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Posts Tagged ‘Offense’

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Offense

Monday, July 17th, 2017


(Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images)

Independence Day has come and gone, which means fall camp kicks off in a couple weeks and college football season will be here before we know it. While Michigan doesn’t have quite the hype it had entering last season the Wolverines still find themselves ranked in the top ten in most preseason publications.

It’s time to kickoff our preseason coverage with a look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. It’s certainly not the end all be all when it comes to determining how each team will fare, but in the three years that we’ve been tracking this, it has produced some interesting results. All three years, the eventual Big Ten champion returned nearly the exact same mix of offensive and defensive production.

In 2014, Ohio State returned 60 percent of its offense and defense and won the conference. In 2015, Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense — roughly 60 percent overall — and won the league. Last season, Penn State returned just under 60 percent of its total production and, you guessed it, won the Big Ten.

Could that sweet spot hold true again this year? We’ll get to that, but let’s start with the offense.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Offense Ranking
Penn State 90% 49th
Northwestern 81% 73rd
Purdue 74% 80th
Ohio State 71% 31st
Indiana 64% 56th
Michigan 62% 58th
Illinois 61% 123rd
Rutgers 53% 128th
Wisconsin 50% 89th
Maryland 50% 95th
Minnesota 47% 107th
Michigan State 39% 75th
Iowa 30% 121st
Nebraska 22% 90th
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Scoring Offense Ranking
Penn State 88% 21st
Northwestern 82% 87th
Purdue 73% 101st
Ohio State 67% 13th
Michigan 65% 11th
Illinois 63% 122nd
Indiana 62% 88th
Minnesota 54% 63rd
Wisconsin 53% 67th
Rutgers 52% 127th
Maryland 50% 88th
Michigan State 38% 104th
Iowa 30% 95th
Nebraska 20% 79th

Penn State joins last year’s Nebraska, 2015’s Ohio State, and 2014’s Maryland as the teams with the most returning offensive production from the year prior. But that’s not necessarily good news for the Nittany Lions. None of those three won their division that fall as Nebraska finished third in the West at 9-4, Ohio State went 12-1 but finished second behind Michigan State in the East, and Maryland finished third in the East at 7-6.

Like Ohio State in 2015, Penn State is the returning Big Ten champion and only has to replace its top receiver. The Nittany Lions return the Big Ten’s top passer, Trace McSorley, and the second-leading rusher, Saquon Barkley. The pair accounted for nearly 5,500 yards of offense and 54 touchdowns in 2016. James Franklin will have to find a replacement for receiver Chris Godwin, who was drafted 84th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leading the team with 982 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. But Gesicki is the leading returning tight end in the conference with 679 yards and five touchdowns a year ago and rising seniors DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall combined for nearly 800 yards and four scores in 2016.

Top returning Big Ten quarterbacks by passing production
Name (Yr.) Team Comp/Att (%) Yards TDs
Trace McSorley (RS Jr.) Penn State 224/387 (57.9) 3,614 29
David Blough (RS So.) Purdue 295/517 (57.1) 3,352 25
Richard Lagow (5th) Indiana 253/438 (57.8) 3,362 19
Clayton Thorson (RS Jr.) Northwestern 280/478 (58.6) 3,182 22
J.T. Barrett (Sr.) Ohio State 233/379 (61.5) 2,555 24
Wilton Speight (RS Jr.) Michigan 204/331 (61.6) 2,538 18

After Penn State, Northwestern returns the second most offensive production with 81 percent of its offense and 82 percent of its scoring offense back for another year. The Wildcats finished fifth in the Big Ten West with a 7-6 overall record and a 5-4 conference record and their offense wasn’t the strength, finishing 73rd nationally in total offense and 87th in scoring.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson is the fourth-leading returning quarterback in the Big Ten after throwing for more yards (3,182) than any other sophomore in Northwestern history. Running back Justin Jackson lead the Big Ten in rushing last season, averaging 117.2 yards per game, and he’s back for his senior season. Like Penn State, Northwestern has to replace its top receiver, Austin Carr, who was far and away the Big Ten’s leading receiver a year ago. His 1,247 yards were 252 more than the next best. Junior Flynn Nagel is NU’s leading receiver with 447 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten running backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Rush Att. Yards TDs
Justin Jackson (Sr.) Northwestern 298 1,524 15
Saquan Barkley (Jr.) Penn State 272 1,496 18
Rodney Smith (RS Jr.) Minnesota 240 1,158 16
Mike Weber (So.) Ohio State 182 1,096 9
Akrum Wadley (5th) Iowa 168 1,081 10
Ty Johnson (Jr.) Maryland 110 1,004 6

