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Posts Tagged ‘Rose Bowl’

M&GB season preview roundtable 2016

Friday, August 26th, 2016


Harbaugh(Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

Last year at this time no one knew what to expect. Everyone was hopeful about Jim Harbaugh’s first season, but coming off of a disastrous 5-7 showing and seven years of very un-Michigan-like football, we were all nervous. Our season predictions ranged from 8-4 to 10-3, with the latter being right on. Even though we didn’t know what to expect, we were generally right about what happened.

This year is a little different. There actually are expectations. And they are big. Michigan is ranked in the top 10 and several national pundits have predicted the Wolverines to win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff. Are they just buying into the Harbaugh hype? Or could they be right? Here are our predictions for the season.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: When I think of the Michigan teams I grew up watching, I think defense. Sure, there were great offensive players that shouldn’t be overlooked — guys like Anthony Carter, Jamie Morris, and Tyrone Wheatley, to name a few. But a great defense, one that smothers opposing offenses, is what makes Michigan football in my opinion. Lloyd Carr rode the 1997 defense to a national championship. The 2006 defense was deadly until it ran into Ohio State and USC. And last year’s defense, which posted three straight shutouts, was fun to watch until it faltered late in the season.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to watch an upgraded version of last year’s defense with the addition of the number one recruit in the country and a blitz-crazy defensive coordinator. The biggest position battle in fall camp is at the quarterback position, but with the defense Michigan has, whoever wins the job will just need to be careful with the football and manage the game. And if the defense lives up to its billing, Michigan fans will be in for a special season.

Derick: The guy I’m most excited to watch is Rashan Gary, and it’s not even close. Gary is Michigan’s first ever No. 1 overall recruit, and he comes in as one of the most decorated commits since recruiting blew up several years ago.

Gary was the unanimous No. 1 player in the country on every major recruiting site, and comes into Ann Arbor to join a defensive line that’s already very good. Gary will line up with Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton, Maurice Hurst, Bryan Mone and others as one of the best lines in the Big Ten. If he makes as much of an impact as guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Robert Nkemdiche — who were similarly ranked out of high school — he’ll be the most exciting player on the roster.

Sam: I just can’t stop thinking (and giddily laughing) about how dominant this defense could potentially be. The front four should be an absolute terror for any offensive line in the country, the secondary is athletic, veteran, and potentially another highlight waiting to happen (looking at you, Dymonte Thomas), and the linebacker group seems to be getting good reviews despite a relative lack of experience. And, oh yeah, Jabrill Peppers will be roaming all over the field and should be unleashed to wreak havoc in Don Brown’s system.

Josh: Another year of Harbaugh. If that’s not a decided schematic advantage, I don’t know what is!

Joe: I’m super excited to see a few things during this upcoming season. The first would be the new style of defense that Coach Brown is bringing onboard. This should be a fun defense to watch and bring a ton of pressure and new looks. They should be ELITE from day one. The second thing I’m looking for is how the incoming class plays and improves over the course of the year. If they are everything we’ve read over the last few months, the future is BRIGHT!

What worries you the most entering the season?

Justin: As I mentioned above, I’m not overly worried about the quarterback position. As long as Speight or O’Korn doesn’t become a turnover machine, Michigan will be okay. There are enough proven weapons — Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, De’Veon Smith — and a strong defense to lean back on. What worries me the most this season is the road schedule.

Michigan will be able to handle the non-conference portion of the schedule handily, and with Penn State and Wisconsin at home, I see those as wins. Then the Wolverines face Rutgers and Illinois, which should put them at 7-0 and very highly ranked. But that’s where things get tough. In the final five games of the season, Michigan has to travel to East Lansing, Iowa City, and Columbus with home games against Maryland and Indiana sandwiched in between.

Michigan has struggled on the road the past several seasons. To make matters worse, they haven’t won in East Lansing since 2007, Iowa City since 2005, and Columbus since 2000. That’s nearly a decade without a road win over any of those teams. And to have a chance at the College Football Playoff this season they’ll likely have to win all three. To at least win the Big Ten they’ll have to win at least two of the three, as long as the one loss is at Big Ten West foe Iowa rather than the other two, who are in the same Big Ten East as Michigan. It’s hard to see that happening.

Derick: I’m most worried about the expectations. Michigan won 10 games last season when it was the underdog and nobody expected much in Jim Harbaugh’s first year. But now, as the team jumps from irrelevant to popular national championship pick, it seems like things have escalated a little too quickly. Michigan has three extremely difficult road games at the end of the season,and if they take care of business weeks one through seven, those games will hold a massive importance. Can a team that hasn’t played many nationally meaningful games handle that gauntlet down the stretch? It’s going to be tough.

Sam: This one is pretty easy for me – I’m still not sold on the quarterback position. Yes, I know that Jim Harbaugh is widely reputed to be one of the best quarterback whisperers in the country and has worked wonders in season after season. But this is a pretty important position, and there still seems to be some disagreement over who will start. That’s usually not a great sign with real football only a week away. We’ve all heard of O’Korn as the high-risk/high-reward type while Wilton Speight seems to be the more prototypical “game manager” quarterback, but neither has the whole package. At least not yet.

Josh: The media keeps saying quarterback or linebacker. Personally, I am not worried (nor will I ever be) about the quarterback position as long as James Joseph Harbaugh is patrolling our sidelines. Linebacker is a slight concern but the defensive line is so talented and so deep (8 or 9 guys) that I don’t see the need to actually worry about the LBs. Plus, it’s not like they lost any world beaters off last year’s crew anyway.

Offensive line (both its progression and health) is my main concern and it’s not even close. There isn’t much proven depth, or depth period, behind the starting five so a significant injury to the offensive line could derail the entire season.

Even IF injuries are avoided we still have the issue of breaking in a new left tackle. If Grant Newsome doesn’t work, who steps in for him? Go ahead, look at the depth chart: four freshmen, and a small cadre of former Brady Hoke guys who have limited game action and a total of ZERO starts. If this team is to compete for a B1G Ten title the offensive line needs to not only be better than last year but they ALL need to stay healthy the entire year.

Joe: It’s gotta be the quarterback play that worries me the most. I was hoping that O’Korn would separate himself from the pack but that hasn’t happened. This could be viewed as a positive or negative. I trust in Harbaugh and hope this gets settled soon.

Who will be the offensive breakout player this season?

Justin: Based on the hype coming out of fall camp, Ben Bredeson is probably the smart pick here. But I don’t like to trust true freshman offensive linemen. I know Mason Cole worked out pretty well two years ago, but that’s more the exception than the rule. To me, it’s between two players: tight end Ian Bunting and receiver Grant Perry. Everyone knows Jim Harbaugh’s affinity for tight ends, and just because he has Jake Butt it doesn’t mean no other tight ends will see the field. Bunting is huge at 6-foot-7, 252, and after two years learning the ropes, he’s poised for a bigger role.

But when push comes to shove, I’m going to go with Perry, the slot guy who caught 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown last season. He showed enough potential to get considerable playing time in the season opener at Utah, where he caught three passes for 41 yards, but was still raw and it showed with mistakes that lead to turnovers. By season’s end, he looked more comfortable, catching five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in the Citrus Bowl win over Florida.

This season, Chesson, Darboh, and Butt are established threats and opposing defenses will try their best to match up with them. That leaves the potential for Perry to rack up a bunch of catches and yards. He caught 105 passes for 1,727  yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Brother Rice High School in 2014 and racked up 176 catches for 2,771 yards and 27 scores in three years of varsity football, so he knows how to be productive. Now, with a year of college ball under his belt, he’s ready to take on a bigger role.

Derick: The breakout player on offense will be Ben Bredeson. Word from summer camp has brought nothing but praise on the freshman lineman, who was one of the top commits in the country. If Bredeson is playing well enough to earn the starting left tackle position as a true freshman, we can expect a 2014 Mason Cole-like performance, which would be a huge lift to the offense. With four solid veteran linemen to his right, Bredeson would be in a perfect situation to succeed.

Sam: This is a tough call for me, as I’m never sure what people want to constitute “breaking out” as. As far as I see it, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt certainly can’t qualify for this, the majority of the offensive line is too veteran for me to see a true breakout coming, and De’Veon Smith is fairly proven as well. So while I do think all those guys will have nice years and I’m uncertain on the quarterback position, I will go with Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. By all accounts, Wheatley has the body type that will allow him to be a highly effective in-line blocker from the beginning while also possessing the speed and hands to be a legitimate (and legitimately terrifying) receiving threat. I think he’ll see a lot of action in two-TE sets and should be a major asset in both the running and passing games.

