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.