Purdue returns the third-most offensive production with 74 percent of the nation’s 80th-best offense and 73 percent of the 101st-best scoring offense coming back. Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Blough was one of the lone bright spots for the Boilermakers, who went just 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten. Blough lead the conference with 279.3 passing yards per game and finished second with 25 passing touchdowns. His 517 passing attempts were 38 more than any other conference quarterback despite playing one fewer game.

Ohio State is an intriguing story this fall, returning the fourth-most offensive production from last season with 71 percent of their total offense and 67 percent of their scoring. But the big addition that isn’t shown in the returning production statistics is the offseason hiring of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the offensive guru who was Indiana’s head coach the past six seasons. His hiring was music to the ears of OSU fans who had become increasingly angered with Ed Wariner and Tim Beck’s erratic play calling.

Wilson will install his tempo-based spread attack into an offense that returns more than two-thirds of its production and that could be a scary thing. The Buckeyes do have to replace Curtis Samuel, who finished third on the team with 771 rushing yards and lead the team with 865 receiving yards, racking up 15 touchdowns in the process, but with Mike Weber returning from a 1,000-yard freshman campaign and J.T. Barrett back for another season behind center, Ohio State should take a step forward on offense this fall. The only question mark is at the receiver position where tight end Marcus Baugh is the leading returner with just 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten receivers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Receptions Yards TDs
Nick Westbrook (Jr.) Indiana 54 995 6
Malik Turner (Sr.) Illinois 48 712 6
Mike Gesicki (Sr.) Penn State 48 679 5
D.J. Moore (Jr.) Maryland 41 637 6
Jazz Peavy (5th) Wisconsin 43 635 5
Troy Fumagalli (5th) Wisconsin 47 580 2

Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois all return about the same amount of offensive production — in the low 60 percent — but Michigan stands out among the three for a couple of reasons. Whereas Michigan and Indiana both ranked about the same in total offense last season (Indiana 56th, Michigan 58th), Illinois had the nation’s 123rd-best offense. And Ohio State’s gain was Indiana’s loss with regards to Wilson. The Hoosiers’ offense is sure to take a step back under new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord.

Michigan, meanwhile, returns quarterback Wilton Speight — the first returning starter at the position since Harbaugh has been in Ann Arbor — and also returns plenty of experience at the running back position. Chris Evans is slated to assume the starter role which he shared with De’Veon Smith a year ago. Evans showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman and now looks to expand that into a full season this fall. Receiver is the main question mark for the Wolverines after losing Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt to the NFL. But there is plenty of young talent ready to step up.

The next level of returning offensive production includes Rutgers, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Minnesota, who each return around half of last season’s production. Rutgers had the nation’s worst offense and second worst scoring offense last season, so they won’t factor into the discussion. Maryland had four different quarterbacks who passed for at least 200 yards last season and returns two of them, but also returns a 1,000-yard rusher in Ty Johnson. Minnesota has to replace quarterback Mitch Leidner, who passed for 2,169 yards and rushed for 366, but brings back the third-leading returning running back, Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Wisconsin is the team that could be poised for another run at a Big Ten title this fall with solid talent returning. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will take the reigns fully this fall after sharing with Bart Houston. The redshirt sophomore completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns, and seven interceptions a year ago. He has two of the Big Ten’s top six returning receivers to throw to in Jazz Peavy and tight end Troy Fumagalli, who combined for 1,215 yards and seven scores last season, but does have to find a replacement for Corey Clement in the ground game. Bradrick Shaw rushed for 457 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and the Badgers add Pitt transfer Chris James, who averaged five yards per carry in 2015.