Josh: This one was tough, but I’m gonna go with Ben Bredeson. Yes, an offensive lineman. A freshman offensive lineman. I’m calling it now, Ben Bredeson will supplant either Grant Newsome, or more likely, Kyle Kalis before mid-season and perform at a (freshman) Mason Cole-esque leve

Joe: I want a running back to step up and take charge in a crowded backfield. We have some horses back there but I’d prefer a lead to get behind. I don’t care who it is, just make it happen.

Who will be the defensive breakout player this season?

Justin: Rashan Gary is the obvious choice here, but I’m going to go with Bryan Mone, who missed all of last season after suffering a broken leg in fall camp. Prior to the injury he figured to play a major part in the defense, rotating with Ryan Glasgow and Maurice Hurst. The injury meant more time for Glasgow, who shined in the role, but his season ended early with an injury of his own. Now, Mone says he’s in the best shape of his life, and with Michigan playing four linemen, he’ll get his chance to shine at nose tackle.

Derick: I want to say Jabrill Peppers, because he really hasn’t made a major defensive impact yet, but that feels like cheating. So I’ll go with Bryan Mone. Mone showed signs of being a solid defensive tackle as a true freshman, and expectations were sky high for his sophomore year. But after an injury ended his season before it even started, Mone fell out of the spotlight and has been flying under the radar since. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a huge piece in filling the gap left by Willie Henry in opposing backfields.

Sam: Everyone? Again, there are so many guys on that side of the ball that the field in my eyes is quite limited. You might make an argument for Taco Charlton on the line, but I think he’s proven enough already – he’s going to have an insane season. Bryan Mone could be an option here, as could the presumptive starting linebackers in Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray, but my pick is Dymonte Thomas. Thomas was a big-time recruit out of Ohio who is incredibly athletic, strong, and a sure tackler. The only question is whether he can be disciplined enough to prevent a big play here or there, but keep watching that interception he made in the Spring Game and tell me he doesn’t have the tools to be great.

Josh: Jabrill Peppers. Now hear me out first. Peppers’ impact was huge last year but his stats weren’t exactly something you brag about; 45 total tackles, 5.5 for loss. No picks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries. If Matt Milano, a former three-star safety for Boston College can rack up 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in Don Brown’s defense from that position what will the greatest athlete we’ve seen since Charles Woodson do? I’d be shocked if he didn’t have at least 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and a defensive touchdown or two.

Joe: It’s hard to say anyone on the defense will be a breakout player as they have a lot of studs coming back from last year. They are established and will carry this team from the get go.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: …they don’t suffer any key injuries. We all know that injuries are part of the game, but when the talent is there, a key piece of winning it all is staying healthy. Sure, Ohio State defied that logic two years ago when Braxton Miller got hurt, then J.T. Barrett got hurt, and Cardale Jones still lead them to the national title. But nine times out of ten, that scenario spells doom for a contender.

If Michigan stays healthy that means they’ll be at full strength all season. And with the talent they have, especially on the defensive side, that’s the recipe for a Big Ten title.

Derick: Michigan will win the Big Ten if freshmen linebackers like Devin Bush and Devin Gil can compliment a healthy Mike McCray and Peppers to give the defense a more solid anchor than last season. The secondary and defensive line will be tough, but the linebackers were the weak underbelly of the 2015 team. Left tackle will also be a position to watch. With the rest of the line already well established at the college level, the final piece to the offensive line will be crucial. Michigan has to run the ball much better to take a step forward in 2016. Finally, look for Jeremy Clark to either take a step forward as a fifth-year senior or a younger player to supplant him as the team’s third cornerback. Lewis and Channing Stribling were excellent in coverage last season, but Clark showed mixed results covering opposing No. 3 receivers. He got better toward the end of the season, but with possible championship expectations on the line, Harbaugh might not be so patient this year.

Sam: …they can stop Ohio State’s dynamic offense. The Buckeyes shredded Michigan’s once-stout defense in The Game last November and Urban Meyer always seems to find a way to move the ball (at least when he isn’t playing Michigan State in 2015). This season, I really think Michigan should be undefeated heading down to Columbus — there will certainly be challenges along the way, but no team on the schedule up to that point should be able to beat them on paper — and the days of The Game deciding the fate of the Big Ten race should return.

Josh: …there are no significant injuries, especially on the offensive line, the running game resembles what Harbaugh did at Stanford post Year 1 (200-plus yards per game) and Don Brown can finally be the one to figure out how to stop spread to run teams. Possible? Yes. Likely? Probably not yet. For the record I think Don Brown WILL figure out how to stop getting gashed by teams like Indiana and Ohio State.

Joe: The lines play at an elite level. They should be better and will lead this team to a Big 10 title if they play as advertised.

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

Justin: Michigan topped last year’s prediction by one, though my prediction of a win over an SEC team in the bowl game was right. I had Michigan losing to Penn State, which was my only misstep. This year, I think we’re looking at an 11-2 team that will lose at Iowa and Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh will at least get past Michigan State in East Lansing and be 9-0 heading into Iowa City, but losses in two of the last three regular season games will be a disappointing end to a great season. Still, assuming Ohio State wins the conference and makes the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl will select Michigan and the Wolverines will head to Pasadena for the first time since 2007.

Derick: Last season I predicted Michigan would finish 9-4 and thought I was being “generous.” I didn’t know what to expect from Harbaugh’s team less than a year removed from a 5-7 campaign and certainly didn’t expect it to go into Happy Valley and push around Penn State. This season, expectations couldn’t be more different. Michigan is in everyone’s playoff discussion and Harbaugh is the biggest story in college football.

I don’t buy into hype, but I do draw conclusions based on facts and what my eyes tell me. Few teams have as many elite seniors who turned down NFL money to return to Michigan. Lewis, Butt, Chesson, Darboh, Wormley and others will play on Sundays, but here they are practicing in the Maize and Blue in August. As far as the incoming class goes, I don’ think Harbaugh has a top five class, I think he has the No. 1 class. Sure, other teams might have more five- and four-stars, but guys like Gary, Bredeson, Long and Hill could make an immediate impact as freshmen. Chris Evans is an offensive weapon who will almost certainly find himself a role in a stacked offense and Kekoa Crawford might, too.

Looking at the schedule, I think there’s no question Michigan will carve through its nonconference schedule. Maybe Colorado will turn out to be a little tougher than expected, but I don’t see any of that trio pulling off an upset in Ann Arbor. The pair of games nobody is talking about (but they should be) is Penn State and Wisconsin, who come to the Big House in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. Penn State is breaking in a new quarterback and I’m not a believer in the James Franklin experiment, but Wisconsin, as always, will be a tough team to knock out. If Michigan gets through those two games, it’s a leisurely walk to East Lansing at 7-0.

That’s where things get tough. Like, brutally tough. Few teams in the FBS will be asked to play three potential top 10 teams on the road in a five-game span. But that’s exactly what Michigan has to do. Unlike at this time last year, I think Michigan is a better team than Michigan State, especially with MSU’s defense trending steadily in the wrong direction since 2013. We all thought the Spartans would take a major step back when Kirk Cousins left, and Connor Cook stepped in to lead them to the playoff, so don’t discount MSU just because of the new starting quarterback.

Even though I think Michigan State will be very good, I think Michigan will go into East Lansing and pull out a win. Harbaugh will have “Oh, he has trouble with the snap!” playing on repeat all week, and Michigan will arrive at Spartan Stadium with a vengeance. Just no tent spikes, please. I would be worried about a post-MSU letdown if it wasn’t for Michigan’s Week 9 matchup with a pathetic Maryland team. The quarterback situation for new head coach D.J. Durkin is so grim, I’d be shocked if the Terps can find six wins on their schedule.

Unfortunately, the undefeated train will come to a stop at 9-0. Iowa is still extremely talented after an undefeated 2015 regular season and something about Iowa City has never been kind to strong Michigan teams. I think the No. 2 Wolverines will fall to the Hawkeyes in a slugfest and need a win over Ohio State to win the Big Ten East. After outscoring a sneaky good Indiana team in the final home game, Michigan will go to Columbus with the College Football Playoff still in its sights. The young Buckeyes won’t be young anymore, after 11 games to replace their 450 draft picks, or whatever it was. Michigan will be much more competitive than it was at home in 2015, but I think Ohio State will come away with a close, maybe 2006-esque victory that knocks Michigan out of the title talk. OSU will head to Indianapolis and Michigan will be done at 10-2.

I think 10 wins will be enough to land Michigan a long-awaited Rose Bowl appearance against UCLA. Just like it did in the Citrus Bowl, Michigan will show up better prepared after a month of practice with Harbaugh and take care of UCLA, 34-20. With 11 wins in Harbaugh’s second season and Michigan State and Ohio State at home in 2017, Michigan will begin the season ranked in the top five and have a legitimate chance to make the final four.

