photo AnnArborGIFHeader_zps02670880.gif

Posts Tagged ‘Season Preview’

Michigan basketball season preview: the time is now

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012


Five years ago, the University of Michigan basketball program was going through some changes after a dark period in which the Wolverines failed to make an NCAA Tournament field for more than 10 years. Tommy Amaker did his best in six seasons leading the team, but he never seemed to get the program over the hump, only finding his team nationally-ranked twice, and never in the top 20. Michigan was simply irrelevant nationally and hardly competitive in their own conference.

As the 2006-07 season ended in yet another missed Tournament, Bill Martin had a big decision to make at the top. He could either retain Amaker and give him one last shot, considering the heralded recruiting class he had signed that season, or he could cut ties once and for all and start over with a new head coach.

Tommy Amaker could never turn the corner in Ann Arbor

Many, including I, wanted to see Amaker get that final audition; a class of Alex Legion, Manny Harris, and Kelvin Grady was one of the best Michigan had seen in years and figured to at least get Michigan out of the Big Dance funk, away from the NIT for good. Martin, however, in one of his final significant acts as the Athletic Director at Michigan, decided to move in another direction, hiring John Beilein away from West Virginia.

Like most major decisions having to do with sports, Beilein’s hiring was questioned by many, accepted by some, and heralded by few. He was seen as a coach that made the most of lesser talent, a guy that couldn’t recruit at the level necessary to compete on the national stage. The common wisdom was that his three-point-heavy offense was less intricate than it was fluky – sure, it would win some games when the team was hot, but it would never be consistent enough to win a conference title or to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Beilein’s Elite Eight run at West Virginia was seemingly shadowed by the fact that he failed to guide his Mountaineer team to the NCAA Tournament in his final season in Morgantown.

For the first year, Beilein’s critics were out in full force as Michigan stumbled its way to a 10-22 overall record, including an abysmal 5-13 mark in Big Ten games. The season included a more-than fair share of blowout losses, an embarrassing six-game losing streak in the middle of the conference season, and defeats at the hands of Central Michigan, Western Kentucky, and, worst of all, Harvard, who had just hired Amaker after he packed his bags and headed out of Ann Arbor. Beilein was able to convince Harris and Grady to stick with their commitments and don the Maize and Blue, but he was unable to retain Legion, the once five-star talent. The future did not look bright.

The following season, Beilein brought in his first recruiting class at Michigan, a class that may have been the lowest-ranked in the history of Michigan basketball. It featured 7’0” big man Ben Cronin, who ended up flaming out because of injuries, along with Stuart Douglass and Zack Novak, both no-names out of Indiana that were far from recruiting coups for Beilein. Douglass was reportedly considering Harvard before Michigan came calling, while Novak’s well-publicized story saw his Valparaiso offer pulled. His decision was likely to come down to walking onto the baseball team at Indiana and pleading to get a shot on the basketball court or suiting up at the Division II level somewhere, until once again Beilein saw something in him that no one else did.

Michigan got back into the Big Dance and laid the groundwork for today (photo by Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

Needless to say, there was not a lot of hype for the Wolverines going into Beilein’s second season. Manny Harris would return after leading the team in scoring his freshman season alongside fellow Detroiter DeShawn Sims, who was starting to emerge as another scorer on the team, but it was quite evident that Beilein still did not have the personnel that he needed to operate his system most effectively.

Then something funny happened. In a game that was hardly talked about at all beforehand, Michigan upset No. 4 UCLA at Madison Square Garden before losing to Duke the following night in the finals of the 2K Sports Classic. Perhaps Beilein truly did have something that no one else new about quite yet.

Just two weeks later, Michigan welcomed the Blue Devils to Crisler Arena and shocked them to the tune of an 81-73 upset, the second win for Beilein over the No. 4 team in the country in fewer than three weeks. The Wolverines experienced their fair share of bumps in the road the rest of the season, but when it was all said and done, Beilein had brought Michigan back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 seasons, and much sooner than anyone had predicted. A first-round win over Clemson was just icing on the cake.

Finally, after being out of the spotlight for years and years, Michigan was back, ranked 15th in the country entering John Beilein’s third year. Recruiting had started to pick up slowly as well, with Beilein securing a commitment from four-star Californian point guard Darius Morris and a trio of three stars in Jordan Morgan, Blake McLimans, and Matt Vogrich. At least this time around about half the class had options besides Michigan.

Upsetting UCLA, and Duke a week later, signaled the beginning of the return of Michigan basketball

There was only one problem – leadership. Michigan got off to a terrible start, losing five games before Big Ten season even began, and simply looked lost. They had the talent to compete, but the players didn’t play together, and at times, they didn’t seem to care. By the middle of Big Ten season Michigan was all but out of it, and a halfcourt dagger from Evan Turner in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament ended any shot the Wolverines once had of playing in any postseason tournament. The No. 15 team in the country going into the season ended the year with only 15 wins and a losing record. Beilein’s job was far from safe just a year after people were praising him for a quick turnaround.

Something had to change in the next offseason or the Michigan basketball program was in serious danger of reverting to the dark ages. That something was leadership. Sims graduated and Harris followed him out the door, meaning Beilein’s team would probably have to rely on his system to out-perform expectations yet again.

There is no doubt that Sims and Harris laid the foundation for the turnaround, but perhaps their departure came at the right time, as Novak took the team into his hands and led the way as Darius Morris bloomed into an All-Big Ten talent at point guard, leading the team in scoring and assists. Meanwhile, Tim Hardaway, Jr., though not highly-recruited, was another Beilein player making an impact, scoring double digits his freshman year. Jon Horford and Evan Smotrycz, a four-star, 6’9” shooter joined Hardaway as late bloomers that Beilein banked on turning into serviceable players on the biggest stage. The trend was starting to become clear: Beilein still couldn’t recruit with the big boys, but by getting guys that flew under the radar and fit his system, success was within reach.

The 2010-11 season was a success indeed, as the Wolverines got back on track after a scare at the beginning of Big Ten season in which Michigan lost six straight and was in danger of reeling out of control. The game that could have been the seventh loss in a row instead turned out to be the signature win of the Beilein era to date, as his struggling squad went into East Lansing and shocked Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. The win got the team in the groove, and only a two-point, last-second loss to Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament kept Michigan from reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in well over a decade.

