to find his consistency and earn the job on the field, something he’s been unable to do through two seasons.

De’Veon Smith, often the forgotten man behind Green — and later Johnson — in the rotation, stood as the only Michigan back to carry the ball in every single game last season. Smith led the team with 519 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and averaged a solid 4.8 yards per carry.

Though Smith developed a bit of a nose for the end zone last season, he earned only 108 carries in 12 games and gained over 60 yards in a game only twice – a 115-yard effort in the opener against Appalachian State and a 121-yard game in Northwestern.

Smith is the most stable running back on Michigan’s depth chart; he has neither an outstanding chance to over perform nor a colossal chance to fail. The best case scenario for Michigan would be one of the more explosive backs earning the starting job so that Smith can slot into a productive backup role he clearly deserves.

The final piece of the starting running back puzzle is USC transfer Ty Isaac, who came to Ann Arbor after one season with the Trojans. Isaac received only 40 carries for USC as a true freshman in 2013, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns.

A former five-star recruit out of Illinois, Isaac stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs around 240 pounds. If he does win the job, he’s got the best body to become a workhorse and take over the Michigan offense. He was a single-cut back coming out of high school with good burst and quick feet for his size. Isaac can also be a weapon in the passing game, which can only help his chances with a new quarterback taking over the system.

My initial reaction to this four-man battle for the starting job was that Green and Johnson, who each put together solid half-seasons before injuries last season, would head into the season as frontrunners. But Isaac’s size and agility might actually be the deciding factors if he can shake off the rust from a year on the sideline.

New running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley has a tough decision ahead of him in naming a starting back, but too much talent is a good problem to face.

Projected Stats – Isaac
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG
120 672 5.6 8 51.7
Career Stats
2013* 40 236 5.9 2 16.9
Totals 40 236 5.9 2 16.9
*All at USC
Projected Stats – Green
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG
95 510 5.4 6 39.2
Career Stats
2014 82 471 5.7 3 78.5
2013 83 270 3.3 2 20.8
Totals 165 741 4.5 5 39.0
Projected Stats – Johnson
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG
60 340 5.7 4 26.2
Career Stats
2014 60 361 6.0 4 30.1
2013 2 9 4.5 0 9.0
2012 0 0 N/A 0 N/A
Totals 62 370 6.0 4 28.5
Projected Stats – Smith
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG
50 235 4.7 6 18.1
Career Stats
2014 108 519 4.8 6 43.3
2013 26 117 4.5 0 9.8
Totals 134 636 4.7 6 26.5

Newcomer

Michigan added another piece to the running back corps through recruiting this spring, flipping three-star Karan Higdon from Iowa at the last minute. The 5-foot-10, 190 pound back rushed for 15 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards on 185 carries as a junior and gives Michigan a quick outside runner who can make defenders miss in the open field.

Higdon committed to Wheatley on Feb. 4 as one of the first recruits to join Harbaugh’s class. He’s a north-south runner, which will fit well into the new offensive scheme, and has above-average power for a light back.

With the four upper classmen mentioned above, it’s possible that Higdon will take a redshirt as a freshman, perhaps to add more weight before hitting the field in 2016. But as the only guy on the team who was actually recruited by Harbaugh, don’t count anything out.

Projected Stats – Higdon
Redshirt or very little playing time this fall

Meet the rest

Antonio Whitfield, junior, 5’4″, 160, from Canal Winchester, Ohio, no career stats

Junior Wyatt Shallman‘s claim to fame so far in his first couple of years at Michigan was adopting a wallaby last month. On the field, he has recorded just one carry in last year’s season opener against Appalachian State. He was featured in the spring game in April, gaining 22 yards on 12 carries while Johnson and Isaac sat out, but in a crowded backfield he won’t see much time this fall.

