|M Football 2008- Not A Contender?
Sunday, August 14, 2008 - Andy Andersen
It seems hardly anyone out in football land thinks that the Wolverines have any chance at all to contend for the 2008 Big Ten Championship, except of course for the most hardened Wolverine fans. Most, if not all the so-called gurus and prognosticators, like ESPN’s Scarlet and Gray Herbstreit and others, have relegated the Wolverines to the Big Ten dumpster, calling them a weakling in a weak football league, and they don’t consistently rate them a top twenty team.
They point out the loss of Henne, Long and Manningham, the installation of a new spread option system, the lack of an experienced OL, and established, experienced QBs, and a decline in the general talent level of the offense for this year, plus coaching staff members that have not coached together as a unit before. Some bemoan the fact that if Sheridan starts at QB, a walk on sophomore (now with a scholarship) will have the keys to the offensive machine. Some gleefully predict a 6-6 record or worse, especially at the locations of our “friendly” competitors like Michigan State.
MSU has rediscovered football! Again. Suddenly, because of Mark D’Antonio’s late ties to the Buckeyes, the Spartys have become tOSU north, they think. They cite the experience of Hoyer at QB, of a leading Big Ten rusher Ringer at TB, the genius of D’Antonio. They spew the idea that this is not the same old MSU that will fold late in games and the stretch. They anticipate the dawn of a new era, dominating Michigan, out recruiting Michigan (especially in State), and rubbing the Wolverine’s nose in it with untold victories. This is what happens every time they think Michigan is down.
All this is on the basis of one fine recruiting year, a recent minor bowl visit, and the fact Michigan is a program in transition while their coach has a year under his belt.
This kind of hopeful anticipation of this season is also spread across the Big Ten at places such as Happy Valley, Columbus, and Madison, and outside the conference in South Bend.
Will Coach Rodriguez’s Wolverines be able to overcome their obvious problems and produce a Big Ten title contender, and dampen the enthusiasm in at least some of the above locations? In time there is no question the answer will be yes, but this season is the immediate question, and the answer has to be a definite maybe.
No one knows the answer at this point (only about six days of practice into the season). Probably RR and the Coaches don’t know exactly what they have yet. It is also certain that practice scrimmages are not being observed by most, if any, of the press. It is my understanding there is more press access than last year, but not to that extent. The openness and availability of RR to the press has been, and is, laudable.
MICHIGAN COULD CONTEND IF:
- the defense lives up to its preseason billing.
- no season ending injuries happen to the OL positions, and they become a solid unit in a new system. The offensive line must continue todevelop remaining starter from last year. RR wants his players to learn a variety of positions. This is a plus, but game experience is lacking. Another plus is that most of these players have had some time in the program. Even though the system has changed that is a plus, but the OL is the iffiest area on the team, with the exception of QB.
- no season ending injuries happen to the QB position, and the QBs can get the ball to the offensive playmakers. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan are contending, with one leading one day and the other the next. My guess is that it will end up Threet on the basis of arm strength but they both could see action. Both will probably play some and there will be others like Carlos Brown taking a few snaps in some situations, it appears.
- some freshman playmakers contribute significantly. There are a number of speedy freshman slot receiver/running backs on the team. RR has said that maybe nine freshman would play this year. Right now, we are hearing about RBs/slots Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw, who are described as fast and explosive, were in Ann Arbor in the summer months. Martavious Odoms has also gained mention, among others. Defensively BB Boubacar Cissoko, and Brandon Smith, LBs JT Floyd, and JB Fitzgerald. DL Mike Martin might play. Also, Dan O’Neill who might make the two deep at OL. OL Rickey Barnum and Rocky Khoury might play. Watch WR Darryl Stonum who continues to impress, and enrolled early so was active at spring practice.
- special teams contribute offensively and defensively. They haven’t practiced live much yet, but there are definitely some scat-backs like Roy Roundtree and others that will get a shot at returns, and the kickers are strong.
There will be a certain amount of culture shock, as they play “spot the ball”. When the official spots the ball the Blue will be ready to go with no huddle, or at least that seems the plan. The rules have changed regarding the game/play clock. It is now 40 seconds, not 25 seconds, and starts when the previous play is finished. This will benefit RR’s system. He wants to speed the game up. The squad will continue to grow by virtue of walk-ons, maybe up to 125 members. There will be some roll out punts, and starters may play on special teams. The new Adidas uniforms have changed some but not the helmets.
This will be as challenging a season as any in recent memory, and also as interesting as any. It is certainly more unpredictable than most, for fans and opponents. Especially for opponents because of the lack of tape and lack of actual history for RR’s schemes at Michigan, his personnel usage here, and his well-known inventiveness. A great coach and a great program have been brought together, but they need a fast start.
It is certain that the first game against Utah has program implications. A loss to Utah, (and it is possible because they are a decent football team), would evoke the echoes of Appalachian State, would encourage the opposition, would be a disaster.
I think Michigan will win the game, but I am hoping to be more certain of that after 18 more practices. I hope the season will end somewhere between 7-5 and 9-3, with a decent bowl, but that prediction will be easier to ensure after the Utah game.
Enjoy the excitement of this upcoming season! Hopefully it will be something special. Something we will remember with as much enthusiasm as we look forward to the changing of the guard now, but anything could happen.
Featured Columnist, UMGoBlue.COM
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