A heralded recruiting class has Michigan in the preseason top 5

The following offseason there was further concern, as Morris bolted for the NBA, but as everyone knows by now, a relatively unknown freshman point guard by the name of Trey Burke did his best to make everyone forget about that last season. Another successful season last year ended in a disappointing second-round loss to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament, but at this point it is clear that Beilein finally has a team full of his players, a team that he and most others feel can compete and win at the highest level. The Wolverines shared the Big Ten title for the first time in more than 20 years, a huge accomplishment for everyone involved, but perhaps even more is expected now.

Novak and Douglass were the heart of the Michigan team last season, and while their numbers didn’t jump off the page, one only needs to think back to that dubious 2009-10 season to realize that leadership will be one of the focal points early on in this season. Josh Bartelstein will be asked to lead as captain of the team off the court, but Beilein welcomes a bevy of talent in the form of both veterans and newbies, enough to see experts pegging the Wolverines in the top five teams in the country.

Without a doubt, this is unchartered territory for John Beilein, and while Ann Arbor has seen basketball teams that were thought of this highly in the past, it’s been at least 15 long years of suffering since that was the case. Looking over the past five seasons, this team has been on a roller coaster ride, but things have been looking up for three years straight. Beilein has silenced many of his doubters by continuing to eye top-level talent that goes under the radar (Glenn Robinson III), and more surprisingly, he has now shown that he is able to compete with the big boys on the recruiting trail now, grabbing the likes of Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas away from Kansas, Kentucky, Florida, and Kentucky.

The time for Beilein to show that he can bring a highly-regarded team to the promised land has come. If the Wolverines are to compete for Final Fours and National Championships into the future, they need to show this season that they can live up to lofty expectations. The talent is here, and Beilein has depth, size, and versatility in amounts he could have never imagined only two seasons ago. An All-American will run the team on the court, a seasoned junior will shoulder much of the scoring load, and two star freshmen should be ready to make an immediate impact. Will this team realize its potential and reach Atlanta in March, or will it all come crumbling down as it did three long years ago? No one knows for sure yet, and there will certainly be bumps in the road again. But for Michigan basketball, the time is now.

Season Predictions

Record:
26-6 (13-5 Big Ten)

Big Ten Finish:
T1

Postseason Finish:
Final Four

MVP:
Tim Hardaway, Jr.

Newcomer of the Year:
Glenn Robinson, III

Season Predictions: Can Michigan reach double-digit wins again?

Friday, August 24th, 2012


[Ed.: Sorry for missing the record watch story yesterday. I’m in Los Angeles for business this week and had the opportunity to drive down to San Diego and play Torrey Pines. Awesome course. And I shot a 77 from the blue tees so I’m pretty happy about that. I’ll post the record watch story next week].

With one of the nation’s toughest schedules, Michigan faces a tall task in order to match last season’s 11-2 record. To many, winning fewer than 11 games will be considered a disappointment. To Brady Hoke, anything less than a Big Ten title will be considered a failure. With 14 returning starters, can we expect another double-digit win season? Let’s take a look at each game on the schedule.

September 1 – Alabama

Eddie Lacy will be one of the best backs Michigan faces all season

The last time Michigan opened the season against a top-10 team the Wolverines steamrolled Colorado 27-3 en route to winning the national championship. Unfortunately, this time Michigan faces off with the defending national champions and it’s not a home game. Yes, Alabama lost a lot on defense, but the Crimson Tide typically rotate in a lot of players, so those replacing the departed already have experience. And they’re not scrubs either. Offensively, the Tide will be solid with an upperclassman quarterback in A.J. McCarron and another stud running waiting to shine in Eddie Lacy. If Michigan is without Fitzgerald Toussaint, it will be a long shot for the maize and blue to get out of Dallas with a win.

Alabama 31 – Michigan 20

Click here for our full Alabama preview

September 8 – Air Force

Following what will likely be a loss to open the season, Michigan returns home to face a wacky offense it won’t see again. Even though Air Force is replacing 15 starters, the Falcons are a well-oiled machine for just plugging in replacements and chugging along. The trouble is Michigan has to prepare for a triple-option offense it won’t see again all season. So how much time do you devote to practicing for it? Obviously, the week of the game you do, but with Alabama leading things off, it’s hard to imagine Hoke and Greg Mattison are putting much emphasis in fall practice on defending the triple-option. That’s why Air Force will give Michigan a game – at least for a couple of quarters. Michigan will win this one, but it will be close for a while.

Michigan 42 – Air Force 21

Click here for our full Air Force preview

September 15 – UMass

The nightmare scenario is UMass pulls off a Toledo-like performance and shocks Michigan with former Michigan running back Michael Cox running all over the place. But that’s not going to happen. UMass just doesn’t have the horses to keep up with Michigan. Quarterback Kellen Pagel threw for just 1,725 yards last season with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Mattison will harass Pagel all day and Michigan will get the win.

Michigan 45 – UMass 17

Click here for our full UMass preview

September 22 – Notre Dame

Everett Golson won the QB derby for Notre Dame

Last season, Notre Dame nearly spoiled Michigan’s Under the Lights game. The Irish dominated for three quarters before Michigan took over in the fourth and pulled off the win with two seconds left. This year, ND is hosting the game under the lights, a scenario in which the Irish are 3-0 all-time against Michigan. The biggest question of all is who will be the quarterback? Yesterday, ND head coach Brian Kelly announced that Everett Golson will start the season opener in Dublin, Ireland. Last year’s starter, Tommy Rees, is suspended for the game. Whether or not he regains his spot will largely depend on Golson’s performance in the Emerald Isle. Notre Dame will have a decent offense, but its defense has been ravaged by injuries, most notably in the secondary. It will go down to the wire, but Michigan is the most experienced team and will pull it out.

Michigan 35 – Notre Dame 31

Click here for our full Notre Dame preview

October 6 – Purdue

Last season, Purdue finished on a high note for the first time in years, winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Can the Boilermakers carry it over into 2012? Danny Hope has perhaps the most experience returning at the quarterback position in the Big Ten. Three quarterbacks who have started games are back. Three of four receivers return as do the top three rushers. The offense will be a good one. Defensively, Purdue brings back perhaps the Big Ten’s best tackle in Kawaan Short and an All-Big Ten cornerback in Ricardo Allen. Purdue has a chance to make some noise in the Leaders division with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for post season, but Michigan should win this one.