Sam: I really want to pick Michigan to go to the Playoff, but…well…fine. Give me Michigan to run the table in the regular season with a couple close calls at Iowa and at Ohio State before losing to Alabama or Clemson in the first round. By my count, that should equal a 13-1 season with a Big Ten championship and a loss in the Fiesta or Peach Bowl.

Josh: Michigan will probably be favored in every game they play, aside from Ohio State, and they should win all those games. Given the talent returning and the coaching staff we have I am very optimistic about their chances this year. However, football isn’t played on paper and numerous things can upset the balance.

They should have beaten Michigan State last year and they also would have lost to Minnesota were it not for some Hoke-ian clock (mis)management by Tracy Claeys at the end of that game. They almost lost to Indiana — yes Glasgow out was a big factor — but it proves my point; it’s tough to win all, or even most of, your games in college football because injuries and other stuff happen.

I just don’t see how Michigan can get through an entire season without a major injury, or some Halloween voodoo a la Minnesota last year, causing setbacks. I think a 10-2 season is very reasonable, and that should not be viewed as a disappointment (lest I remind you that we suffered losing seasons in three of the seven years prior to Harbaugh and only ONE year in which they lost fewer than five games).

Losses will be at Ohio State (they are far more talented than Michigan but more importantly have been in the same system their entire careers) and at Iowa, Kinnick Stadium at night scares me for some reason.

They’ll play in another New Year’s Day bowl and the ‘Michigan is overrated’ headed into 2017 will start all over again. But hey, I thought this was a seven or eight win team tops last year and they proved me wrong. Here’s to hoping they do it again!

Joe: I’m looking at 10-2 season with losses at two of the three big road games. I think they’re still a year away from the CFP but wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak in. They still have some work to do. Let’s put the good guys in the Cotton so I can see them play in person.

Bo’s Last Stand: A look back at the final season of a legendary career

Monday, August 4th, 2014


Bo-1989(AP)

The following story was written for our annual Michigan football season preview magazine, In the Huddle: Michigan by Lindy’s Sports. However, due to the abrupt closing of their primary Midwest distributor in June, they were unable to publish the Michigan, Ohio State, or Notre Dame magazines this year. 

If Michigan’s present-day football rut seems to be as low as it can go, it can get worse. And it has been. Forty-five years ago Michigan football was trying to recover from six losing seasons in a span of 11 years. After firing Bump Elliott, the next two decades would change that course, and when the man who brought about that change retired 25 years ago this season, the program would be back among the nation’s elite.

When Bo Schembechler was hired on Dec. 28, 1968 from Miami of Ohio, many scoffed at the idea of a no-name coach from the Mid-American Conference taking over Michigan football. But when he guided the Wolverines to an 8-3 record in his first season, including a 24-12 win over a top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State squad that had beaten Michigan 50-14 the previous year, it was apparent that Michigan had someone special at the helm.

In the years that followed, Schembechler led Michigan to 13 Big Ten championships, 10 Rose Bowls, an overall winning percentage of .796, and a conference winning percentage of .850.

This season marks 25 years since Schembechler completed his illustrious career. As the 2014 edition of Michigan football gets set to take the field, let’s relive Bo’s final season on the sidelines.

Lou Holtz got the best of Bo in his final season thanks to a pair of Rocket Ismail return touchdowns

Lou Holtz got the best of Bo in his final season thanks to a pair of Rocket Ismail return touchdowns

Michigan closed the 1988 season with a 9-2-1 record and a 22-14 win over Southern California in the Rose Bowl, setting up high expectations for what would be Schembechler’s final season. Although nobody knew that at the time.

Prior to the 1988 season the Board of Regents had asked Schembechler to take over as athletic director, but they wanted him to step down as football coach in order to do so. Schembechler had missed the Rose Bowl that ended the ’87 season after undergoing heart surgery following his second heart attack. That the regents wanted him to step down from the pressures of coaching was no surprise, but Bo would have none of it. Two months later, interim president Robben W. Fleming offered him the position, allowing him to remain head coach. He accepted.

The Wolverines began the 1989 campaign ranked first nationally, but by the time defending national champion Notre Dame came to town for Michigan’s season opener, the Irish had leapfrogged Michigan for the top spot thanks to a 36-13 win over Virginia in the Kickoff Classic two weeks earlier.

Second-ranked Michigan hosted top-ranked Notre Dame on Sept. 16, the earliest meeting of the top two ranked teams in college football history. Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz had gotten the best of Schembechler each of the two previous seasons and Bo wanted revenge.

On a rainy and overcast Saturday in Ann Arbor, Notre Dame jumped out ahead, 7-0. After a Michael Taylor fumble set Notre Dame up at the Michigan 24, quarterback Tony Rice found running back Anthony Johnson from six yards out for the game’s first score. It also happened to be Rice’s only completion of the day.

Michigan answered with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Chris Calloway just 25 seconds before the half. However, kicker J.D. Carlson missed the extra point, and the teams went into the locker room with Notre Dame holding a 7-6 lead.

A defensive struggle quickly turned into a shootout when Notre Dame receiver Rocket Ismail took the opening kickoff of the second half 88 yards for a touchdown, the first kickoff returned for a touchdown against Michigan in 32 years. A 30-yard field goal increased the Irish lead to 17-6 before redshirt freshman quarterback Elvis Grbac, who took over for an injured Taylor, found tight end Derrick Walker for a touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt failed.

Ismail took the ensuing kickoff and raced 92 yards for his second touchdown of the day, putting Notre Dame ahead, 24-12. Grbac led another Michigan scoring drive, this time a four-yard touchdown pass to split end Greg McMurtry with 4:08 remaining, but an onside kick failed and Notre Dame held on for the 24-19 win.

“This won’t ruin our season,” proclaimed a defiant Schembechler after the game. On Ismail, Schembechler praised, “He may be the best I’ve seen. He is faster than the speed of sound.”

The season didn’t get any easier from there as Michigan traveled to Pasadena, Calif. to face off with 24th-ranked UCLA. The Bruins jumped out to a 14-3 lead, but Michigan got field goals of 36 and 43 yards from Carlson.

In the third quarter, Tripp Welborne took a UCLA punt 63 yards to set up a one-yard Leroy Hoard touchdown run to give Michigan its first lead of the game at 15-14. UCLA answered with a 45-yard field goal, and after recovering a Hoard fumble, punched in a touchdown. Michigan blocked the extra point, but UCLA led 23-15.

The Bruins had a chance to put the game away, but running back Shawn Wills fumbled and Michigan recovered at the UCLA 43 with just under four minutes remaining. Grbac found Walker for a three-yard touchdown with 1:35 to play, but the two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.

J.D. Carlson's game-winning field goal gave Bo a thrilling victory over UCLA

J.D. Carlson’s game-winning field goal gave Bo a thrilling victory over UCLA

Trailing 23-21, Michigan recovered an onside kick, and Carlson kicked a 24-yard field to give Michigan a 24-23 win.

Michigan returned home for a pair of matchups with unranked foes, Maryland and Wisconsin. The Wolverines scored on four of their first six possessions against Maryland to race out to a 28-7 halftime lead. Hoard scored from yard out to give Michigan a 35-7 lead early in the third and Carlson kicked a pair of field goals in the fourth as the Wolverines closed out a convincing 41-21 win.

Michigan followed that up with a 24-0 shutout of Wisconsin, holding the Badgers to just 97 total yards. Grbac completed 16-of-23 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, while Tony Boles led the way on the ground with 95 yards and a score.

In-state rival Michigan State, which had lost to No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Miami by a combined 14 points, was up next. The teams traded turnovers on their first possessions before the Spartans moved the ball into Michigan’s red zone. Michigan held strong on third-and-one, forcing a 37-yard field goal attempt. It was blocked and Michigan took advantage, going 61 yards in 14 plays for the games first and only touchdown, a one-yard run by Hoard on fourth-and-goal.

After forcing a three-and-out, the Michigan offense once again marched down the field. A 46-yard field goal attempt fell short, but Michigan State was called for offside, extending the Michigan drive. Four plays later, Carlson connected on a 35-yard field goal to put Michigan ahead, 10-0.

On their second possession of the second half, Michigan State moved inside the Michigan 10 where quarterback Dan Enos handed it off to Blake Ezor four straight times. Ezor made it to the four, then the three, then the one, setting up a fourth-and-goal just like Michigan faced in the first half. But Welborne stuffed Ezor for no gain and Michigan took over.

Michigan went three-and-out and Michigan State made another costly mistake on its ensuing possession, missing a 34-yard field goal. The Spartans finally got on the board midway through the fourth quarter when Enos threw a four-yard touchdown pass, but Michigan held on to win, 10-7.