Projected Stats – Shallman
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG
5 21 4.2 0 1.6
Career Stats
2014 1 5 5.0 0 0.4
2013 0 0 N/A 0 N/A
Totals 1 5 5.0 0 0.4

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2014

Monday, July 13th, 2015


Ohio State Navy Football(AP photo)

Less than eight weeks remain before Michigan football returns. Not only will the Wolverines kick off a new era of Michigan football, but they will open up the entire college football season on Thursday, Sept. 3 at Utah. Minnesota faces TCU that same night, while Michigan State and Illinois follow on Friday night. The majority of the Big Ten plays on Saturday as usual, but visits Marshall on Sunday and Ohio State caps the weekend with a trip to Virginia Tech on Monday night.

As we look forward to a new season, it’s time to take a look at one indicator of how the Big Ten might play out. A couple of weeks ago we reviewed how returning production factored into each team’s success in 2014. Maryland had the most but finished in the middle of the pack. Ohio State had the least but won the Big Ten and national title. So what does it look like as we enter the 2015 season? Let’s take a look.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2014 Total Offense Rating
Ohio State 88% 9
Penn State 81% 111
Nebraska 69% 31
Illinois 63% 94
Michigan 62% 112
Wisconsin 60% 21
Rutgers 55% 73
Minnesota 54% 103
Michigan State 54% 11
Northwestern 51% 104
Purdue 48% 108
Iowa 41% 63
Indiana 40% 61
Maryland 29% 109
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2014 Scoring Offense Rating
Ohio State 83% 5
Michigan 64% 109
Penn State 64% 110
Nebraska 61% 12
Illinois 58% 84
Northwestern 58% 98
Rutgers 55% 80
Minnesota 54% 66
Wisconsin 51% 27
Purdue 47% 95
Michigan State 44% 7
Maryland 36% 65
Indiana 35% 87
Iowa 31% 68

While Michigan has made the headlines all offseason thanks to the antics of Harbaugh, its chief rival, Ohio State, is the reigning national champions and looks to be even stronger this season. The Buckeyes return the most total offense and scoring offense of any team in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes lost just 112 total rushing yards and four of 41 rushing touchdowns. Receiver Devin Smith’s 931 yards and 12 touchdowns will need to be replaced, but that’s the only significant loss among offensive skill position players, and OSU returns four starting offensive linemen. With 88 percent of the nation’s ninth-best offense and 83 percent of the nation’s fifth-best scoring offense returning, it’s no wonder Ohio State is the hands-on favorite to win the Big Ten and play for the national title once again. And those numbers don’t even include two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year Braxton Miller, who missed all of 2014 with a shoulder injury. In other words, the Buckeyes are stacked.

Penn State returns the second most offensive production with 81 percent of its offense and 64 percent of its scoring. However, while Ohio State’s offense ranked among the nation’s best last season, Penn State’s was among the nation’s worst, ranking 111th in total offense and 109th in scoring offense. Eight starters return, most notably quarterback Christian Hackenberg who enters his third season as a starter. Leading rusher Akeel Lynch and the top two leading receivers, DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis, are also back. The offensive line, which was the source of most of Penn State’s troubles last season, returns four starters and brings in a couple of transfers to vie for the fifth spot.

Nebraska, Illinois, and Michigan each return about the same amount of offense. The Cornhuskers have 69 percent of their 31st-ranked offense and 61 percent of their 12th-ranked scoring offense coming back. However, they’ll have to replace running back Ameer Abdullah’s 1,611 yards and 19 touchdowns, as well as Kenny Bell’s 788 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Illinois brings back 63 percent of its offense and 58 percent of its scoring returning. The top four receivers and leading rusher are back along with quarterback Wes Lunt. However, leading receiver Mike Dudek, who topped 1,000 yards a year ago, will miss some time after tearing his ACL in the spring.

Michigan returns 62 percent of its total offense and 64 percent of its scoring offense. Like Penn State, Michigan’s offense was miserable a year ago. Devin Funchess is the big loss, accounting for 36 percent of Michigan’s receiving yards. Jehu Chesson will have to step into a larger role in the pass catching department. Quarterback Devin Gardner is gone, but Iowa transfer Jake Rudock brings 2,436 yards (540 more than Gardner) and 16 touchdowns (six more) to the table. While Michigan has the second most returning touchdowns percentage-wise, the 34 touchdowns are well short of Ohio State’s 102.