A trio of usual stalwarts bring up the rear in terms of returning production as Michigan State, Iowa, and Nebraska have the least returning this fall. The Spartans found themselves in the same position last year and their total offense went from 73rd nationally in 2015 to 75th in 2016, while their scoring offense fell from 60th to 140th. They do have running back L.J. Scott back, but have to replace their top four receivers and quarterback Tyler O’Connor. Brian Lewerke figures to start the season behind center, but Dantonio’s offense has as many question marks as any team in the conference.

Iowa brings back just 30 percent of its total offense and scoring offense, both of which ranked among the Big Ten’s worst in 2016. Quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back LeShun Daniels, and receiver Riley McCarron are all gone, but Akrum Wadley does bring back his 1,081-yard, 10-touchdown performance.

Finally, Nebraska has just 22 percent of its 90th-ranked total offense and 20 percent of its 79th-ranked scoring offense returning. The Cornhuskers have to replace quarterback Tommy Armstrong, their top two rushers, and three of their top four receivers. Redshirt junior Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien will battle for the starting quarterback position and head coach Mike Riley will have to find playmakers everywhere to step up.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting Big Ten race this fall, at least as far as offenses are concerned, with a lack of top-flight quarterbacks and not many household names returning. The rich seem to be getting richer as Penn State and Ohio State have the clear advantage offensively. If the Nittany Lions can continue the torrid offensive pace that they closed 2016 with they’ll be a force to be reckoned with, and if Kevin Wilson can improve the Buckeyes’ offense, we could be looking at a two-team race.

Stay tuned as we take a look at the returning defenses later this week.

Butt repeats as best tight end, 9 others earn All-Big Ten honors

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016


butt-vs-osu(Dustin Johnson, Maize ‘n Brew)

On Tuesday evening, Michigan’s defense cleaned up in the Big Ten defensive awards. On Wednesday night, the offense got in on the action.

Senior tight end Jake Butt captured the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award for the second straight season. It was the first time a tight end has repeated the award. Butt was Michigan’s second-leading receiver this season with 43 receptions (29 of which went for first down) for 518 yards and four touchdowns. He set Michigan program records for yards by a tight end (1,618) and receptions by a tight end (135).

Senior right tackle Erik Magnuson joined Butt on the All-Big Ten first team according to the coaches. Senior receiver Amara Darboh, junior center Mason Cole, senior right guard Kyle Kalis, and senior guard/tackle Ben Braden all made the second team, while junior quarterback Wilton Speight was the only Wolverine on the third team. Freshman left guard Ben Bredeson and senior running back De’Veon Smith earned honorable mention honors.

The media had the same breakdown and also added senior receiver Jehu Chesson to its honorable mention list.

All told, 24 of Michigan’s 25 starters earned All-Big Ten honors this season. Remarkably, senior fullback Khalid Hill was the only one left off despite scoring a team-high 12 touchdowns. The Big Ten does not include fullbacks on its All-Big Ten teams.

Like on the defensive side of the ball, Michigan lead all Big Ten teams in All-Big Ten honors on the first through third teams. The Wolverines had seven on offense, while Ohio State had six

History says Michigan’s “Harbaughfense” will be more explosive in Year 2

Thursday, September 1st, 2016


Harbaugh

Last week we looked at how Don Brown’s scheme might affect Michigan’s defense. We learned that while it is indeed very aggressive, it is not a high-risk defense. I surmised that we can expect Michigan’s defense to eliminate roughly one big play allowed per game, which would theoretically result in three to seven points fewer per game, potentially taking an already very good Michigan defense into the elite stratosphere.

So of course this got me thinking about how Jim Harbaugh’s offense might develop from Year 1 to Year 2. Sadly, CFBStats does not have big play stats prior to 2010 so I couldn’t compare all of his Stanford teams. But we can still look at the 2010 team, or FULL Harbaugh as I’m going to call it, because it was his fourth season there and he had fully implemented his system with mostly his players. For good measure, and to give us a better idea of year to year progress, I also looked at his first two years in San Francisco and the year prior to his arrival.

Here is what I came up with.