“It was a nice, hard-hitting game,” said a relieved Schembechler afterward. “Nice and physical. A lot of good collisions. And the best team won. There’s not much more you can say.”

Now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, Bo didn’t want to give any credence to the notion that his squad had the conference title locked up.

“What people have got to understand is that we still have to play Iowa and Illinois on the road and Ohio State at home,” Schembechler said. “We’ve got the toughest schedule in the league. Hey, we’re only 2-0, and we share the lead. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Michigan rolled through a 3-2 Iowa team in Iowa City, 26-12, on the strength of 138 total yards by Boles. The Wolverines returned home to thump Indiana 38-10 and Purdue 42-27, setting up a big showdown at Illinois.

Like Michigan, the eighth-ranked Fighting Illini had just one blemish on the season, a 38-7 defeat at then-eighth-ranked Colorado on Sept. 16. Bo’s squad wasted no time getting on the board, as Boles raced 73 yards on the game’s second play and Jarrod Bunch punched it in one play later from a yard out.

Bo topped Ohio State in 1989 to end his career with a winning record against the Buckeyes

Bo topped Ohio State in 1989 to end his career with a winning record against the Buckeyes

Illinois came right back with a touchdown if its own and then gave Michigan a break on its next possession, running into punter Chris Stapleton and extending the Wolverine drive. Carlson kicked a 47-yard field goal to put Michigan on top, 10-7. Illinois tied the game with a 25-yard field goal on its next possession.

The two teams traded punts before Michigan put together another scoring drive, this time going 80 yards in 11 plays and a one-yard Taylor touchdown run. Michigan took a 17-10 lead into the half.

The second half was the defensive battle that most expected. Illinois intercepted Taylor on Michigan’s second possession of the half and marched inside the Michigan 10. On fourth-and-one from the four, Jeff George’s pass fell incomplete and Michigan retained its lead.

Midway through the fourth, Michigan put together the game-clinching drive, once again going 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Boles scored from 13 yards out to put Michigan ahead, 24-10, with just 2:31 to play. Welborne sealed the game with an interception and Michigan advanced to 8-1 overall and 6-0 in Big Ten play.

“It was a great team victory. I’m happy as the dickens for ya,” Schembechler told the team in the locker room. “I want you to understand one thing though, men. We have not won the Big Ten championship yet. This is a big hurdle for us to get over, but we’re healthy, we’re eager, we’re tough, and we’re going to finish this season. We’re going to finish with a flourish. We’re going to finish tough, we’re going to get better, we’re going to stay after them until we win the championship again, head back to the Rose Bowl!”

A confident Michigan team easily disposed of Minnesota, 49-15, a week later, leaving Ohio State as the only team standing between them and a Big Ten title and return trip to Pasadena.

Michigan’s offense crossed into Buckeye territory on each of its first five possessions, jumping ahead 14-0. It very well could have been more had Michigan not fumbled it away twice in the first half. Ohio State got on the board just before the half with a 20-yard field goal.

Taylor was intercepted on Michigan’s first possession of the second half and Ohio State turned it into a field goal. Michigan went three-and-out and Ohio State went 40 yards in nine plays to pull within 14-12. At the beginning of the fourth, Michigan punted it back to the Buckeyes, but cornerback Todd Plate picked off OSU quarterback Greg Frey near midfield. Michigan capitalized with a five-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Bunch.

Ohio State wasn’t finished however. The Buckeyes strung together an 11-play touchdown drive, but Michigan blocked the extra point to keep a 21-18 lead. Ohio State’s defense held strong, forcing Michigan to punt it back with under four minutes to play, but Plate came up big once again with his second interception of the day. Michigan put the game away on a 23-yard Bunch touchdown run, wrapping up a second straight outright Big Ten title and another Rose Bowl appearance.

“Ohio State really came at us and gave us everything they had,” Schembechler said after the game. “We showed that we were our worst enemy, but we hung in there.”

Two weeks after securing a career winning record against his rival from Columbus, Schembechler announced that he would retire following the Rose Bowl. He named offensive coordinator Gary Moeller his successor and delivered a poignant speech to those gathered at Crisler Arena.

“I’ve been a very fortunate coach,” Schembechler started. “I’ve coached for 37 years and 27 of them as a head coach. I was given a job to coach Michigan football in 1969. That had to be, when I was in this room and appointed by Don Canham as football coach of Michigan, the greatest day of my life.

“Because Michigan is special. And the opportunity to coach here was tremendous. I couldn’t ask for a better career. I’m a very happy man today. I’m not here to shed a tear; it’s not because I’m sad at leaving. I hate to leave the players, I hate to leave coaching, but it’s time to go. And yet, who could ask for a greater career than I’ve had? It’s not that I’ve done everything in football, but I’ve coached at Michigan.”

Bo's final game on the sidelines was the 1990 Rose Bowl against USC

Bo’s final game on the sidelines was the 1990 Rose Bowl against USC

The Wolverines met 12th-ranked Southern California in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year, this time hoping to send their beloved coach off on top. It began as a defensive battle, neither team able to score a point in the first quarter. It was USC that did the damage first on a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Todd Marinovich. Midway through the second quarter, Carlson kicked a 19-yard field goal to pull Michigan within four. A 34-yard USC field goal closed the first half with the Trojans ahead, 10-3.

Running back Allen Jefferson tied the game on a two-yard touchdown run on Michigan’s second possession of the second half. Early in the fourth, Michigan faced a fourth-and-two from its own 46. The normally conservative Schembechler called a fake punt and it was executed beautifully as Stapleton raced 24 yards. But the Pac-10 officiating crew flagged linebacker Bobby Abrams for holding, negating the first down. Michigan punted and Southern Cal went 75 yards in 13 plays for the game-winning touchdown.

Instead of a storybook ending, perhaps it was more fitting that the fiery coach went out swinging. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on top of the holding penalty and issued a scathing assessment after the game.

“It was the most unbelievable call I’ve ever seen, and it came in my final game,” Schembechler said of the holding call. “It was an absolutely ridiculous call. If I see the film and I’m wrong, I’ll retract what I’ve said. But people who saw it in the press box said it was a ridiculous call.”

“Whatever I do in my next job, I want nothing to do with officiating. Nothing! How do I want to be remembered? I’m just a coach.”

And with that, Bo’s career was over. He went out with the most wins of any active coach (at the time) in college football and the fifth-most all-time, 13 Big Ten titles, 17 bowl appearances, 16 top ten finishes, and a legacy that will live on forever. Although he passed away eight years ago this November, Bo won’t soon be forgotten in Ann Arbor.

Big Ten Media Day Quotes: Gardner, Clark, Ryan, Hoke

Monday, July 28th, 2014


Earlier this afternoon, we posted the full transcript from Brady Hoke’s 15-minute podium session. Shortly after that, Hoke and Michigan’s three player representatives — Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, and FrankClark — met with the media at individual podiums, allowing an opportunity for further questions in a smaller group setting. Here are some select quotes from each of them.

Devin Gardner

Gardner(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Have you reflected on last season?
“Definitely. I feel like I know what I accomplished last year. As my first time starting I feel like I accomplished a lot. I had a lot of success, a lot of adversity, but I feel like I battled through it. I continued to fight. I was there when my team needed me. Coach Nuss always says, ‘the quarterback’s always there, no matter what’ and I feel like I was always there for my team when I could and I did what I could. “

 Even though you lost to Ohio State, everybody appreciates the performance. Did anyone reach out to you after that game?
“Charles Davis was a big one and Eddie George reached out to me. A lot of different people – Archie Manning. It was great. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, being able to fight through something like that is big when it’s for your team and the fan base, but it doesn’t really matter if the fans appreciate it. My teammates appreciate it and they know what I went through and I’m excited to be able to fight with my teammates.”

What did Eddie George tell you?
“He just told me that I had a great game. He was excited. We built those relationships at the Manning Academy two years ago and he’s really excited to see the way I fought, the way that I played in that game. That’s pretty much it. He also said his sons are big fans, so that’s pretty cool.”

Are you excited to be in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan State?
“Our mentality this year is just to take every game one at a time and don’t treat other games as bigger games than some other games, and don’t discount anyone either. Obviously, as our rivals, and now they’re in our division, it will be a little heightened intensity during those games, but until we get to those we can’t see. I’m sure they’ll be really excited and pumped up to play us too, but we’re going to bring everything we have and we’re going to play as hard as we can.