Of the group in the middle of the pack of returning production, Wisconsin had the best offense last season. The Badgers return 60 percent of the nation’s 20th-best total offense and 51 percent of the 27th-best scoring offense. Melvin Gordon’s 2,740 total yards and 32 touchdowns make up nearly all of the team’s lost production.

Michigan State, which was the only Big Ten team with an offense similar to Ohio State’s in 2014, returns 54 percent of the 11th-ranked offense, but just 44 percent of the seventh-best scoring offense. Thirty-seven of the Spartans’ 43 rushing touchdowns and 16 of 26 receiving touchdowns are gone. But with quarterback Connor Cook returning Michigan State’s offense should still be strong if it can find skill position players to step up.

Maryland, which entered last season with nearly its entire offense returning (97.5 of its total offense and 94.4 percent of its scoring offense), is on the other side of the coin entering this fall. The Terrapins return just 29 percent of their total offense and 36 percent of their scoring. Quarterback CJ Brown, who also led the team in rushing, as well as the top four receivers, will need to be replaced.

Defense

Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2014 Total Defense Rating
Ohio State 74% 19
Illinois 71% 109
Northwestern 67% 53
Michigan State 67% 8
Michigan 63% 7
Minnesota 62% 39
Wisconsin 61% 4
Purdue 60% 80
Penn State 59% 2
Rutgers 57% 98
Nebraska 56% 52
Iowa 56% 22
Indiana 53% 93
Maryland 44% 95

Entering last season, the top three defenses in the Big Ten from 2013 had the least production returning. Still, those three teams – Michigan State, Iowa, and Wisconsin – finished among the top six in total defense the Big Ten in 2014. Entering this fall, the top three defenses from last season — Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan — stand in the middle third of the conference in terms of returning production (tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and takeaways).

Penn State had the Big Ten’s best defense a year ago, allowing just 278.7 yards and 18.6 points per game. The Nittany Lions return 59 percent of last season’s production, which ranks ninth in the conference. Linebacker Mike Hull, who led the team with 140 tackles and ranked third with 10.5 tackles for loss, will have to be replaced, but the next five leading tacklers are all back. Head coach James Franklin will also have to replace both defensive ends, who combined for nine sacks, but he does have tackle Anthony Zettel, who led the team with eight, back.

Wisconsin featured the Big Ten’s second best defense and scoring defense last season and the nation’s fourth-best total defense. Despite losing two of their top three tacklers, linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derrick Landisch, the Badgers return 61 percent of last season’s proaction.

Michigan, meanwhile, ranked third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense last season and returns the fifth-most production at 63 percent. Leading tackler Jake Ryan is gone, but will be backfilled by fifth-year senior Desmond Morgan who recorded 229 tackles from 2011-2013 before missing last season with an injury. The defensive line lost a combined 21 tackles for loss and 10 sacks from ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, but the core of the defense — especially the back seven — is back.

Michigan State had the conference’s fourth-best total defense and third-best scoring defense a year ago, and returns 67 percent this year. The top two returning tacklers, Kurtis Drummond and Taiwan Jones, as well as the best corner, Trae Waynes, are gone. The three accounted for 36 percent of MSU’s takeaways.

The team with the most returning production this season is the same team that also returns the most offensive production, the defending Big Ten and national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Seventy-four percent of the defense that ranked fifth in the Big Ten and 19th nationally is back in action this fall, including the top four tacklers and top two in sacks, Joey Bosa and Darron Lee. In fact, even though they lose 11 sacks, Ohio State returns 33.5 sacks, which would have ranked fourth in the Big Ten last season. The Bucks also bring back 72 percent of their takeaways from a unit that ranked second in that category in 2014.

Rutgers, Nebraska, Iowa, and Indiana all return between 57 percent and 53 percent of their defenses, though they ranked between sixth (Iowa) and 13th (Rutgers) in the Big Ten in total defense a year ago. The Hawkeyes have to replace their top two tacklers and more than 50 percent of their tackles for loss and sacks. Nebraska has to replace four of their top five tacklers, including defensive end Randy Gregory who led the team with seven sacks. Rutgers has 71 percent of their sacks coming back from unit that ranked fourth in the Big Ten in that category, but behind the front four the Scarlet Knights have a lot of holes to fill. Indiana brings back just five starters from a defense that allowed the second most points in the conference last season.