Michigan 33 – Purdue 17

Click here for our full Purdue preview

October 13 – Illinois

Illinois has a chance to be a trap game for Michigan. Yes, it’s homecoming, but it looms the week before the big battle with Michigan State. Hoke does a good job of keeping the team from looking ahead and Illinois is facing a rebuilding year with a new head coach. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase can always be dangerous, but Michigan bottled him up pretty well last season and he lost his top receiver, A.J. Jenkins, to the NFL. The top defender, Whitney Mercilus, is also gone.

Michigan 41 – Illinois 14

Click here for our full Illinois preview

October 20 – Michigan State

This could be the biggest game of the year for Michigan. Alabama is big, but it won’t do anything for Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes. Ohio State will be big, but Michigan got that monkey off its back last season. MSU has won four straight and claims its not much of a rivalry anymore. It’s now up to Michigan to prove it still has the upper hand. State loses quarterback Kirk Cousins (finally) and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keyshawn Martin but does have a good running back in LeVeon Bell. The defense should be one of the Big Ten’s best and will look to give Denard Robinson fits once again. It will be a low scoring, hard-fought battle, but Michigan pulls it out.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 20

Click here for our full Michigan State preview

October 27 – Nebraska

Memorial Stadium will be a tough place to win

A week after the bloodbath with Michigan State, Michigan has to travel to Nebraska for the first time in over a century. It’s a nigh game in a stadium the Cornhuskers are traditionally tough. Michigan will either be coming down from the high of ending its losing streak to Michigan State or down after its fifth-straight loss to the Spartans. Nebraska will be better than last season and will be tough to beat on the road.

Nebraska 37 – Michigan 31

Click here for our full Nebraska preview

November 3 Minnesota

Minnesota has an athletic quarterback in MarQueis Gray who is basically a poor man’s Denard Robinson. Unfortunately, he has no one to throw to this season. His leading returning receiver caught just 15 passes for 190 yards last season. Michigan may be a little beat up after a tough stretch against Michigan State and at Nebraska, but the Wolverines shouldn’t have much problem picking up their first win in TCF Bank Stadium.

Michigan 42 – Minnesota 17

Click here for our full Minnesota preview

November 10 – Northwestern

Like Minnesota, Northwestern has a talented and athletic quarterback. Dan Persa is gone, but Kain Colter takes the reigns. He led the Wildcats in rushing last season, caught 43 passes for 466 yards and played extended minutes in three games at quarterback, completing 67 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and just one interception. Thankfully for Colter, USC transfer Kyle Prater was granted permission from the NCAA to play this season, so the pair could be one of the best QB-WR duos in the conference. Three starters are gone from the Wildcat secondary which was torched by Michigan last year. Expect this game to follow a similar mold as last season’s matchup: close in the first half and Michigan pulls away in the second.

Michigan 40 – Northwestern 23

Click here for our full Northwestern preview

October 17 – Iowa

Like Michigan State, Iowa has been a bit of a bugaboo for Michigan as of late. The Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan three straight times. This game falls a week before Michigan travels to Ohio State, so there’s always the possibility of overlooking Iowa, but as mentioned above, Hoke won’t allow that. Iowa has one of the conference’s best quarterbacks in James Vandenberg. He’ll need some skills position players to step up, however, with the departure of Marvin McNutt and a depleted running back corps due to injuries, suspensions, and transfers. The defensive line is young, but this late in the season that shouldn’t matter. The back seven will be strong. Iowa needs its defense to be dominant this season, at least until some offensive playmakers emerge. Michigan will be deep in the race for the Big Ten Legends division title, so don’t expect a letdown here.

Michigan 35 – Iowa 17

Click here for our full Iowa preview

Urban Meyer will look to get off to a good start in the rivarly

November 27 – Ohio State

Urban Meyer has been getting the headlines and media coverage all off season and he hasn’t even coached a game in Columbus yet. Despite being ineligible for the postseason, the Buckeyes’ schedule is favorable enough to yield a very good season. Quarterback Braxton Miller has a ton of potential if – similar to Denard Robinson – he can refine his passing game. The Buckeye defense will be strong as usual led by defensive end John Simon. With no postseason, this is Ohio State’s bowl game. It’s in the Horseshoe where Michigan hasn’t won since 2000. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Michigan winning this one. Let’s home I’m wrong.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 27

Click here for our full Ohio State preview

That adds up to a 9-3 record, the same as I predicted last season. I think it’s asking too much to expect 10 wins and it’s entirely possible to finish 8-4 or even 7-5 with a few bad breaks. A senior Denard Robinson should negate those bad breaks and Michigan’s defense will be better than most experts think, so 9-3 looks like a realistic expectation. Obviously, a Big Ten title game and a bowl game would allow Michigan to reach 10 or 11 wins, so that would make for a successful season and set up big expectations for 2013.

2012 opponent preview: Air Force

Monday, July 23rd, 2012


The sixth toughest opponent on the schedule is the Air Force Falcons. If this sounds like a farce, read below to find out why a team that went 7-6 last season and returns just six starters and its kicker and punter is a tougher matchup than six other opponents. Previously, we looked at, from easiest to toughest, UMass, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, and Purdue.

Overview

Head coach Troy Calhoun has guided the Falcons to five consecutive winning seasons and bowl games

When looking for successful “mid-majors” in college football, it’s hard not to think of Air Force. The Falcons are traditionally consistent – they have won at least seven games in each of the last five seasons – despite not having the talent pool of the top-tier teams. A big reason for that success is the triple option offense that opposing teams have trouble preparing for and a bend-but-don’t-break 3-4 defense.

Head Coach Troy Calhoun enters his sixth season at the helm after taking over for the successful Fisher DeBerry. The former Air Force quarterback has guided the Falcons to a 41-24 record and five straight bowl games. In fact, he’s the first coach in AF history to have four straight seasons with eight or more wins and bowl games. This year’s Air Force team, however, will have trouble living up to that recent success.