Can you talk about Coach Nussmeier and what he brings to the table that Michigan fans haven’t seen in the past?
“I don’t know if it’s something we haven’t seen, but he’s his own coach. He’s very intense and he’s a fun guy to be around. He’s a player’s coach for sure. We can talk off the field and he helps me with football and sometimes it always comes back to some type of football lesson, so that’s really cool. He brings a different perspective as a guy that’s played NFL, played in college and excelled, coached NFL and excelled. He just brings a winning attitude and a successful attitude to the entire Michigan brand.”

What’s the hardest road venue in the Big Ten?
“I think Iowa, just because the fans are so close. You always try to block out the fans, but when they’re close enough to touch you, it’s hard to ignore everything they say, so Iowa’s kind of tough. But I feel like our stadium is a tough place to play as well.”

Who are some new guys that have really stood out?
“Freddy Canteen has done a really nice job for us on offense. He came in (and) I didn’t know anything about him until the first day of spring practice. He came out and made a lot of good catches and throughout the spring he’s been really consistent in making big plays, and being accountable and being there when we need him.

“On defense, I like the way Jabrill Peppers is competing. I don’t know yet what he can do on the field, and as far as knowing the plays and knowing where you need to be, and we haven’t put on the pads. But from an athletic standpoint and a competitive standpoint, he’s one of the best competitors I’ve seen in the freshman class.”

Who has stepped up defensively?
“Joe Bolden. He’s always been a pretty vocal leader. He’s a very high energy, high intensity guy. I really enjoy seeing him play. Sometimes he treats us like we’re the other team, on offense, but it’s great to see. Coach Hoke always says – any coach will say this – you would rather have to say ‘whoa’ than ‘attack’. I feel like that’s great for him that he’s always in attack mode. I’m really looking forward to seeing him this year.”

Is Bolden too intense?
“No, no, no. We can’t say too intense. We don’t want to say that. He is very intense in practice. He hits us – I mean, he doesn’t hit me, quarterback’s off limits – but he hits really hard in practice and he gives it everything he has like it’s his last play, and that’s how it should be.”

Are you excited about Ty Isaac joining the team?
“I haven’t seen him yet. I met him when he was a recruit. I hosted him when he came for a visit, but I haven’t seen him this summer or anything like that. But if he’s going to be a part of our team we’ll welcome him just like any other teammate. He’s not going to be more special or less special than anyone on the team. Whether he’s a walk-on guy or a scholarship guy, we treat everybody as a teammate and as a brother, so he’s welcome into this brotherhood. When I get a chance to meet him he’s going to be treated as such.”

Does the uncertainty of the offensive line make it harder for you?
“My job is to encourage those guys, encourage every guy that’s out there, whether they’re going to start, or who’s going to play. My job is to encourage them and for me to work on myself as a consistent quarterback. It’s not my job to be like ‘who’s going to play’ or ‘what’s going to happen with those guys’. I’m just encouraging everybody, having dinner at my house, inviting them over, and continuing to work on being a great quarterback.”

Frank Clark

Frank Clark(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Who is the toughest player you’ve ever gone against?
“The toughest guy I ever went against, who was here last year, is Taylor Lewan. I mean, I don’t really see another offensive lineman that was really close.

Who is the toughest you’ve gone up against on this year’s team?
“It’s weird because I’m the old one. I’m used to being the younger one. I’m used to going against Taylor every day. This year it’s like I’m the old one. I guess if you flip that around you’ll have to ask the younger players who’s the toughest to go against on the defensive line.”

Who has stepped up on the defensive line?
“Man, we’ve got guys like Taco Charlton, guys like Henry Poggi, guys like Maurice Hurst, Ryan Glasgow, Willie Henry. These are guys that are younger but have experience. When you have a young, experienced defensive line, the possibilities are limitless. We have a defensive line unit that has very good players, it’s almost like having a first team two times. So when your first team goes out, when Frank Clark needs a break, or Brennen Beyer needs a break, you can send the next man in. You can send a Mario Ojemudia in. You can send a Lawrence Marshall in, who’s a freshman. You can send a Taco Charlton in and it’s going to be like having your first team stay on the field.”

How tough was it to get over the Ohio State loss last year?
“It was tough. Every loss is tough. But at the same time it was a close loss. I believe it was 42-40. It was a tough loss and it was a loss that we didn’t really expect. Every game you go into playing against Ohio, that’s one game, without being confident or without being cocky, that’s one game that you expect to win, being at Michigan. You know it’s going to be a hard game, but it was hard. It just gave us that extra fire and that extra energy in every workout through the winter, through the spring, and through the summer.”

Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Will playing Maryland and Rutgers feel like conference games?
“Now they’re a part of the Big Ten and I think it’s going to be great for us and great for the conference. It’ll be interesting.”

How important is it to be the better program in the state of Michigan?
“We’re both great programs, we both have great coaches. It’s just where we are on the map. It’s not who’s better, who’s worse.”

Why would you not be concerned about being the better program?
“I mean, it’s a rivalry game, it’s one of the biggest games, but we’re focused on Appalachian State. I’m not going to focus on Michigan State right now.”

Is one of the new Big Ten divisions better than the other?
“I think they’re both great divisions and I think they’re both going to do very well.”

Do you guys have a loop running of the 2007 Appalachian State game?
“No. They’re a whole different team and we’re a whole different team. We’re going to go into that game like we prepare for every other game, so it’s going to be a fun game to play in.”

How is the offense shaping up?
“I think Devin’s running really well. He’s running the offense really well. Coach Nussmeier has been doing a great job with the guys. Devin has gotten guys in the film room, coaching them up on things they’re doing wrong, so I think it’s going to good and it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Will it look like a different offense?
“I think it’s the same offense, but it’s just a matter of the guys coming in and doing their thing. Like I said before, Devin’s been doing a great job running it.”

On Joe Bolden
“Joe Bolden is a great player. He knows what he’s doing, very smart player. Joe’s always there and if I need help, or anyone else needs help, Joe’s doing his job.”

Is there a freshman that has stood out?
“All of the freshmen have really stood out. Everyone has different character, everyone has been doing their job, going through the runs and workouts great.”

Brady Hoke said let’s not anoint Jabrill Peppers yet, but Devin said he’s pretty special…
“He’s a good player. I mean, he’s very athletic, brings energy. But I think there are a lot of freshmen that do that as well and it can’t just be one guy. It’s got to be all of them.”

How has Jabrill tempered the expectations?
“He’s keeping to himself and he’s going through the workouts, going through everything else like every other guy.”

Is there a part of you that, despite all the hype, says Jabrill needs to earn it?
“Every single guy has got to earn it on the field. Every single guy has got to do their job in order to play.”

What do you think of the pictures he posts of his abs?
“Hey, that’s not my…I try to stick to golfing pictures, stuff like that. He can do whatever he wants.”

What does it feel like to watch Ohio State go 24-2 and Michigan State win the league the past couple years?
“I’m not focused on those teams. I’m focused on what we need to do as a team our first game against Appalachian State. It will be a really fun game to play.”

What do you need to do to get ready for Appalachian State?
“Every single day, take that step forward that you need to take. Technique, fundamentals, the game of football. And do it every single day.”

Did you talk to former players about the Appalachian State game?
“I have not. Nope. Whole different team.”

How do you keep that mentality that it’s a big game?
“Every single game’s a big game. Every single game. We prepare for every single game.”

Did you seek out any advice from middle linebackers in the NFL about the position switch?
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot of tips, talked to a lot of guys. Jarrett Irons is a great guy to talk to, but everyone’s pushing me. Coach Mattison is the greatest coach you could have. He knows everything about the position, so just going to him and talking is great.”

Will the switch to middle linebacker allow you to play more instinctually?
“It’s a little different. But a lot of positions are instincts, but there are always those fundamentals or techniques that you need to play with every single play. I mean, some of it is instincts, but you also need those things.”

What was the offseason like?
“Very good offseason. I thought we did really well, prepared really well. Runs and lifts were great.”

Was it any different from previous years?
“A little different because I was older, leading the guys. There’s different leaders out there, but I think it’s great and I think it’s great for our team.”

When installing the new offense, how long did it take for them to figure it out?
“They were figuring it out the first day they got it. They were running on us, they were doing well.”

How have you seen Coach Hoke evolve over the past few years?
“Coach Hoke has been the same guy ever since I met him. Hard-nosed, tough, you can always talk to him, go into his office. If you have a problem, bring it to him. He’s going to be the same guy every single time and I love that about him.”

Brady Hoke

Brady Hoke(Justin Potts, M&GB)

How close is the Big Ten to winning a national title?
“I don’t know why they couldn’t this year. A team comes out of here as champion, why couldn’t they? Now, I don’t know these other teams. I mean, when we vote on this stuff, I don’t know them. I don’t know who they’re playing…Wofford – nothing against Wofford – but I mean there are nine conference games that we’re going to end up playing.”