Finally, the team that returned the most defense last season returns the least this year. Maryland is the only Big Ten squad with less than 50 percent of last season’s defensive production returning. The Terrapins return just 44 percent of last year’s 95th-ranked defense. Only four starters return, most notably corners Sean Davis and Will Likely, but nearly the entire front seven has to be replaced.

Conclusion

Ohio State is in the same spot Maryland was entering last season. The Buckeyes have the most returning production across the board. However, the Buckeyes are in a much better spot to allow that production to pay off. Whereas Maryland ranked 77th, 83rd, and 44th in total offense, scoring offense, and total defense in 2013, Ohio State ranked ninth, fifth, and 19th, respectively, last season. Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa just plugged in talent on defense and didn’t miss a beat last season, and all four return more this fall.

2014to2015 Returning Production Chart

According to the chart above, Rutgers is in the exact spot Ohio State was entering last season. Does that mean the Scarlet Knights will roll through the Big Ten and into the College Football Playoff? Probably not since the Buckeyes stand alone atop the chart. Last year, there was only one offense returning less than 50 percent of its production. This year there are four, so we could see a decline in offense across the league. Nine of the league’s 14 primary quarterbacks return, in addition to Rudock, who will likely start for Michigan, and Ohio State’s three-headed monster.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out this fall, but of course this is just one metric to use when predicting performance. Stay tuned for our individual team previews over the course of the next seven weeks as well as our Michigan position previews and other season preview content.

Predicting Michigan 2015: The quarterbacks

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Quarterbacks

Shane Morris(Tony Ding, AP)

For the past few years, Michigan was haunted by underwhelming performances at the most important position on the football field: quarterback.

While Devin Gardner showed flashes of brilliance and put together a few heroic games, like his 451-yard, 4-touchdown effort against Ohio State in 2013, he never really blossomed into the talent his five-star recruiting ranks hinted at.

Now, with the dual-threat era of Gardner and Denard Robinson firmly in the rear-view mirror, Michigan will look to get back to its John Navarre and Chad Henne-type roots under new head coach Jim Harbaugh.

He’ll certainly have options. Harbaugh brought in a slew of potential contributors under center, likely hoping at least one of them will turn into a quarterback worthy of leading the Maize and Blue.

Potential starters

Though no one is ever really sure what Harbaugh will do, it appears he’s got a two-horse race for the starting job in 2015. His options could hardly be more different.

Jake Rudock

Fifth-year senior transfer Jake Rudock will battle Shane Morris for the starting spot this fall, bringing experience to a position severely lacking it (Charlie Litchfield, The Register)

On one hand, Shane Morris enters his junior season after a disappointing — though incomplete — sophomore campaign. While called upon to lead Michigan during Gardner’s struggles, Morris simply couldn’t get the job done. He completed just 14 passes in 40 attempts on the season and threw more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (zero).

Morris was considered one of the finest prospects in the country during his junior year of high school when he committed to the Wolverines. But after missing his senior season due to a battle with mononucleosis, some of the steam evaporated from his arrival in Ann Arbor.

Morris has one of the strongest arms Michigan has seen on the football field, but his greatest challenge is knowing how and when to use it. He showed some improvement during the Spring Game, when he dialed back at times and found receivers with a soft touch he hadn’t shown on any previous Saturday.

Morris’ stiffest competition will come from senior transfer Jake Rudock, who left the Iowa Hawkeyes to join Michigan for his final year of eligibility.

Rudock was solid in his final season at Iowa a year ago, completing 61.7 percent of his 345 passes for 2,436 yards, and 16 touchdowns. The greatest advantage for Rudock is his tremendous ball protection: He threw just five picks last season, a huge upgrade over Gardner’s 15.