Offense

Calhoun has to replace last year’s starting quarterback, running back, top three receivers, four offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, three linebackers, top two cornerbacks, and best safety. In short, it’s a rebuilding year in Colorado Springs.

Fifth-year senior Connor Dietz will take the reigns from Tim Jefferson at quarterback. The Columbus native threw just nine passes for 128 yards last season, but rushed 38 times for 252 yards. His running mate in the backfield will be senior Mike DeWitt, a big back who was mainly used as a goal line specialist last season, scoring 12 touchdowns. Wes Cobb, a starting fullback last season, will also man the backfield and sophomore Jon Lee will get a chance to show what he can do as well.

While the Falcons ran 78 percent of the time last season, the play action passing game was effective and the loss of receivers Zack Kauth and Jonathan Warzeka will be felt. The two combined to catch 62 of the 123 receptions for 1,062 yards and nine touchdowns. Mikel Hunter, Drew Coleman, and Ty MacArthur will need to step up and make big plays.

Four offensive linemen need to be replaced, including All-MWC guard A.J. Wallerstein, but the Falcons do have several experienced linemen waiting in the wings. Tackle Jason Kons is the elder statesman, having started the past two seasons.

Defense

Defensively, Air Force will rely on returning outside linebackers Alex Means and Jamil Cooks to get the job done. Replacing leading tackler Brady Amack and fellow middle linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole won’t be easy, nor will replacing linemen Harry Kehs, Ryan Gardner, and Ross Flemming.

Austin Nicklas, who had four tackles for loss a year ago will likely get the nod at one middle linebacker spot and Josh Kusan will likely get the other. Defensive end Nick Fitzgerald returns and so does safety Anthony Wooding, Jr, but the rest of the spots on defense are up for grabs heading into fall camp. In the secondary, strong safety Brian Lindsay will be the leader and a host of newcomers will need to step up.

Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Idaho State
Sept. 8 @ Michigan
Sept. 22 @ UNLV
Sept. 29 Colorado State
Oct. 6 Navy
Oct. 13 @ Wyoming
Oct. 20 New Mexico
Oct. 27 Nevada
Nov. 3 @ Army
Nov. 10 @ San Diego State
Nov. 17 Hawaii
Nov. 24 @ Fresno State

New defensive coordinator Charlton Warren, who was promoted from secondary coach/co-defensive coordinator, promises a more aggressive defense, but he has his work cut out for him. The Falcons allowed 28.4 points per game last season, but a whopping 39.8 in its six losses.

Special Teams

Kicker Parker Herrington returns from a 15-for-18 season, though he missed as many extra points as he did field goals. Punter David Baska also returns from a season in which he averaged 40.8 yards per punt. In the return game, Air Force averaged 10.8 yards per punt return, good for 30th nationally, but ranked 69th in kick returns.

Outlook

As you can see, questions abound for Calhoun, but one would be hard pressed to find a team that does a better job of relying on upperclassmen and reloading each and every season. In a relatively weak Mountain West Conference this season, Air Force has a chance to continue its winning record streak, but with so many starters to replace, seven wins will be the ceiling.

What it means for Michigan

The triple-option system gives fits to opposing defensive coordinators – the Falcons rushed for 565 yards against Notre Dame last season and 458 against Oklahoma in 2010 – and makes it easier for Air Force to plug in new starters and still achieve success. The problem with the system is that opposing teams don’t prepare for offenses like it all season, and they have little reason to do so when they only face an offense like it once in a blue moon. That means there are bound to be defensive breakdowns in the game, especially early on.

For that reason, even though Air Force returns just six starters, the Falcons are the sixth toughest opponent on the schedule. Michigan may struggle to contain the AF run game for a while, but Greg Mattison will have his players disciplined enough to figure it out. The Air Force defense is what will most allow Michigan to thrive. It should be one of the Wolverines’ highest scoring games of the season.

The other reason it figures to be a tough game is that it falls the week after the opener against Alabama. Michigan will either be licking its wounds or coming down from an emotional high, which could make for an interesting trap game.

Maize and Go Blue goes to the newsstand

Thursday, July 19th, 2012


As I’m sure you’re aware by now, yours truly served as the senior editor of the Michigan football season preview magazine published by Lindy’s Sports. I also wrote quite a few pieces and had the fortune of getting a host of other great writers from around the Michigan and college football blogosphere to pen some stories as well.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to get out to Barnes & Noble and see it firsthand and snap a few photos. If you haven’t picked one up, make sure to do so. Barnes & Noble and Kroger are the two stores I know of that carry it. If you’re out of state, ordering directly from the Lindy’s site is your best bet.

In the Huddle in the wild

Holding our own with the rest of the annuals

The cover

An exclusive Q&A by yours truly with Coach Hoke

Great article about Denard's legacy by Tab Bamford

A unique look back at the 1997 national championship

Back in the saddle again

Thursday, June 21st, 2012


Sorry for my absence the past couple of months. I promise I wasn’t neglecting Michigan football; quite the opposite rather. I’m sure you’re aware of the national and regional preview guides that have been put out by Lindy’s Sports in past years. Well, this year they’re releasing individual team guides for a handful of the premier teams. Obviously, Michigan is one of them and I was given the opportunity to serve as the editor. In order to do so, however, I had to devote all of my non-working time to that. But two months, 112 pages, and over 54,000 words later, I think it turned out great. I’m excited to see the final product and you’re bound to like it as well.

The magazine hits stores on July 17, just in time for fall camp to begin. It will be sold in various stores around Michigan and nationally in Barnes & Noble. You can also pre-order it by clicking here (or on the ad on the right sidebar). It’s stuffed with all the information you’ll need to get ready for the upcoming season, including:

- Position-by-position previews
- A breakdown of each opponent
- A guide to each of Michigan’s road destinations
- Exclusive interviews with Brady Hoke and Al Borges
- Chris Brown from Smart Football and Grantland breaks down how Greg Mattison and Curt Mallory were able to fix the porous secondary
- Player features of Denard Robinson, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Devin Gardner, Jordan Kovacs, and Blake Countess
- A look back at the 1997 national championship, 15 years later, from the perspective of sharing it with Nebraska, including exclusive quotes from Hoke and then-Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne
- Tons of recruiting content from Tremendous, including breakdowns of the 2013 and current 2013 classes, analysis of Hoke’s recruiting, and exclusive interviews with Erik Magnuson, Ondre Pipkins, and Patrick Kugler
- And more…

As you can see, the magazine is packed with content from some of the best Michigan insiders. You’ll definitely want to check it out for the complete season preview.