The 2010 Stanford Cardinal offense averaged 5.8 big run plays per game (27th nationally) and 3.7 big pass plays per game (18th) for a total of 9.5 big plays per game (21st). The Cardinal’s big play percentage (total big plays divided by total offensive plays) was 13 percent, which was good for 22nd nationally. Not bad for something that looks like an offense from 1973, eh Joey Galloway? Oh, and by the way, Stanford went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl that season, dominating Virginia Tech 40-12 — the most points the Hokies allowed all season.

Stanford’s 2010 toxic differential (big plays for, minus big plays against, plus turnover margin) was 3.5 on a per game basis, which was good for 16th nationally. The BCS title game participants that year, Oregon and Auburn, were tied for second in toxic differential at 6.1. Teams that are around at the end tend to rank highly in this metric.

Obviously, these numbers don’t give us much context on year to year improvement without comparing them to his earlier years at Stanford but I’ll go out on a limb and say he made significant improvements across the board from 2006 (pre-Harbaugh) to 2010.

Now on to his San Francisco years. Disclaimer: The stats I will use here consider big runs as 10 or more yards, as we’ve already used, however they use 25 or more yards for big pass plays as that is what the NFL stats consider big pass plays. I also understand that comparing college to NFL is not an insignificant factor but it will illustrate my point just the same: Harbaugh’s teams get drastically better Year 1 to Year 2 and beyond. No, this is not an unheard of concept, but people like Paul Finebaum didn’t get the memo. I assume he’s an avid reader of this blog.

Side note: I did not break these stats down into per game as I did with the college stats as all NFL teams play the same amount of regular season games.

The season before Harbaugh arrived, the 49ers had 40 big run plays (24th in the league) and 36 big pass plays (5th) for a total of 76 big plays (17th) with a big play percentage of 8.04 percent (15th). In other words, the running game did not generate many big plays but the passing game did. Overall, the Niners were a very middle of the road team in terms of generating big plays.

Enter James Joseph Harbaugh. The 2011 49ers had 56 big run plays (9th) and 28 big pass plays (19th) for a total of 84 big plays (13th) with a big play percentage of 8.46 percent (12th). A massive improvement in the run category, a regression in the passing game, but overall it was a jump up just outside the top third of the league.

Year 2 of Harbaugh — 2012 — saw the 49ers break out with 81 big run plays (2nd) and 33 big pass plays (11th) for a total of 114 big plays (2nd) with a big play percentage of 11.76 percent, also good for 2nd best in the league. Year 2 saw another big improvement in the run game as well as the pass game.

To recap, from 2010 (pre-Harbaugh) to 2012, our guy took San Francisco from 24th in big run plays to 2nd in just two seasons. The passing game saw a dip from 5th to 19th before recovering back to 11th. And the overall big play percentage went from a middling 15th to a whopping 2nd. If that’s what a 1973 offense looked like, I’ll take that any day!

Standard caveats apply, but let’s look at San Francisco’s toxic differential from that time period too. In case you forgot, toxic differential is big plays for minus big plays against plus turnover margin — a useful measure to help further see the big picture.

Harbaugh’s first three seasons in San Francisco
Year Toxic Diff. Big Play Diff. T/O Margin Result
2010* 11 (9th)* +12* -1* Missed playoffs*
2011 56 (1st) +28 +28 NFC Championship Game
2012 72 (1st) +63 +9 Super Bowl Appearance
*Pre-Harbaugh, no playoff appearances in 9 seasons before Harbaugh arrived

I’m no rocket scientist but I think those numbers and results are pretty solid.

What does all this mean for Michigan? A few things. First, it means that Michigan’s offense is very likely to improve in the big play stat categories. Here’s a look at their 2015 offensive big play stats.

In 2015, Michigan had 3.6 big run plays per game (118th) and 3.7 big pass plays per game (40th) for a total of 7.3 big plays per game (100th) with a big play percentage of 10.49 percent (98th). Big plays in the passing game were solid but big plays in the running game and overall left much to be desired.

It won’t be hard to improve upon the pedestrian rushing and overall numbers, but I’m not so sure we can expect significant jumps, especially in the running category. Why not? For as much as I like De’Veon Smith he is not an elite running back. No one will confuse him with Toby Gerhart or Stepfan Taylor and most definitely not Frank Gore. I do think we will see improvement (only eleven teams had fewer big run plays per game than Michigan last year) but I don’t think they’ll crack the top 50. But as I said last week, an improvement of one big play more per game could, in theory, yield more points.