Why do you think it has been so long since a Big Ten team won it all?
“I can’t believe it.”

Do you feel comfortable turning over the postseason selection process, versus before when the coaches at least had a vote?
“How many of those coaches really did it themselves? I’ve got a guy who I talk to about it, but I mean, this group, the integrity these people have as far as the committee itself, it’s what the fans want. I don’t know if you all wanted it. I worry about the bowl system. I think that was always a good system. I worry about the semifinals in the Rose Bowl, how are you going to approach the Rose Bowl? It’s the greatest experience there is in America for kids. How are you going to do it? They’re certainly not going to go out and stay for 10 days and go to Lawry’s two nights before, whatever it is. It’s not going to happen. It’s a game. And I’m sure the Sugar, when they’re a semifinal, all those things go away now.”

Do you address what’s appropriate with your freshmen?
“Yes, we educate them every day. We educate them to not embarrass themselves, what their grandma wouldn’t want to see out there. Why would you do it?”

Have you had any instances?
“Oh yeah. You’ve probably made some dumb decisions.”

You talk a lot about ‘this is Michigan’. Can you talk about the importance of this season for the program and for yourself?
“It’s not personal. Believe me. Nothing’s personal. It’s about Michigan and it’s about the program as you said, and it’s about the kids in the program.”

Countdown to kickoff: 64 days

Friday, June 27th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-64

Countdown to kickoff: 89 days

Monday, June 2nd, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-89_edited-1

Inside the Numbers: A departure from postseason custom

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Kansas State

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

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

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

Two games in, is Michigan a national title contender?

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

When Stephon Tuitt grabbed Devin Gardner’s pass to nobody in the Michigan end zone to bring Notre Dame within one possession of the Wolverines on Saturday night, the entire season could have changed for the home team. Michigan had been up by 14 points with the ball in the fourth quarter and were well on their way to running their rivals right out of the biggest stadium in the country. Tuitt’s interception was followed by a poor punt and a Notre Dame field goal to make the score 34-30 as the game continued to get shakier for the home team.

Then Gardner turned things around for good. The 75-yard touchdown drive essentially finished the Fighting Irish and gave Michigan the 2-0 start to the season they needed to be considered a national contender.

But is Michigan a real contender?

It’s obviously much too early in the season to know which teams can really battle for the BCS National Championship, but isn’t that the fun of the pre-conference schedule? While the Wolverines remain undefeated, it’s not unreasonable to look ahead and think about what could be a magical year.

Let’s dig a little deeper into Michigan’s future.

Jeremy Gallon has become one of the top playmakers in the Big Ten (MGoBlue.com)

Based on what teams have shown so far this season, the Maize and Blue have a very realistic opportunity to be 7-0 going into East Lansing the first Saturday in November. Games against Akron, Minnesota and Indiana should be automatic victories for a team that hasn’t lost at home under Brady Hoke, and the first road test against Connecticut seems like a cupcake after the Huskies’ opening loss to FCS opponent Towson.

Penn State is the only legitimate worry for Hoke during this span, as the atmosphere in Happy Valley always proves unwelcoming for visiting teams. Penn State has won their first two games against Syracuse and Eastern Michigan, and has a freshman quarterback that has looked impressive in non-conference play. The Nittany Lions will be the first real challenge away from the Big House, but assuming Michigan takes care of business beforehand, they should be heavily favored to start 7-0.

Michigan State always provides a challenge, especially in East Lansing. From a talent standpoint, though, Michigan is far superior to their neighbors. The Spartan offense is nothing short of anemic, and has mustered just two touchdowns against extremely weak opponents. The reason this team is dangerous is the elite defense, which has not only held opponents to just 9.5 points per game so far, but also scored four touchdowns. If Michigan State can’t move the ball, Michigan should win this rivalry fairly easily, but the Spartans always seem to show up for this game so expect 8-0 to be a real battle.

Of the final four games, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State may be the toughest three games of the season. Nebraska and Northwestern will be battling for the top of the Legends Division, and though Michigan should be favored in both contests, neither of these games will be easy. Northwestern appears to be especially dangerous, having defeated two power conference teams fairly easy thus far and owning the luxury of hosting the game in Chicago. This game should be circled on Brady Hoke’s calendar as the game that could really end the undefeated run.

Should the Wolverines get through those two games, Iowa, who has already lost to Northern Illinois, will be a victory in Kinnick Stadium.

Ultimately, if Michigan can avoid a letdown, they could go into The Game with a record of 11-0. Ohio State is obviously the best team on the schedule, and it would be a tall order to ask this Michigan team to beat them two weeks in a row.

This schedule, while difficult, is manageable for the team fans saw on Saturday night.

Defensively, Michigan gave up too many points, but looking past the bare statistics offers hope for Greg Mattison’s unit. Through two games, the relatively young defensive line has given up only 162 yards rushing, which is crucial during Big Ten play. Opposing quarterbacks have also felt some pressure, resulting in five sacks through two games in Ann Arbor.

The defense sat back and forced Tommy Rees to make plays, but will need to get more pass rush to be a contender (MGoBlue.com)

Mattison has earned the trust of fans on the defensive end, but the real reason that Michigan is 2-0 is the successful implementation of the pro-style offense. Gardner has been terrific early in the season, despite the three interceptions. He is much more comfortable in the pocket than Denard Robinson was during his tenure as starting quarterback, and uses his mobility to avoid pressure and extend plays to find receivers downfield. The redshirt junior has been accurate with his passes, and picks his spots in the running game. In fact, Gardner has shown how comfortable he is in the scrambling game, converting several third-and-longs with his legs with no other options.

Luckily, he almost always has an option with Jeremy Gallon on the field. Gallon broke out with 184 receiving yard on eight catches and three touchdowns against Notre Dame, and showed that he is one of the top playmakers in the country. Though he isn’t the biggest or fastest receiver in the conference, the senior showcased the ability to break tackles, beat defenders off the line and catch the ball in traffic against a Notre Dame defense less than a year removed from a trip to the National Championship game. The ease with which Michigan moved the ball against one of the better defensive opponents on the schedule proves that Gardner has enough help to score against any team in the country.

Gardner is also the team’s leading rusher, something that needs to change if the Wolverines are to reach their maximum potential. Fitzgerald Toussaint has been decent out of the backfield, but his 3.6 yards per carry need to improve to give the offense shorter second and third downs. Freshman Derrick Green looked strong against Central Michigan, but got only one carry in the night game. The loss of backup Drake Johnson for the season means the rest of the group will have to pick up the slack and give Borges a running threat beyond the scrambling abilities of his starting quarterback.

Michigan’s national outlook won’t change for the next several weeks unless they suffer a loss to a weak team on their schedule. If the Wolverines can take care of business, they will have a great opportunity to play in a BCS bowl in the final year before the college football playoff is introduced.

It may be too early to think about January, but after a huge win against #14 Notre Dame, it sure is fun.

Maize and Go Blue staff roundtable

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013


Just a few days from the start of the season, the time has come to put our predictions to paper. Or the internet, where they will forever live, serving as a reminder of the surge of optimism that perpetually springs just before the don of a new season. All the usual suspects – Justin, Chris, Sam, Josh, and Katie – will give their predictions, as will the newest member of our staff, Derick, who you have read in our preseason Predicting Michigan series. You can view all of our staff bios on the Meet the Staff page.

With introductions out of the way, let’s get down to business.

What are you most excited about this season?

JUSTIN: I’m excited about the return to the Michigan football of old. Denard Robinson will forever be remembered as a great Michigan football player, but as was apparent he had his limitations and Al Borges was never able to fully implement his offense.

Back when Rich Rodriguez was announced as the new head coach to replace Lloyd Carr, there was a lot of excitement over the kind of offense he could bring to Ann Arbor, the likes of which none of us had ever seen. The Michigan brand of football had gotten a little stale during the latter part of Carr’s tenure, so we were excited for something new. Well, we all know how that turned out and now a return to smash-mouth Michigan football with mammoth offensive linemen and tall, rangy wide receivers sounds more appealing than ever. It’s funny how perspective changes.

Most of us are looking forward to getting back to the Michigan football we all remember

There will still be some pieces of spread mixed in, but with Devin Gardner behind center Borges’ offense will be able to thrive. It will take a little time to be sure, with a young interior line and group of receivers, but I’m excited to see the return to Bo and Mo and Lloyd’s brand of football.

CHRIS: Seeing how the offense will look with Devin Gardner as the starting QB and a stable of quality running backs, including the return of Fitz Toussaint from a major injury, and a group of young, top recruits.

JOSH: Having a legitimate passing threat under center and getting back to real Michigan football. It’s been far too long since we’ve seen that style and been good at it (2006). To me Michigan football is a smash mouth running game and a tough defense, I think we get one step closer to resembling the teams of yesteryear.