While Morris’s ceiling is certainly higher than Rudock’s, the fifth-year senior offers a much safer bet for a team that hopes to rely on its defense and rushing attack to lead the charge. Rudock finished in the top five in the Big Ten in passing touchdowns, passing yards, and passing completions last season. With that kind of production under center, Michigan’s 2014 season would have been a much different story.

Who will win the starting job? It’s unlikely that Rudock would burn his final year of eligibility transferring to Michigan unless he was certain he’d be the No. 1 guy. Though nothing is set in stone, Rudock offers a far more polished quarterback for Harbaugh in his first season, which is sure to come with unrealistically high expectations.

Iowa fans were often frustrated by Rudock’s tendency to dink and dunk the ball, pleading for more passes downfield. But Michigan fans, who’ve not seen an organized passing attack since 2007 will appreciate Rudock’s touchdown-to-interception ratio and career 60.3 percent completion percentage.

Projected Stats – Rudock
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
2,300 17 7 60.0% 185 3
Career Stats
2014 2,436 16 5 61.7% 176 3
2013 2,383 18 13 59.0% 218 5
2012 0 0 0 N/A 0 0
2011 0 0 0 N/A 0 0
Totals 4,819 34 18 60.3% 394 8
*All at Iowa
Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
250 3 3 55.0% 35 0
Career Stats
2014 128 0 3 35.0% 28 0
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 389 0 5 49.4% 68 0

Backups

The most obvious difference in Michigan’s quarterback unit heading into 2015 isn’t the standout talent at the top; it’s the quality of arms lower on the depth chart.

Michigan brought in a pair of highly-talented freshmen to add to the mix in Alex Malzone and Zach Gentry.

(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

True freshman Alex Malzone battled Shane Morris in spring camp, but shouldn’t factor into the upcoming season (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Malzone was ranked the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the state when he committed to Michigan, tossing 38 touchdowns and completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,794 yards as a senior at Brother Rice High School. He enrolled early and went head-to-head with Morris in Michigan’s Spring Game, struggling to find receivers but showcasing his excellent arm strength. He completed 15-of-27 passes for 95 yards, but was tagged for a pair of interceptions.

Malzone will benefit from sitting behind Rudock and Morris in 2015, using the time to get used to the speed of the college game.

Harbaugh’s first quarterback commitment t0 Michigan came from Gentry, who flipped from Texas to the Wolverines on Jan. 24. Gentry, a four-star recruit from Albuquerque, N.M., is a towering 6’7″ and weighs 230 pounds. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards his senior season and ran for over 1,000 more. He scored 48 total touchdowns that season – 26 through the air and 22 on the ground.

But don’t expect Gentry to be a typical dual threat quarterback at Michigan. His size and athleticism powered much of his rushing success in high school and his elite arm strength will be his main weapon at the college level. Gentry has a quick release and a strong gun, which will give him a shot to compete for the starting spot in 2016. That being said, he likely won’t have much of an impact as a true freshman, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Harbaugh slapped a redshirt on this young phenom this fall.

Perhaps the only quarterback in this group that could have a major impact on Michigan’s 2015 season is redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, who was injured during the spring and didn’t play a snap in the Spring Game.

Speight, a former four-star recruit who started in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game, threw for 5,879 yards and 68 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons and gives Harbaugh another physically imposing option. At 6’6″, 235 pounds with a powerful arm, Speight is primed to dominate the college game if he can crack the lineup.

Speight is probably on the outside looking in as far as the battle for the starting job goes, but don’t count him out just yet, as he’s got all the tools to be the No. 1 guy.

Projected Stats – Speight
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
300 5 2 60.0% 15 0
Career Stats
Redshirted in 2014
Projected Stats – Malzone
Little, if any, playing time
Projected Stats – Gentry
Redshirt

Meet the rest

Four other quarterbacks fill out the roster, but it would take a catastrophic turn of events for any of them to see the field this fall.