In conclusion, as if we didn’t already know, Jim Harbaugh’s teams get much better (what a novel concept) year to year. Now while I don’t expect this to be an explosive offense I fully expect the man who attacks each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind to take his offense to the next level. Combine that with a high-pressure, low-risk defense, and it backs up the expectation that Michigan could be in for a very special season.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2015: Offense

Thursday, July 28th, 2016


MSU 2015(Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

With less than six weeks remaining until college football returns the Michigan hype train is in full force entering Jim Harbaugh’s second season at the helm. The main questions the Wolverines face are at the quarterback position — Harbaugh’s specialty — and linebacker where do-it-all burgeoning superstar Jabrill Peppers will step in. But how does Michigan compare to the rest of the Big Ten in terms of who’s coming back?

It’s time to take our annual look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. Of course, this is just one metric to use to predict each team’s success in the upcoming season, not the be all end all, but we’ll take a look at how it panned out the past two years as well and see if we can make any predictions on outcomes this fall.

The first year we tracked this, 2014, eventual champion Ohio State returned 60 percent of both its offense and its defense from the previous season. Last season, Big Ten champion Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense, or just over 60 percent of its total returning production from 2014.

The teams with the most returning production both years — Maryland in 2014 with 90 percent and Ohio State in 2015 with 81 percent — both failed to reach the Big Ten championship game. Maryland finished third in the East with a 7-6 overall record and a 4-4 conference record, while Ohio State finished second in the East with a 12-1, 7-1 record.

Will this season follow the trend of the past two? Let’s take a look at this year’s returning offensive production.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Total Offense Ranking
Nebraska 88% 34
Minnesota 85% 103
Northwestern 82% 115
Rutgers 79% 84
Maryland 79% 87
Purdue 72% 95
Illinois 71% 88
Iowa 71% 72
Penn State 54% 105
Michigan 53% 69
Indiana 45% 14
Wisconsin 43% 79
Michigan State 38% 73
Ohio State 28% 41
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Scoring Offense Ranking
Nebraska 86% 43
Minnesota 85% 106
Maryland 78% 95
Northwestern 75% 114
Iowa 75% 54
Illinois 73% 103
Rutgers 72% 78
Purdue 69% 92
Wisconsin 60% 81
Penn State 54% 101
Michigan 54% 50
Michigan State 48% 60
Indiana 40% 24
Ohio State 32% 28

Nebraska is this year’s Maryland and Ohio State with the most returning production in the conference. That returning production falls in between the Terrapins and Buckeyes in terms of the previous season’s total offense rating (34th versus Ohio State’s 9th and Maryland’s 75th) and scoring offense rating (43rd versus OSU’s 5th and Maryland’s 84th). Both of those offensive units actually went backwards the following season even with so much returning production. Maryland slid 34 spots to 109th in total offense, while Ohio State slid seven spots to 41st. It is important to note that the Maryland comparison is apples to oranges since the Terps moved from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

The good news for Nebraska is that the offense returns quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who ranked second in the Big Ten in passing last season. In 2014, Maryland had to replace quarterback CJ Brown. Last season Ohio State returned J.T. Barrett, but Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tim Beck played musical chairs with he and Cardale Jones, which held the offense back from what could have been much more potent.

Minnesota returns the second most offensive production (85 percent) and scoring (85 percent) but ranked near the bottom nationally in both categories a year ago at 103rd and 106th, respectively. Aside from leading receiver K.J. Maye, everyone of importance is back for the Gophers offense. However, the offensive line returns just one player who started all 13 games, right tackle Jonah Pirsig. That means 115 career starts are gone and only a combined 37 return.

The next four teams with the most returning production are all pretty much in the same both. Northwestern (82/75 percent), Rutgers (79/72), Maryland (79/78), Purdue (72/69), and Illinois (71/73) return a lot of offense, but all five ranked between 84th and 115th nationally in total offense in 2015. All five return their primary quarterback, so that’s good news, but they all have too big a hill to climb to make a serious challenge for the Big Ten title.