SAM: Besides football being back? Well, to start off, I’m excited about the potential of the offense to put up some points with Devin Gardner leading the way, a crowded yet talented corps of running backs, a tight end that can make any defender look foolish, two bite-sized receivers with hands made of glue, and an actual, tangible depth chart on the offensive line that doesn’t read “PANIC” after the starter goes down. I think Al Borges is finally starting to see an offense on the field close to the one he envisioned when joining Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor two seasons ago, and the results should start to show. Denard Robinson was an other-worldly talent, but his skill set simply did not match up with what the New Michigan is looking to do – pound the ball behind a physical offensive line and take deep shots down the field when the safeties are forced to cheat up. Gardner certainly has the physical abilities to run the system to near perfection, and if he starts up where he left off last season, the Wolverines should light up the scoreboard.

As a special aside, I also want to give Dennis Norfleet a quick shout-out as the lead punt and kick returner. Norfleet is probably the single most exciting player on the roster, and I think it’s about time Michigan scored on special teams. Look for that to happen within the first two weeks of the season.

DERICK: The return of a potent passing attack to the offense. As Denard Robinson moves on to the NFL, Brady Hoke and Al Borges will try to move back in the direction of a physical offensive style. Quarterback Devin Gardner will lead the 2013 Michigan offense with a revamped passing attack. During his starts at the end of 2012, Gardner proved that he has an accurate arm and can extend plays with his legs. Receivers like Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Amara Darboh figure to have big seasons with Gardner under center.

KATIE: Seeing what Devin Gardner can do, and if he finds a go-to in Gallon or Funchess.

What worries you the most entering the season?

JUSTIN: My main concern is the inexperience on the offensive line and at receiver. Returning to a power running game is great, but you have to have interior linemen that can open holes for your backs. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are solid bookends, but how quickly will Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, and Kyle Kalis gel? The opener against Central Michigan will be a good dry run, but we’ll get our first real indication in Week 2 against Notre Dame’s ferocious defensive front.

At receiver, the loss of Amara Darboh to injury is a big blow. Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are well established, but the offense needs a guy like Darboh who can play the Junior Hemingway/Adrian Arrington role. A lot of pressure will fall on Jehu Chesson to step up, which I think he’s more than capable of doing. I’m not sold on Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds, who have had three years to step up and still haven’t done so.

The young offensive line worries us the most (John T. Greilick, Detroit News)

CHRIS: How an inexperienced group of players on the offensive and defensive lines will mature and get better throughout the season.  With three new starters on the offensive line, and essentially three new starters on the D-line, I believe this to be the key to how good of a season that the Wolverines end up having.

JOSH: Lack of known commodities on the line, receiver, and running back. A LOT of talented, but inexperienced, kids on this roster at key spots could mean for some serious growing pains early on. With Notre Dame coming to town in Week 2 this more than worries me, even though I am not sold on ND being nearly as ‘good’ as they were last year.

SAM: This might be wacky, but I am going with the offense again, and specifically Gardner. While he possesses all the tools to excel in Borges’s offense, I’m still a little wary of crowning the redshirt junior as the savior of the program, the one who will bring Michigan full circle. I know it’s been a long time since the spring of 2011 and 2012, but Gardner’s struggles in the spring games of those two years will always be in the back of my head.

With his big arm, pinpoint precision, and capable legs, Gardner can be great, but I’m a little skeptical of his decision-making. I’ve seen him scramble and throw an ill-advised bunny one too many times to rest easily this week of the season opener, and I am worried that his success over the last five games of last season were partially a product of opposing defenses having very little information on him. With a full offseason to break down tape, opposing coaches have certainly found new ways to try to attack Gardner, and any hesitancy on his end early on could signal trouble in Ann Arbor.

Again, there is no doubting Gardner’s potential, and I do think he will have a very good year; I am just not quite ready to bring both feet onto the bandwagon.

DERICK: The youth on the interior offensive line. While Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will be solid at the tackle positions, the rest of the offensive line is a question mark. Two talented recruiting classes will battle to fill the remaining three spots. Too much youth can be an issue on either line, but fortunately Michigan has Lewan to lead the young players and help make up for any mistakes. If the line can protect Gardner, the offense should be potent.

KATIE: Some of our offensive line is young. That, coupled with an unsure running game.

Who will be the breakout player on offense this season?

JUSTIN: Darboh was going to be my pick, so the obvious choice now would be Chesson. But I’m going to go a little out of the box and say Jake Butt. Last year, I correctly picked Devin Funchess, so I’ll stick with that position which Borges absolutely loves. With Darboh out, I could see Borges utilizing the tight end position even more, and Funchess is the known commodity as far as opposing defenses are concerned. That could free up Butt for some open looks much like Funchess got last year, although he likely won’t get as many targets because of, well, Funchess.

CHRIS: Derrick Green– I know that this is the easy pick considering his highly regarded status as one of Michigan’s top signees ever, but this guy is good.  His size and speed are unparalleled for a freshman running back and he’ll have the opportunity get a large amount of playing time given the uncertainty in the Michigan backfield.  With a couple weeks left in fall camp, it appears that Fitz Toussaint is taking control of the top spot, however the offense will feature more than one guy running the ball.  I like Green’s chances to have an excellent season.

We're excited about the potential of Jehu Chesson (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

JOSH: So many options and it seems like a cop out to go with Gardner or Funchess, so I’m going to stick with a first year starting wide receiver, Jehu Chesson. He’s a tall, fast guy that can take the top off the defense and open things up underneath for Gallon, Dileo, and Norfleet. He’s had a year in the system and from what I’ve read he seems to be an incredibly humble and hardworking kid. Not sure he’s Mario Manningham 2.0 yet but he’s got the size and speed to fill that type of role.

SAM: I already alluded to some of his mismatch-making in regards to why I’m excited about the offense this year – I think Devin Funchess is a guy you will see turn heads this year. The sophomore out of Farmington Hills set the world on fire early on in his debut season, catching touchdowns in weeks two and three against Air Force and Massachusetts and recording multiple catches in three of the first four games, but he kind of fell off the map as the season wore on. Over the last nine games of the season, Funchess never recorded a multiple-catch outing, and his highest yardage output over that same span was just 29.

His potential is both clear and vast, however. A whopping 33 percent of Funchess’s 15 receptions last season went for scores, and his 6’5″, 235-pound frame (now with added muscle!) is enough in itself to make defensive coordinators toss and turn at night. In Borges’ offense, tight ends are called upon to block quite often, and blocking is unfortunately the biggest area Funchess needs to improve upon, but his added weight should help him see more snaps and, in turn, more targets this year. His monstrous hands make him an obvious red zone target, and his overall length and athleticism should get plenty of run over the middle and on broken plays where Gardner will be seeking a safety valve. Look for Funchess to at least double his catches in 2013 while recording 600-plus yards and eight scores.

DERICK: I’m going to go with Jehu Chesson now that Darboh is out. I really think that the second receiver behind Gallon is poised to have a big year behind him and Funchess in the passing attack. Gardner should be able to spread the ball out and use his entire receiving core, so if Chesson can step in and take over a big role that I believe Darboh was destined for he can pick up important offensive production that Michigan lost with Roundtree graduating.

KATIE: I would like to see Derrick Green rack up yards as a freshman, like Hart did, and make the next few years look even more enticing.

Who will be the breakout player on defense this season?

JUSTIN: The obvious pick here is James Ross, but in my opinion, he already had a semi-breakout at the tail end of last season. He’s due for big numbers this year. But I’m going to say a guy not many people are talking about: Raymon Taylor. He was thrust into the starting role last season when Blake Countess went down with a season ending knee injury and performed admirably, probably even better than J.T. Floyd. Now, with Countess back and grabbing all the attention, Taylor has locked down the other starting corner spot. He made a big interception against Notre Dame and followed that up with another the next week, and I think it’s safe to say we can expect more from him this season now that he has 11 starts under his belt.

CHRIS: Frank Clark– Even though he played in all 13 games last season, he only started the final four.  In those four games, he had excellent performances, including a huge one against Ohio State.  This season he will be counted on to man one of the defensive end positions and to be one of the defensive leaders.  He is an excitable player who will be counted on to anchor a defensive line which has only one true returning starter, and that player, Quinton Washington, only started 10 games.  Clark must quickly become a force to reckon with if the Wolverines want to win versus better competition.

With Jake Ryan out, James Ross III and Frank Clark need to step up

JOSH: I’d love to say Dymonte Thomas, I think he’s going to be really good, but everyone else probably will say that too, so I’m going to go with Blake Countess. He had a great freshman year then missed all but a few plays of last season. With almost a full year to recover and hone his craft. I don’t think we’re looking at Ty Law or Charles Woodson type play but he seems poised to make a name for himself as another great Michigan defensive back.