Brian Cleary, senior, 6’3″, 205 from Gross Point, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit), no career stats
Joe Hewlett, sophomore, 6’0″, 192 from Novi, Mich. (Northville), no career stats
Matt Thompson, sophomore, 6’5″, 214 from Cincinnati, Ohio (Indian Hill), no career stats
Garrett Moores, junior, 6’3″, 211 from Detroit, Mich. (Detroit Catholic), no career stats

Do you agree with these projections? Do you see the quarterback race turning out much differently? We’d love to hear your opinion. Post your stat predictions in the comments below.

New in Blue: 2016 WR Brad Hawkins

Friday, July 3rd, 2015



Brad Hawkins(NJ.com)

Brad Hawkins – WR | 6-1, 202 | Camden, N.J. – Camden
ESPN: 4-star, #25 WR Rivals: 4-star, #42 WR 247: 4-star, #37 WR Scout: 4-star, #38 WR
Other top offers: Auburn, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oregon, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Arizona State

June was a big month for Michigan recruiting but it didn’t take long for Jim Harbaugh’s staff to land their first July commitment. Camden, N.J. wide receiver Brad Hawkins announced his commitment to the Wolverines on Friday afternoon.

Hawkins is rated four stars by all four of the major recruiting services. ESPN rates him the highest as the 25th-best receiver in the 2016 class. 247 Sports has him 37th, Scout 38th, and Rivals 42nd. ESPN ranks him the 191st-best overall player in the class, while 247 has him 198th, Rivals 206th, and Scout 224th.

Scout lists his strengths as body control, route-running, and size, while noting his areas for improvement as downfield threat and speed. Scout’s Brian Dohn liked what he saw.

“Hawkins is one of the top receivers in the East’s 2016 class because of his combination of size, acceleration off the of scrimmage, his ball-tracking skills and his ability to use his body to shield defenders. He is physical and catches the ball at its highest point. He goes over the middle and can out leap defenders to make catches, and he is tough to bring down after the catch. If his speed improves, he will be the total package.”

Hawkins held a who’s who of offers including Oregon, Auburn, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame to name a few. He unofficially visited Michigan on March 27 and again last weekend with a large group of New Jersey recruits, including teammate Ron Johnson, who committed to the Wolverines last Thursday.

He’s the 21st commitment in the class and the first receiver, moving Michigan up to sixth in the 247 Sports team rankings, behind only LSU, Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama, and Miami. Michigan jumped fellow Big Ten foes Michigan State and Penn State.

Tailgate Tuesday: Beer Can Burgers

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015


TailgateTuesday_banner-Summer2015

Tailgate Tuesday is our collaboration with Joe Pichey from MmmGoBluBBQ. These will be posted each Tuesday throughout the football season and each recipe will be themed around that week’s opponent. 

Previously: Hot-’n-Fast pulled pork with Carolina mustard slawIrish stout pepper beefSpatchcock RedHawkGrilled RavioliSmoked “Land of 10,000 Lakes” Catfishpork loin with mustard glazeBrady Back Ribs,Moink Balls (a.k.a. Moinks)Caveman style Tri-TipCrockpot reuben dipCaveman cowboy ribeyeSmoked Gobbler Legs, Pull apart Cheesy Bread.

Nothing says 4th of July BBQ like a good ol’ burger. Whether you grill it, smoke it, fry it in a skillet or pick one up at the local pub, it’s the “go to” on this great holiday. Here is a new version on this old favorite that you should try. It’s called the Beer Can Burger and is the new craze on social media. The options are endless on this one, so go nuts. Here is how it’s done:

Ingredients:

• 2 pounds of 80/20 ground chuck (this will make 8 burgers)
• Onions and mushrooms
• 1 Tbsp butter
• Nacho cheese
• 16 slices cheddar cheese
• 16 slices of bacon
• 8 hamburger buns

Directions:

Set grill up for indirect heat. We are shooting for a grill temperature of about 275 degrees. Add a few chunks of pecan wood for smoke (optional). While the grill is heating up, divide the ground chuck into half-pound patties. Press a full beer can into the middle of each (or in this case, a Monster energy drink) forming a cup around the bottom of the beer can.