Iowa returns 71 percent of its offense that ranked 72nd last season and 75 percent of its 54th-ranked scoring offense. Quarterback CJ Beathard figures to be one of the best in a down year at the position in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes have to replace leading rusher Jordan Canzeri and two of their top three receivers. Like Minnesota, Iowa has major losses to replace along the line with All-Big Ten performers, right guard Jordan Walsh and center Austin Blythe, taking 86 career starts with them to the NFL.

Penn State and Michigan are neck-and-neck in terms of returning offensive production this season. Penn State returns 54 percent of its offense and 54 percent of its scoring, while Michigan returns 54 and 53 percent, respectively. The big difference, however, is what that production accomplished in 2015. Michigan’s offense ranked 69th nationally and 50th in scoring, while Penn State’s ranked 105th and 101st. Both have to replace their starting quarterbacks, but all bets should be on Harbaugh to produce a better one than James Franklin. Michigan returns 72 percent of its rushing and 92 percent of its receiving, while Penn State returns 78 and 85.

Indiana and Wisconsin both return approximately the same (45 percent and 43 percent of offense respectively). Offense has never really been an issue for the Hoosiers under Kevin Wilson and there’s no reason to think this year will be much different. Defense is another story. More on that later. Wisconsin has to replace quarterback Joel Stave, more than 50 percent of its receiving production, and second-team All-Big Ten left tackle Tyler Marz.

Michigan State and Ohio State round out the returning offensive production. The Spartans bring back 38 percent of the nation’s 73rd-best offensive unit and 48 percent of the 60th-best scoring offense. They have to replace quarterback Connor Cook, 65 percent of their receiving production, and center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin’s combined 85 career starts. The three-headed rushing attack of L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Madre London will have to carry the load until the passing game finds its stride.

Ohio State’s mass exodus for the NFL leaves just 28 percent of its offense and 32 percent of its scoring behind. The good news for Meyer is that he still has Barrett behind center without Jones to muddle things and the Big Ten media picked Barrett as the preseason offensive player of the year. The other good news is that Meyer’s recruiting dominance over the past few seasons means he has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Just how well it will step up is the question. Only 132 rushing yards return from the running back position (Barrett is the returning leader with 727) and only 19 percent of last season’s receiving yards return.

Stay tuned for our defensive breakdown and conclusions coming soon.

2012 season preview: the offense

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012


Under Rich Rodriguez, offense was the name of the game and defense was an afterthought. The offense soared to heights Michigan fans weren’t used to, but it struggled against the tougher defenses. It was both exciting and frustrating at the same time.

When Brady Hoke took over and brought in Al Borges as his offensive coordinator, many wondered how the offense would change. Would he do what Rodriguez did in year one and immediately run his offense? This would mean completely transitioning from the spread to the west coast. Would he move Denard Robinson to receiver in favor of a quarterback that better fit the mold of his style of offense? Can the offense be as potent as it was under Rodriguez or would it be as inept as it was in Rodriguez’s first year?

All of those questions were answered convincingly as Borges put his faith in Denard and adapted his offense around Denard’s abilities. Sure it took a few games to really develop an offensive identity, but by the end of the season it was rolling.

This year, Denard and the rest of the offense knows the system and will look to refine  it. Borges knows the tools he has at his disposal and will look to  add wrinkles that will take it to new heights. So let’s take a look at the personnel that will make up the 133rd edition of Michigan’s offense.

Quarterback

# 16 – Denard Robinson
Games/Starts Passing TDs INTs Rushing TDs
38/27 338-580 40 30 546-3,229 35

Projected Starter: Denard Robinson

It has been five years since Michigan entered a season with so much promise at the quarterback position. In 2007, Chad Henne was a senior, fourth year starter and Michigan entered , but that didn’t end too well. Henne missed three games with an injury and the Wolverines finished a disappointing 9-4.

It’s no secret that Denard Robinson is the most exciting player in college football at the moment. He has two straight 2,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He’s poised to finish in the top five in Michigan history in most passing and rushing categories. The past two seasons have been new: in 2010, he was a first year starter and in 2011, he was learning a brand new offense under a new coach. This season, he knows the offense and can take it a step further.