As for this site, I plan to get regular content up and going within the next week or so, bringing you right up to the season opener and then rolling into the regular in-season programing and contests. I’m looking forward to another great season of Michigan football and I know you are too. The excitement is only going to grow over the next ten weeks and we’ll do our best to get you prepared. So check back often and make sure to buy the magazine when it drops on July 17th!

2011-12 Michigan Basketball Season Preview

Thursday, November 10th, 2011


Early November is always the weirdest time of the year sports-wise as baseball comes to an end, football is in full-swing, and basketball is just beginning. Every year, it’s hard to switch gears and think about basketball when Michigan football is in the thick of the Big Ten title hunt, but this year feels different. There’s a lot of excitement swirling around the Michigan basketball program right now, and for good measure.

Tim Hardaway Jr leads Michigan into battle this season (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

Last year’s team fell just two points short of an upset of Duke and a berth in the Sweet 16. Everybody except point guard Darius Morris returns and this year’s team features a highly-touted freshman point guard to replace him, along with a veteran unit. Add to all of that last week’s commitment from the nation’s second-rated player in the class of 2012, and coach John Beilein is building himself quite the program in Ann Arbor.

The 2009 season was supposed to be a big one for the Wolverines and I optimistically predicted 21-9. But Michigan stumbled to a 15-17 record, missing the NCAA tournament. Last year, Michigan had to replace Manny Harris and prospects looked bleak, at least as far as I was concerned. I took the pessimistic approach, predicting 15-16, but the Maize and Blue proved me wrong, turning a 1-6 conference start into a 9-9 Big Ten finish and a near-Sweet 16 run.

With everybody but Morris returning, Michigan figures to be right in the thick of a powerful Big Ten race. The Wolverines enter the season ranked 18th in the Preseason AP poll and predicted to finish in the top three or four in the conference. Let’s take a look at the team, the schedule, and the outlook.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The Team:

There’s no question that the offense will revolve around Tim Hardaway Jr. The sophomore from Miami, Fla. – and yes, if you didn’t follow Michigan basketball last season, he’s the son of the NBA great – is the leading returning scorer, averaging 13.9 points per game last season (Morris led the team with 15). He started every game, was Michigan’s second-best free throw shooter, shot 37 percent from 3-point land, and led the Wolverines in scoring in Big Ten play, averaging 14.9 points per game.

In the offseason, Hardaway played for Team USA at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championships. While he didn’t start, he averaged 9.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game, and sharpened his game against the world’s best at his age.

While Hardaway is Michigan’s best player, the unquestioned leader of the team is senior guard Zack Novak. The 6’4″ 210-pound lefty from Chesterton, Ind. has started 88 of 100 career games and ranks fifth in Michigan history in three-pointers made and attempted. Last season, Novak averaged 8.9 points per game and led Michigan in rebounding with 5.8 rebounds per game.

Defense is what will earn playing time for freshman point guard Trey Burke (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

He’s been a model of consistency and hard work since arriving in Beilein’s first full recruiting class. He’s always the first to chase down a loose ball, to dive head first, to scrap for every rebound, and to take on the opponent’s best guard.

His classmate Stu Douglass is a 6’3″ 200-pound sharp-shooter, also from Indiana. While he mostly lost his starting spot last year (12 starts after starting 23 games in each of his freshman and sophomore seasons), he served as Michigan’s captain, averaged 7.1 points and three rebounds per game, while playing 30 minutes a game. He’ll play a key role for the Wolverines this season in both leadership and outside shooting. He’ll likely share the point guard responsibilities with freshman Trey Burke.

Speaking of Burke, he’ll fill the void Morris left as Michigan’s ball-handler. He’s a confident, 5’11″ 180-pound point guard from Columbus, Ohio. He played with Ohio State star Jared Sullinger, and for Sullinger’s dad, at Northland High School, leading the Vikings to a state runner-up finish last season. He was named the Associated Press Ohio Mr. Basketball and was a Parade Magazine All-America second-team selection.

Another backcourt contributor is junior Matt Vogrich. He played in all but one game last season, averaging 3.2 points per game, while shooting 39 percent from three-point range. In Michigan’s opening round NCAA Tournament win over Tennessee, Vogrich hit 5-of-5 shots from the field, scoring 11 points in 16 minutes. Though not a starter, he’ll continue to give Michigan a spark off the bench with his shooting prowess.

In the frontcourt, Evan Smotrycz is a bit of a ‘tweener and figures to play a key role for the Wolverines this season He’s 6’9″ and 235 pounds, and averaged 6.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last season as a freshman. In Michigan’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge win over Clemson last season, Smotrycz led the Wolverines with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

What he did best was stretch the floor for Michigan’s post players. He was a tough matchup, with athleticism to go to the basket, but 38 percent accuracy from three-point range. His weakness, however, was on the defensive side of the ball. That will need to improve this season.

Jordan Morgan is the main man on the post. The 6’8″ redshirt sophomore is up to 250 pounds, 10 heavier than he was a year ago. It should help him with defending some of the Big Ten’s big men in the grueling conference play. Last year, he was the team’s most improved player, averaging 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest. His best game was a 27-point performance against Northwestern, and he led the Big Ten in field goal percentage. Along with Novak and Hardaway, he started all 35 games.

The Newcomers
Trey Burke Carlton Brundidge Max Bielfeldt Sai Tummala
3 2 34 24
G G F F
6’1″ 6’2″ 6’8″ 6’7″
175 lbs. 200 lbs. 240 lbs. 200 lbs.
Columbus, Ohio Southfield, Mich. Peoria, Ill. Phoenix, Ariz.
Northland H.S. Southfield H.S. Notre Dame Prep Brophy College Prep

Helping him out down low is sophomore Jon Horford. He averaged just two points and two rebounds a game last season, but has beefed up from 220 to 250 pounds since then, which like Morgan, will help him in the rough and rugged Big Ten. He played in 29 of the 35 games a year ago, averaging just under seven minutes per game, but should see his role vastly increase this season. In Michigan’s exhibition win over Wayne State last Friday, he was one of just four Wolverines to score, netting six points in 17 minutes of action, although he missed all five free throws attempted.