Beer Can Burger 2-3

The walls of the burger should be about one inch high. Make sure the meat thickness is even all the way around the can so we get even cooking throughout. Wrap each burger with two pieces of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Dust the entire burger with your favorite BBQ rub.

Beer Can Burger 4

Sauté your onions and mushrooms in butter until softened. This will take approximately five minutes on medium heat. Place some cheddar cheese in the bottom of the burger and fill with veggies. Add another layer of tasty cheese and they are ready for the grill. I also made one with leftover brisket and pimento cheese. Mmmmmmmmm good. Place the Beer Can Burger on the grill and cook until your desired doneness.

These typically take between 60 and 90 minutes to cook. Once the bacon is crispy and the meat has reached your ideal level of “pinkness”, top it with some nacho cheese and cook for five more minutes. Remove and place on your favorite bun along with your favorite burger condiments.

These are perfect for the July 4th holiday and your guests will love them. Happy 4th everyone. Go Blue!!!!

Beer Can Burger 5

 

For more great recipes, photos, and barbecue ideas, follow Joe on Twitter at @mmmgoblubbq. And don’t forget to check out his site, MmmGoBluBBQ, for recipes, product reviews, and more.

How returning production throughout the Big Ten translated in 2014

Monday, June 29th, 2015


Ohio State Sugar Bowl(AP)

Last summer we kicked off our season preview series with a look at the returning production from each team in the Big Ten from the year before. We’re going to do the same this summer, but we’ll begin with a review of how the returning production entering last season translated over the course of the season. That will lead into this year’s returning production, our opponent previews, and our Michigan position previews.

Entering last season, Maryland was far and away the most experienced team based on the previous season’s production. The Terrapins returned 97.5 percent of their offense, 94.4 percent of their scoring offense, and 82.6 percent of their defense. They led the conference in all three categories. But did it translate?

Maryland went just 7-6 overall and 4-4 in conference play in 2014, its first year in the Big Ten. All that returning offensive production resulted in the 12th-best (third-worst) offense in the Big Ten, though it ranked fifth in scoring. The offensive line that returned 51 starts from 2013 produced the third-worst rushing offense and allowed the second most sacks. All that returning defensive production resulted in a the conference’s 12th-ranked defense and 10th-ranked scoring defense.

Returning 2013 Production vs 2014 Results
Team Returning Total Off. Returning Scoring Off. Returning Def. Big Ten Finish
Ohio State 12th (59.8%) 13th (53.7%) 11th (60.3%) Champion
Wisconsin 13th (57.0%) 11th (57.7%) 13th (49.9%) 1st – West
Michigan State 3rd (90.9%) 2nd (91.3%) 12th (50.1%) 2nd – East
Minnesota 10th (65.9%) 12th (57.4%) 8th (66.1%) 2nd – West
Nebraska 9th (66.5%) 10th (59.5%) 9th (66.5%) 2nd – West
Iowa 2nd (92.8%) 3rd (89.3%) 14th (44.4%) 4th – West
Maryland 1st (97.5%) 1st (94.4%) 1st (82.6%) 3rd – East
Rutgers 6th (74.4%) 4th (86.9%) 3rd (77.8%) 4th – East
Illinois 14th (34.3%) 14th (40.0%) 6th (75.8%) 5th – West
Michigan 8th (68.6%) 9th (63.8%) 4th (77.6%) 4th – East
Northwestern 7th (71.9%) 8th (71.1%) 5th (76.1%) 5th – West
Penn State 5th (76.4%) 5th (84.4%) 7th (67.4%) 6th – East
Indiana 9th (67.3%) 7th (72.2%) 2nd (79.1%) 7th – East
Purdue 4th (82.5%) 6th (80.6%) 10th (63.3%) 7th – West

Iowa and Michigan State ranked second and third in returning offensive production, both at about 90 percent. It translated for the Spartans, who went 11-2 and possessed the Big Ten’s second-best scoring offense and total offense. Interestingly, the running game, which returned 100 percent of its 2013 production ranked just fifth in the conference, while the passing game, which lost 21 percent of its yards and 35 percent of its receiving touchdowns, led the conference in passing. Iowa, meanwhile, was middle of the pack, ranking sixth in total offense and seventh in scoring while matching Maryland’s record of 7-6 and 4-4.