Borges has seen first-hand the kind of improvement that can bring with quarterback he coached, Cade McNown at UCLA. McNown was last in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency during his first year in Borges’ offense, but ranked second in the nation in his second year. Expecting that kind of leap from Denard is probably asking too much, but a noticeable leap should be expected.

Backups: Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy are the backups, though Gardner will likely see more time at receiver this season. Bellomy isn’t the dual-threat quarterback that Robinson and Gardner are, but his progression since last season have allowed Borges to feel comfortable moving Gardner to receiver.

Running Back

#28 – Fitzgerald Toussaint
Games/Starts Rush Attempts Rush Yards TDs
17/12 195 1,128 10
#38 – Thomas Rawls
Games/Starts Rush Attempts Rush Yards TDs
8/0 13 80 0
#2 – Vincent Smith
Games/Starts Rush Attempts Rush Yards TDs
33/11 234 1,200 8

Projected Starter: Fitzgerald Toussaint*

The listing of Toussaint as the projected starter is to be taken with a grain of salt. Toussaint was to be the clear starter until is DUI arrest in late July. The junior gave Michigan a dangerous running game to complement and take some of the pressure off of Robinson last season. He was the first Michigan running back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since Mike Hart in 2007 and he didn’t really even break out until a few games into the season. This year, he was expected to improve on those numbers, but at this point it’s unclear how many games (if any) he will be suspended for.

His arrest opens the door for sophomore Thomas Rawls to step in. The likely starter in the season opener, Rawls has yet to start a game, but has impressed throughout the spring and fall.

“He’s got Mike Hart kind of feet, but a lot faster than Mike,” said running backs coach Fred Jackson. Granted, Jackson hypes every running back, but Jackson also compares Rawls to former Michigan back Chris Perry and former Alabama back Mark Ingram. That’s some good company to be in, and if he’s even close to that, we’re in for a treat the next few years.

Backups: It’s hard to classify Vincent Smith as a backup since he has so much experience and is essentially Michigan’s third-down back, but he’s behind both Toussaint and Rawls. He has started 11 games in his career and played in 33, so he’s the most experienced back on the team. He’s also versatile enough to do more than just carry the ball. Against Minnesota last season, he rushed for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass, and threw a touchdown, becoming the first player in modern Michigan history to do so.

Stephen Hopkins is the biggest back on the team and will be the main fullback. At 240 pounds, he’ll be a force in the backfield when Michigan goes big. Justice Hayes is a redshirt freshman to be excited about. He likely won’t see much time in the backfield this season, but once Smith graduates, he’ll move into the role of third-down back. Hoke likes Hayes’ ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, so he may see time in certain packages.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Projected Starters: Roy Roundtree, Jerald Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, Brandon Moore

#21 – Roy Roundtree
Games/Starts Receptions Rec. Yards TDs
37/29 123 1,724 12
#83 – Jerald Robinson
Games/Starts Receptions Rec. Yards TDs
11/0 0 0 0
#10 – Jeremy Gallon
Games/Starts Receptions Rec. Yards TDs
20/1 35 502 4
#89 – Brandon Moore
Games/Starts Receptions Rec. Yards TDs
16/0 2 28 0

A position with the most questions entering the season is receiver. The loss of Junior Hemingway, Martavious Odoms, Kelvin Grady, and Kevin Koger to graduation, as well as Darryl Stonum who was dismissed from the team. The leading returning starter, Roy Roundtree, doesn’t have a lot of hype nationally because of reduced production last season. However, he proved in 2010 that he’s capable of thriving in a leading role. That season, he finished second in the Big Ten with 72 receptions for 935 yards and seven touchdowns.

The main question with Roundtree is how quickly will he recover from arthroscopic knee surgery? The coaches expect him back next week, in time to play against Alabama, but will he be at full strength?

The next most experienced receiver is Jeremy Gallon, a small slot guy who only emerged last season. He had his coming out party against Notre Dame when he caught two passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, the most important being a 64-yard reception to set up the game-winning touchdown. He’s sure handed and plays bigger than he is, but also has the quickness to make plays from the slot position.