Blake McLimans struggled with his shot last year, hitting just 1-of-19 three-point attempts. The 6’10″ junior forward from Hamburg, N.Y. played five minutes a game and was supposed to be a big man that could shoot. Unfortunately, they didn’t fall. How much his stroke has improved this season could determine how much his role increases.

One candidate to take some of his minutes is freshman Max Bielfeldt. A bit undersized at 6’7″ and 240 pounds, the freshman from Peoria, Ill. is a bruiser. He averaged 20 points and 11.2 rebounds a game in his career at Notre Dame Prep and was named to the AP Class 3A All-State first team.

Colton Christian is an interesting big man for the Wolverines. As a freshman last year, he played in 27 of the 35 games, averaging just under five minutes a game, but scored just four points. His specialty was rebounding and was often brought in just for that purpose. If he can improve his offensive production, he will likely see his role increase.

Another freshman and candidate for a bit of playing time here and there is Carlton Brundidge. A 6’1″ 190-pound guard from Southfield, Mich., Brundidge figures to add a slasher to Michigan’s backcourt. He averaged 20.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.8 assists at Southfield High School and was named to the AP Class A All-State first team last season. How much he will see the court this season is up in the air – he played just two minutes last Friday – but he should be a solid contributor as his career progresses.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The Schedule:

Michigan begins with three cakewalks to shake off the rust that was evident in last week’s exhibition. Ferris State was the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season champion a year ago, but that’s Div. II. Towson and Western Illinois combined to go 11-49.

After those three, things get interesting. On Nov. 21, Michigan travels to Hawaii to participate in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. The first game is against #9 Memphis, which went 25-9 last season. Depending on the result, the next game would pit Michigan against one of the two teams it faced in last springs NCAA Tournament – Duke or Tennessee. Duke is ranked 6th in the preseason polls, while Tennessee looks to have dropped off considerably from the Bruce Pearl years.

The third game of the Maui could be anywhere from Kansas or UCLA (ranked 13th and 17th nationally, respectively) to Chaminade, depending on how Michigan fares in the first two.

Games to Watch
Date Team Rank Location Time TV
Mon. Nov. 21 Memphis 9 Lahaina, Hawaii 3 p.m. ESPN2
Tues. Nov. 22 Duke or Tennessee 6/NR Lahaina, Hawaii TBD ESPN2
Tues. Nov. 29 Virginia Charlottesville, Va. 7 p.m. ESPN2
Sat. Jan. 8 Wisconsin 14 Ann Arbor, Mich. TBA CBS
Tue. Jan. 17 Michigan State Ann Arbor, Mich. 7 p.m. ESPN
Sun. Jan. 29 Ohio State 3 Columbus, Ohio 1 p.m. CBS
Sun. Feb. 5 Michigan State East Lansing, Mich. 1 p.m. CBS
Sat. Feb. 18 Ohio State 3 Ann Arbor, Mich. 9 p.m. ESPN

After returning back to the mainland, Michigan has to travel to Charlottesville, Va. to battle the Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Virginia was 16-15 a year ago, but returns nearly everybody and is picked to finish in the top third of the ACC.

Following that gauntlet, Michigan gets a bit of a breather before beginning Big Ten play, with four of the remaining five out-of-conference games at home, and the fifth – against Oakland – at the Palace at Auburn Hills. Oakland and Iowa State won’t be pushovers, but are should-wins. Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Alabama A&M, and Bradley should help improve Michigan’s record.

Big Ten play begins with two home games, against Penn State and Minnesota, then a road trip to Indiana before returning home for the first big test against #14 Wisconsin.

After doing battle with Northwestern and Iowa, Michigan returns home on Jan. 17 to face Michigan State, which it swept last season, and then travels out of conference to face Arkansas. The Razorbacks finished 18-13 a year ago, but have a lot of holes to fill this season.

Michigan returns to Big Ten play for what should be the key stretch of the conference slate. A home battle with Indiana is sandwiched between road trips to Purdue, #3 Ohio State, Michigan State, and Nebraska. How Michigan fares during that five-game stretch could determine its post-season fate, but it doesn’t get any easier from there. Illinois comes to town and then the Buckeyes come calling.

At this point, Michigan will either be jockeying for a Big Ten title or fighting for its life on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The last four games should help, as Michigan visits Northwestern, returns home for Purdue, and then travels to Illinois and Penn State to close the season.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The Outlook:

While not the toughest schedule in the nation, it’s certainly not an easy one either. The Big Ten is never an easy conference to play in, and with the Maui Invitational, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the mid-conference trip to Fayetteville, Michigan hasn’t done itself any favors with the schedule. If the Wolverines take care of business, that will be an advantage come tournament time. If not, it could come back to bite them.

Even with a pair of experienced seniors – Novak and Douglass – Michigan is still a fairly young team. That shouldn’t make much of a difference, however, since the experience Michigan has fits together nicely. Hardaway shouldn’t have much trouble getting his points and assuming the playmaker role he took on during Big Ten play last year.

Morgan and Horford down low should be more of a presence than a year ago, which should help open up Novak, Douglass, and Vogrich from the outside.

It really falls on the shoulders of freshman point guard Burke. He will undoubtedly struggle at times, but how he goes should go Michigan. If he’s able to take care of the ball, distribute effectively, and play solid defense, all of which he is certainly capable of, Michigan should be a Big Ten title contendor. But that’s a lot to ask of a true freshman.

Michigan will need Novak and Douglass’ shots to fall and one of the two big men to become consistent offensive weapons.

The Wolverines should hold serve at home with a revamped and reenergized Maize Rage student section, as well as an updated Crisler Arena, so don’t expect many home losses.

Look for a 10-3 non-conference record with a loss in the Maui, a loss to Virginia, and a surprising let-down loss to either Oakland or Arkansas. I also predict a 12-6 Big Ten record with splits against Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue, a loss to Wisconsin, and one upset at the hands of Northwestern, Iowa, or Minnesota.

