Big Ten Preview – Michigan
Offense – Returning Starters – 6; Key Departures – WR, Junior Hemmingway (7th round, Chiefs). C David Molk (7th round, Chargers). TE, Kevin Koger.
Even though Michigan brings back Heisman favorite Denard Robinson, don’t underrate the loss of his favorite target Junior Hemmingway and the offensive line’s central nervous system David Molk. There are numerous examples from the past couple years of Hemmingway bailing out an errant Robinson throw and making a play downfield; besides a franchise blind side tackle the center is the most important position on the offensive line. Michigan has some holes to plug but Brady Hoke has known that since taking the job, and based on Michigan’s results last season this guy can coach. Look for Roy Roundtree to put it together and step into the featured receiver role and NFL tackle prospect Taylor Lewan to take some pressure off a raw line interior.
Now time to wax poetic about Denard Robinson.
From the defensive front out to the secondary, Robinson changes the way a defense can defend Michigan’s spread. Pass rushers have to be disciplined and not open up running lanes, thus stagnating the pass rush. Linebackers have to have eyes on Denard at all times, thus distracting them from their responsibility in reads and drops, receivers coming out of the backfield and tight ends slipping through seems. The secondary has to play up to donate extra tacklers against the run; the secondary must play back to help against misdirection and play action. And, tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint is a hard person to tackle in space.
Key – Pretty simple here: Keep Denard Robinson healthy. Michigan will need a receiver to step up in Hemmingway’s absence, but without Denard behind center it won’t matter much anyway. Despite putting on muscle over the last four years, Denard is still slight of build and takes hits when he scrambles.
Defense – Returning Starters – 8; Key Departures – DT, Mike Martin (3rd round, Titans). DE, Ryan Van Bergen. DB, Troy Woolfolk
Michigan brings back the lion’s share of a unit that went from being a sieve to 6th nationally in points against. That incredible leap was made possible by the coaching and toughness of Hoke, who actually figured out that if you don’t allow your opponents 50 points a game you stand a better chance of winning. Craig Roh and Kenny Demens are the senior leaders of the defense, and will try and replace the intensity of departed tackle Mike Martin. Roh holds the edge from his end spot and Demens is a future pro linebacker in the mold of former Wolverine backers. Ondre Pipkens and Tom Strobel are highly recruited freshman that have a chance to provide depth and athleticism on the line.
The Michigan secondary brings back depth but doesn’t boast the NFL talent they’ve sported in the past. Regardless, the experience should hold up over a long season.
Key – Hoke has been recruiting at an amazingly high level through his first full year, but rarely are freshman able to be contribute on the defensive line. For Michigan’s defensive sake, Rich Rodriguez better have recruited more talent than just Mike Martin. If the cupboard is too young, or too bare, Michigan won’t achieve the lofty goals it has set for itself. That unit will get a huge test against Alabama on September 1.
And 1 – Michigan’s toughest game of the year is their first. On September 1 the Wolverines kick off the college season against defending champion Alabama in the Cowboy Classic. Frankly, I don’t expect Michigan to win, but they can certainly make a statement if they pull an upset against the Crimson Tide. Even if Michigan loses that game they have plenty of time to crawl back into the race and improve their ranking.
Prediction – 11-1 (8-0)
Michigan – 8-10-12
Michigan State – 8-13-12
Northwestern – 8-16-12
Ohio State – 8-17-12
Penn State – 8-20-12
Purdue – 8-21-12
Wisconsin – 8-22-12