Aside from Roundtree and Gallon, Michigan will need some guys to step up and the coaches are hoping Jerald Robinson will be it. He played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman last season but didn’t record a catch. He has the size (6’1″, 215) to fill Hemingway’s role.

The biggest wild card of the position is Gardner. He hasn’t played receiver in a game yet, but he has the athleticism and knowledge of the offense to excel at the position. At 6’4″, 203 pounds, Gardner will be Michigan’s tallest receiver. Since practices have been closed to the media and the players and coaches haven’t talked about or shown anything regarding Gardner at receiver, how well the experience works out will be a mystery until the season starts.

At tight end, Brandon Moore will get the nod. He was Koger’s main backup last season and Borges thinks he’s ready.

“Brandon’s got some talent,” Borges said. “In terms of understanding what we do, I don’t think there’s any issues there. He’s a smart kid. Now that he understands it, the paralysis through analysis should be gone, and pretty much is. He’s as aggressive as I’ve seen him and has demonstrated a certain degree of consistency that’s shown improvement.”

Backups: Jeremy Jackson will see a lot of time, especially if he proves he can catch the ball consistently and block on the outside. The son of running backs coach Fred Jackson has played in 22 career games but has just seven receptions for 91 yards.

Drew Dileo is similar to Gallon, small and quick. Last season, he caught nine passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, so he’ll see some tim ein the slot as well.

Freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will both get a chance to contribute. Darboh already has the size (6’2″, 220) of a veteran receiver and Chesson was a track star in high school. Darboh has impressed in the first couple weeks of fall camp.

“He’s really fast and strong,” said Roundtree after the first practice. “He just showed out today. I feel like he’s really being comfortable. I told him ‘it’s football man. It’s just a faster pace,’ and he did it.”

Freshman A.J. Williams will be featured as a tight end backing up Moore. At 6’6″, 283 pounds, he’s a big body, but Hoke likes his ability to run as well. When asked if he was too heavy, Hoke responded.

“Depends on what you want him to do,” Hoke said. “He runs well enough. I shouldn’t say surprisingly, because we recruited him. We must have thought he ran well enough. But for moving that big body around, he’s not bad.”

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Taylor Lewan, LG Elliott Mealer, C Ricky Barnum, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Michael Schofield

#77 – Taylor Lewan #57 – Elliott Mealer #52 – Ricky Barnum #65 – Patrick Omameh #75 – Michael Schofield
Games/Starts Games/Starts Games/Starts Games/Starts Games/Starts
24/22 37/0 9/3 33/29 26/10

Lewan is far and away the star of the line. An All-Big Ten second team member last season, Lewan started every game at left tackle and will likely be a first round pick in next April’s NFL Draft if he foregoes his senior year. He has struggled with the mental side of his game and controlling his temper early in his career, but has grown up as a junior.

Barnum is the center, moving into the position from left guard to replace David Molk. Omameh has started 29 straight games at right guard. Though he hasn’t earned any conference recognition, he has been a solid member of the line. Schofield made 10 starts at left guard last year but is moving over to right tackle this season. Tackle is more of his natural position and will allow him to thrive.

The position that hasn’t been locked down yet is left guard where Elliott Mealer and Joey Burzynski are battling it out. I think Mealer will win the job to start the season, and not just because of his epic beard. As a fifth-year senior, he has played in 37 career games in a backup role. Burzynski is a former walk-on who saw time in four games last season. Neither is the future of the position, but Mealer’s experience should give him the nod.

Backups: Kyle Kalis is also in the mix to win the starting left guard spot, but as a true freshman it’s a very hard position to pick up quickly. He’s more likely to take over the center position in 2013. Redshirt freshman Chris Bryant is trying to work his way into the lineup and will see reserve time at either guard position. Jack Miller is the backup center ready to fill in if Barnum struggles. Freshman Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden will also get a chance. Magnuson is the heir apparent to Lewan and will move into his role when he departs. Braden has drawn high praise from the coaches while working his way into the two-deep.

For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.

TomorrowDefense Preview
ThursdayRecord Watch
FridaySchedule Predictions