That would put Michigan’s final regular season record at 22-9 (12-6) and near the top of the Big Ten, but squarely in the NCAA Tournament with a couple of wins in the Big Ten Tournament. As always, the disclaimer applies that I hope I’m wrong and the Wolverines do much better, but with Morris still at the helm, I would be a lot more confident.

Another Season of Meechigan Football is Upon Us

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011


Football is a religion and Saturday is the holy day of obligation. Legendary Michigan football broadcaster Bob Ufer uttered those words many years ago and they still ring true today. Each year, as summer draws to a close and hurricane season gears up, we can hardly hold back our anticipation of Saturdays spent in front of the TV, stuffing our mouths with burgers and beer, and watching the Maize and Blue take the field to The Victors.

Bob Ufer's quotes still live on in Ann Arbor every Saturday

This season, we begin anew with “Michigan Man” Brady Hoke at the helm looking to return Michigan football back to what Bo Schembechler established 42 years ago and Moeller and Lloyd carried on before Rich Rodriguez was brought in to transform the program into an SEC team.

If you’ve read this blog for the past couple of seasons, it’s no secret that I supported Rodriguez and truly believed it could have eventually worked out. But I’m not going to dwell on that any longer, since that era is over and each thing Hoke has done since taking over has effectively brought Michigan a few giant steps in the right direction.

So as we begin the 132nd season of Michigan football this Saturday, let’s take a look at what we can expect from our beloved Wolverines.

September 3 – Western Michigan

Junior quarterback Alex Carder brings a talented passing attack into Ann Arbor to challenge Michigan’s rehabbed secondary. Carder threw for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions a year ago. Can Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, both of whom return from injuries, hold Bronco receiver Jordan White in check?

Defensively, WMU is inexperienced in the secondary, but has a solid line that will have to control Denard Robinson. Nobody really knows what to expect from Michigan’s offense in its first year under Al Borges, but look for a somewhat vanilla playbook so as not to show too much for Notre Dame a week later.

Michigan 31 – Western Michigan 17

September 10 – Notre Dame

A lot of people are high on the Irish this season with 17 returning starters including linebacker Manti Te’o and receiver Michael Floyd. Both are impact players on their respective side of the ball. Michigan held on to beat ND in South Bend last season, but did so by knocking quarterback Dayne Crist out of the game. Crist is back this season and the Irish finished last season strong, winning four straight including at USC and a 33-17 Sun Bowl victory over Miami.

This year’s matchup has ESPN Game Day in attendance for the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium history and Michigan will be looking to win for the fifth time in six years. Expect a high-scoring shootout in this one, going right down to the wire.

Michigan 34 – Notre Dame 31

September 17 – Eastern Michigan

Former Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English is trying to build the Eagles into Mid-American Conference contenders, but it’s been slow going thus far. After a winless season two years ago, EMU won two games last season and only returns 12 starters. Quarterback Alex Gillett is more of a runner than a true passer, having ran for 766 yards last season and thrown for just 1,633 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Defensively, the Eagles return three starters on the line and two in the secondary, but ranked at the bottom nationally in scoring, rushing, and total defense a year ago.

Even with Mike Hart on the sidelines coaching EMU’s running backs, don’t expect this one to be a contest.

Michigan 52 – Eastern Michigan 21

September 24 – San Diego State

Ryan Lindley may be the best QB Michigan will face this season

Brady Hoke’s old team will be coming to Ann Arbor hoping to throw a wrench into the coach’s plans to turn Michigan around. Unfortunately for Michigan, Hoke left the Aztecs in great condition, fresh off a 9-4 record and a 35-14 Poinsettia Bowl victory over Navy.

Fourteen starters return including quarterback Ryan Lindley, who enters as a fourth-year starter, having thrown for 9,537 yards and 67 touchdowns in his career against just 39 interceptions. If Michigan doesn’t have its secondary shored up by Week 4, Lindley has the talent to pick it apart, although last season’s top two receivers are gone.

Sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman, last year’s Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, returns as a pass catching threat out of the backfield. He ran for 1,304 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season with the Aztecs.

On the defensive side, only five starters return, but it was a group that ranked in the top third in college football a year ago. New head coach Rocky Long, despite being a quarterback in his playing days, has been a defensive coordinator most of his coaching career and guided New Mexico to one of the nation’s top defenses throughout the 2000s.

Many will circle this game on the schedule as a toss-up, but expect Hoke to have the Maize and Blue playing with renewed vigor and toughness and pull out a close defensive battle.

Michigan 24 – San Diego State 20

October 1 – Minnesota

Another school with a new head coach, Minnesota returns 15 starters from a squad that went 3-9 a year ago. Jerry Kill succeeded at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, but it will take a lot more to turn Minnesota into a Big Ten contender.

The first thing Kill did was move the Gophers’ second-leading receiver, Marqueis Gray, to quarterback, the position he played at Ben Davis High School in Indiana as the nations third-ranked dual-thread quarterback. Despite losing Gray at the receiver position, the Gophers still have a threat in Da’jon McKnight, a 6’3″ wideout who caught 10 touchdown passes last season.

On defense, Minnesota ranked last in the Big Ten in rush defense last season and recorded a nation-low nine sacks. Expect Michigan to pound the ball on the ground early and often with a few long pass plays here and there when the defense keys on the run.

Michigan 41 – Minnesota 17

October 8 – Northwestern

Michigan’s first road trip of the season is across Lake Michigan to take on a dangerous Northwestern team that returns 17 starters including quarterback Dan Persa, who set the Big Ten record for completion percentage (73.5). What remains to be seen is whether he can fully recover from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon at the end of last season. Receivers Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore also return to give Persa some weapons. The main question is who will step up in the backfield.

Can Dan Persa fully recover from a ruptured Achilles' tendon?

Defensively, seven starters return, including three-fourths of the secondary, but must fill some holes in the middle. The Wildcats gave up 29 points per game last season and finished with the 97th-ranked total defense. Those numbers are a bit skewed, considering the entire team fell apart when Persa went down.