SAM: Funchess is a tremendous breakout candidate on offense because of all the physical attributes he possesses, but on the defensive side of the ball, my pick for breakout player will thrive for the exact opposite reasons. James Ross III, another true sophomore, from nearby Orchard Lake, is not the biggest guy on the field, but his instincts and grit will one day make him a great linebacker at Michigan. At 6’1″ and 220 pounds, Ross is certainly not a prototypical Big Ten backer, and at barely 19 years of age, “Biggs” is younger than ideal as well, but he has heart and quickness in bunches.

With only 21 solo tackles and 15 assisted tackles last season, Ross has hardly scratched the surface. I love his ability to quickly diagnose the play and react accordingly without hesitation. Yes, sometimes such an aggressive style has and will lead to getting burned on play action, but with more experience will come better decision-making. A James Ross that correctly reads every offensive play is a James Ross that no running back or quarterback wants to face. The second year man is a sure tackler, a solid cover man, and the embodiment of a football player. Look for him to rack up 10 tackles for loss this year on his way to being the second-leading tackler on the team.

DERICK: Frank Clark. The new start at defensive end could be a jump start for Frank Clark’s career. The 6’2″ junior contributed on the line at times during his sophomore season, and figures to play a much bigger role in 2013. It is crucial that Michigan gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing linebackers this season, because the secondary has remaining questions. If Clark can be an effective pass rusher it could make a huge different for Michigan.

KATIE: James Ross III. Not that he didn’t have a breakout freshman year, but I’m expecting him to have matured more and be someone who will make a big impact at the linebacker position.

What is your prediction for the season? What will Michigan’s record be? Who will Michigan lose to? What bowl game will Michigan make?

JUSTIN: Great recruiting classes by Hoke the past couple of years have turned up the excitement level big time. But let’s not forget Hoke’s first full class is still sophomores. I think we’re a year away from competing for a national championship, but that doesn’t mean a Big Ten title is out of the question. However, it’s not going to be easy. If Michigan had Ohio State’s schedule, a spot in the Big Ten title game would be a no-brainer, but the November stretch of at Michigan State, home against Nebraska, at Northwestern, at Iowa, and home against Ohio State is going to be brutal. There’s no margin for error prior to November, which means Michigan has to win at Penn State, which I think they will.

Two of the three top contenders in the Legends division, Michigan State and Nebraska, don’t even have to face Ohio State, so they have the easier path the to Legends division title. That means those two games are critical for Michigan. Lose one and the Ohio State game is a must-win. Lose both and Michigan probably won’t make it to Indianapolis.

I think the Ohio State game will be a must-win regardless. I think the only way a rematch happens (without being undefeated) is if Michigan beats Michigan State and Nebraska, but falls to Northwestern…which is exactly what I think will happen. I see Michigan undefeated heading into East Lansing. State just doesn’t have the offense this year, so a win there and a win the following week against Nebraska will leave Michigan 9-0 as they travel to Northwestern. That’s the game that will trip Michigan up coming off of two big wins. Michigan will then beat Iowa and fall to Ohio State, finishing 10-2. Northwestern will also lose to Ohio State and two of the three against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska, finishing 9-3. A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game will fittingly send Michigan to Pasadena for the 100th Rose Bowl where Michigan will lose to Stanford, finishing 11-3 overall.

A trip to the 100th Rose Bowl would only be fitting for the team that won the first one ever

CHRIS: In all reality, the Wolverines have the chance to go 12-0, and I’m not only saying that because every team has a chance to do that each year.  However, Team 134 will need to avoid the pitfalls of some tough games, especially once the November schedule hits.

Prior to Michigan’s first November game against MSU, they need to be 7-0, and I think they will be.  The only tough game during that stretch is Notre Dame, but the game is at home, under the lights, and I believe that the Irish will take a step back this year compared to the 2012 team.  MSU will be a decent squad this year if they can break in new starters for half of the positions on both offense and defense.  Michigan’s offensive and defensive line play will have to be stout by this game, otherwise there could be trouble.  Plus, MSU will be looking for payback after last year’s heartbreaking, last-second loss.

After that, Michigan gets Nebraska at home.  I don’t expect the Huskers to be a very good team this year, especially on defense, where they only return four starters from a defense which wasn’t particularly good last season.  They do return Taylor Martinez at the QB position, who is a streaky passer and a good runner when he gets the opportunity.  Michigan will need to take advantage of a weak offensive line and contain Martinez to win this game, as well as watch out for a potential let-down following the MSU game.

After that comes the game that worries me the most- At Northwestern on Nov 16.  They return 15 starters on both sides of the ball, plus both starters in the kicking game.  They have two good QBs in Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, each of which will attack the Michigan defense with different styles.  They also have stud running back Venric Mark returning, who is the top returning player at that position.  The defense will be good as well, with three returning starters in a secondary which struggled at times last season.  I see a couple of keys for Michigan which will allow them to win this game: good defensive line play and a quality game plan by Greg Mattison which will confuse three new starters on the offensive line; and a quick re-focusing by the players after two tough games.  Ryan Field can be a tough place to play, especially if the game is played with a noon EST kickoff.  That’s 11am Central time, and if the Wolverines don’t come focused and ready to play, an upset could happen.

The comes Iowa at their place.  Should be a win.

Then, The Game.  Ohio State will likely come to the Big House 11-0 and looking for a spot in the Big Ten Championship game and a potential BCS National Championship appearance.  The Buckeye offense will be good and will put up a lot of points this season.  Michigan’s defense will be tested by the large number of weapons which Ohio State can attack with.  Defense is another story, however.  They only have four returning starters on this side of the ball, although the spots will be filled by quality, yet unproven, recruits.  With the weapons on Michigan’s offense, this has the potential to be a shoot-out, with the team that wants it the most coming out on top.

I expect this Michigan team to finish the season 10-2 or 11-1.  There’s that potential loss to Northwestern hanging out there, but I think that Brady Hoke will ensure that the team is ready to play against a quality Big Ten opponent.  I don’t think that Michigan has the overall experience and talent yet to beat Ohio State.  While I do think the game will be close, Ohio State will have too much for the Wolverines.  With this being said, there is potential for a Michigan-OSU rematch in the Big Ten Championship.  For this to happen, Michigan cannot lose any other conference games, especially to opponents on their side of the Division.  If the two teams rematch, Michigan will win and take the Big Ten crown for 2013 and play in the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten Championship game could very well be a Michigan-Ohio State rematch

JOSH: I can honestly see this team going undefeated or losing four games again. There is just too much uncertainty at key positions to make a good prediction, but I’ll venture one anyway. There are too many toss-up games on the schedule for me to feel confident about a largely young and inexperienced team. Notre Dame, MSU, Nebraska, OSU, and you can’t count out Northwestern. 9-3 (6-2), no B1G title game appearance and Outback Bowl again.

SAM: I have Michigan going 9-3 in the regular season and finishing in first place in the Legends Division before heading to the Big Ten championship game, where they will face off with Ohio State before heading to a bowl game somewhere where it’s warm. The schedule is not extremely difficult, but Michigan is still probably a year away from competing on the national level. I see the Wolverines dropping two of the four of Notre Dame, at Penn State, at Michigan State, and at Northwestern, and one to the Buckeyes. After finishing out the regular season, I think Michigan will lose again to Ohio State in Indianapolis before winning their bowl game to finish at 10-4 overall.

If you are thinking, “isn’t this the guy that wants back-to-back matchups with Ohio State?” The answer is yes, I am. Unfortunately this is the wrong year to potentially have that come up. The Game should be a classic, but I think Michigan’s defense will be just a step behind Ohio State’s offense and the Scarlet and Grey will take the cake. Regardless, there is plenty to look forward to this season, and there’s a reason they play the games. Maybe, just maybe, the Maize and Blue will prove me wrong.

DERICK: 11-3, B1G runner-up, BCS at-large. Michigan could definitely go into The Game at the Big House with a 10-1 record. The loss of Everett Golson makes the Notre Dame game very winnable for the Wolverines, but the gauntlet of Michigan State, Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa will be difficult to endure without a loss. If Michigan can go 3-1 through that game I think they can split with OSU (since the Buckeyes will likely be playing in the Big Ten Championship game) and likely win the game at home and get a Sugar Bowl bid if the SEC sends their champion to the National Championship Game. The bowl game will be difficult, obviously, and could be the third straight game against a top-5 team for Michigan. After a strong start to the season, I think the final few weeks could be tough.

KATIE: A 9-3 regular season finish and 6-2 in the Big Ten.