Defensively, both ranked among the bottom three in returning production entering last season, but performed much better. Michigan State ranked fourth in total defense and third in scoring defense, while Iowa ranked sixth and eighth, respectively.

Michigan was in the middle of the pack in returning production with 68.6 percent of its offense and 63.8 percent of its defense returning. The Wolverines went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten play, ranking dead last in total offense, second to last in scoring offense. The defense fared much better, finishing third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.

How about the Big Ten and national champions? Ohio State had the third-lowest total offense, second-lowest scoring offense, and fourth-lowest total defense returning. And that included Braxton Miller, who missed the entire season. All the Buckeyes did was bounce back from an early-season loss to Virginia Tech by running the table the rest of the way, taking down Michigan State, Wisconsin, top-ranked Alabama, and second-ranked Oregon in the process.

2013to2014 Returning Production Results Chart

Wisconsin followed a similar pattern, starting the season with the second-lowest total offense, fourth-lowest scoring offense, and second-lowest total defense returning. It translated into an 11-3 record, a trip to the Big Ten title game — which the Badgers lost to Ohio State 59-0 — and an overtime win over Southeastern Conference power Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Minnesota, the surprise team in the conference last season, brought the fourth-lowest total offense, third-lowest scoring offense, and eight-most total defense back from 2013. The Gophers went 8-5, nearly ended Ohio State’s chances of a national title, and were a regular-season-ending loss away from a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

For the most part last season — with the exception of Michigan State’s offense — the teams that brought the least production back did the best, while those that had the most returning production suffered the opposite fate. Stay tuned for a look at this year’s returning production across the conference.

New in Blue: 2016 DE Ron Johnson

Thursday, June 25th, 2015


Ron Johnson(247 Sports)

Ron Johnson – DE | 6-4, 240 | Camden, N.J. – Camden
ESPN: 4-star, #16 DE Rivals: 4-star, #6 DE 247: 4-star, #17 DE Scout: 3-star, #48 DE
Other top offers: Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan State, Oregon, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, South Carolina

Less than a week remains before the calendar flips to July, but Jim Harbaugh and his staff aren’t showing any signs of slowing down on the recruiting trail anytime soon. A day after landing four-star offensive tackle Devery Hamilton, the Wolverines picked up a commitment from four-star defensive end Ron Johnson.

Johnson is a four-star according to ESPN, Rivals, and 247 Sports and a three-star according to Scout. Rivals ranks him the highest as the sixth-best weak side defensive end in the 2016 class. ESPN ranks him as the 16th-best defensive end, while 247 has him 17th and Scout 48th. ESPN ranks Johnson the highest nationally as the 103rd-best overall player in the class, while Rivals has him 109th, and 247 has him 231st.

Scout lists his strengths as ‘athleticism’,'hand quickness’, and ‘speed’, while noting his areas to improve as ‘change of direction’ and ‘strength’. Scout’s Brian Dohn expanded on that evaluation:

“Johnson has an excellent motor and also plenty of athleticism. He gets up the field in a hurry, but also uses technique, including a nice swim move. He stays low at the snap and can dip his shoulder to get around the edge, and also can chase a play down from behind. He needs to work a bit on his change of direction, which is good for a kid his size. His speed off the edge is why colleges like him a lot.”

At 6’4″, 240 pounds heading into his senior season at Camden High School in New Jersey, Johnson is a great addition to the class. He held offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan State, Oregon, and Notre Dame, among others. He unofficially visited Michigan back in March and subsequently received a visit from tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh a couple weeks later. He made a return trip to Ann Arbor this week along with several other New Jersey recruits and committed on the spot Thursday afternoon.

Johnson is commitment number 20 in the class and the 14th in the month of June. He joins fellow defensive end Rashad Weaver, filling a big need in the class, especially after missing out on in-state defensive end Khalid Kareem. With anywhere from five to eight spots left in the class, Michigan hopes to land more commitments this weekend and continue building the New Jersey pipeline.