A night game on the road could give Michigan fits and this is definitely a trap game before the battle with Michigan State. But Hoke won’t let the veteran group get ahead of itself and Michigan will pull away late in the game in front of a pro-Michigan crowd.

Michigan 32 – Northwestern 24

October 15 – Michigan State

When Hoke took over, he immediately put an emphasis on Michigan’s rivalry games. This is one that he has been looking forward to as Michigan gets a chance to retake the upperhand in the sibling battle for the state of Michigan.

The Spartans are one of the front-runners to win the Big Ten, fresh off an 11-win season and a share of the Big Ten crown. They have all the makings of a BCS caliber team with a returning senior quarterback in Kirk Cousins, three talented backs in Edwin Baker (the Big Ten’s leading returning rusher), Le’Veon Bell, and Larry Caper, and two experienced receivers in B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. The line is the only question mark on the offensive side, having to replace three starters.

Defensively, six starters return, led by tackle Jerel Worthy and head coach Mark Dantonio expects big things from end William Gholston. The secondary will need to find a couple to step up from last season’s 60th-ranked pass defense.

Coming off a few close games, Michigan will have a hard time beating the Spartans in East Lansing. However, MSU will be coming off a road matchup with Ohio State. Still, I think Michigan is a year away from beating Dantonio’s crew and we’ll have to suffer through another year without state bragging rights.

Michigan State 33 – Michigan 27

October 29 – Purdue

Purdue suffered a huge loss when quarterback Rob Henry tore his ACL last week, but will need former Miami transfer Robert Marve to step up. Marve, ironically, tore his ACL last season, opening the door for Henry to take over. Marve is more of a pocket passer suited for a Purdue offense, but he will need the line to protect him better than last season.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Boilers have to replace All-American end Ryan Kerrigan, but there are some talented players remaining. Tackle Kawann Short and corner Ricardo Allen will need to step up.

Michigan may be coming off a loss to rival Michigan State and will be hungry for a win, so look for the Wolverines to bounce back with a solid effort before heading into the tough stretch of the schedule.

Michigan 35 – Purdue 17

November 5 – Iowa

Iowa could be a dark horse contender for the Big Ten title, although it probably isn’t likely since the Hawkeyes return just 11 starters. At quarterback, replacing Ricky Stanzi should be fairly smooth with junior James Vandenberg having gained some experience a couple of seasons ago when Stanzi went down with an injury. He’ll have a great line to stand behind and a big, talented receiver in Marvin McNutt to throw to, as well as an emerging star running back in Marcus Coker.

Defensively, Iowa is always stout, but lost three key starters in Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, and Karl Klug. Defensive end Broderick Binns recorded 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2009 and will be one to watch this season. Linebacker James Morris was a Freshman All-American last season and cornerback Shaun Prater was All-Big Ten.

In Iowa City, Michigan will have a hard time getting the win. This may be the first time we get to see how Hoke’s pro-style offense fares against the a true Big Ten defense. We all know how Rich Rodriguez’s vaunted offenses struggled in late Big Ten play, but Hoke is bringing the toughness back to Ann Arbor. Still, Michigan will probably see a drop-off offensively in this one.

Iowa 24 – Michigan 20

November 12 – Illinois

Every season, Ron Zook seems to be on the hot seat. Known as a great recruiter but mediocre coach, Zook brought in two new coordinators last season and finished with a 7-6 record and a dominating 38-14 bowl win over Baylor. He’ll have a hard time improving on that this season after losing his top three players, running back Mikel Leshoure, defensive tackle Corey Liuget, and linebacker Martez Wilson.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase leads the Illini after earning Freshman All-America honors a year ago. If not for Denard Robinson, Scheelhaase may have been the talk of the Big Ten at the quarterback position, having thrown for 1,825 yards, 17 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, and run for 868 yards and five touchdowns.

On defense, only four starters return. The ability to replace Liuget and Wilson will determine whether the Illini can reach a second-straight bowl game or not.

Michigan will need to win this one with Nebraska and Ohio State remaining. Don’t expect another record-setting offensive day for both teams, but Michigan should be able to put up plenty of points once again.

Michigan 41 – Illinois 27

November 19 – Nebraska

The last time Michigan and Nebraska played, in the 2005 Alamo Bowl, it was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for the Maize and Blue. Michigan lost 32-28. In 1997, Nebraska stole some of Michigan’s thunder when it claimed the national title in the Coaches Poll. Needless to say, Michigan is due.

Luke Fickell has a tough task taking over from Jim Tressel

Unfortunately, Nebraska is probably the favorite to win the Big Ten in its first season in the conference. Led by quarterback Taylor Martinez and defensive tackle Jared Crick, Nebraska will be a force this season. The nation’s ninth-best scoring defense and 11th-best total defense last season, the Huskers will give Michigan fits .

Nebraska 27 – Michigan 20

November 26 – Ohio State

The single-most important game on the schedule got a lot more interesting over the offseason when Jim Tressel was forced to resign, Terrelle Pryor bolted for the NFL, and five other players were suspended for the first five games due to an improper benefits scandal in Columbus. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell takes over a still-loaded team and will have to find a way to make it through the first five games unscathed, but by the time the Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor, all should be fixed.

Senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller are battling it out for the starting spot, all the while trying to do so with unproven youngsters at running back, receiver, and offensive line for the first five games.

Defensively, the Bucks are always strong and weren’t hit as hard with suspensions. However, only four starters return. Two new corners will need to step up, but Ohio State always has athletic, talented players to retool that position.

The first few weeks will be interesting, and may keep Ohio State from winning the Big Ten, but they’ll be ready for Michigan come November. I just think the combination of Hoke’s emphasis on beating Ohio, and Fickell’s first season at the helm with a new quarterback will lead to Michigan breaking the decade-long spell that Tressel had on the Wolverines.

Michigan 31 – Ohio State 21

The forecast: 9-3

The so-called “experts” aren’t as high on Michigan, but the Wolverines have enough talent and experience on offense to continue to put up points like they did last season. The difference will be the mentality that Hoke has instilled to keep the offense going late in the season. Defensively, there are still holes and question marks, but a stout line and a rebuilt secondary is bound to improve under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Notre Dame and Ohio State are coin flip games that could be the difference between 9-3 and 7-5.