Just over a year ago. Michigan had their football coach for the foreseeable future. Fast forward 14 months and head coach Brady Hoke is having his tan pants warming up as the hot seat is trending hotter with the growing impatience of Wolverines alumni after 8-5 and 7-6 campaigns.
Michigan Has to Find a Dependable Signal Caller
The greatest source of irritation among Michigan fans was former offensive coordinator Al Borges. His play-calling was huge topic of discussion on the air waves the last two years and while there was plenty to object about, it certainly was not all his fault.
Denard Robinson was a tremendous athlete, but after three years of being a haphazard thrower, Big Ten teams started to figure him out and worked decisively to take away running lanes and force him to throw. By the end of last season he was just subbing in as a runner and special situation player.
In came Devin Gardner, who threw spirals and had touch on many of this throws and Big Blue nation was excited about the future.
After Gardner’s sterling performance against what was supposed to be an elite Notre Dame defense, the Wolverines were thought to be on their way to a banner season by those making college football picks.
A foreshadowing of the rest of the season came the next two weeks with fortunate victories over Akron by four points and Connecticut by three, in which Gardner was shell of what he was against Notre Dame.
The Wolverines put up a few big scoring days, but Gardner did not recapture his early magic until the Ohio State game, in their valiant loss 42-41.
Gardner was unable to play in the postseason bowl game, providing rising quarterback Shane Morris an opportunity and in early February Hoke declared the position “wide open”.
Hoke did not just become ignorant, he knows to be a Top 10 to 15 program, you must have quality play from the quarterback position and he has to make sure he has the right one for this upcoming fall.
Offensive Line has to be Tougher and More Physical
Whoever ends up playing quarterback will need an offensive line like those from the past, which was filled with All-Big Ten performers and the occasional All-American’s.
During the Big Ten season, teams blitzed Michigan to death in obvious passing situations and they were as feeble as the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Those making sports picks know the Wolverines require a dependable running game (only Purdue was worse in the Big Ten last season) no matter who is playing quarterback and the three returning starters along with the replacements have to be better drive blockers and have improved techniques in passing blocking.
Defense Needs to Stout, make Plays
The Wolverines will welcome back seven starters and Hoke hopes this group not only matures, but is more forceful. Michigan was only sixth in the Big Ten in total defense, which will prevent you from making the Top 25.
To earn the respect of sportsbooks, Michigan players have to plug holes with greater consistency against the run and force more third and longs and play tighter coverage in the secondary. Are the answers there right now, possibly, but they will have to prove it on the gridiron.
Schedule Sets Up for Success
In spite of serious questions about how Michigan might come together as a team, the schedule sets up favorably, particularly early.
If the Wolverines could upset Notre Dame in South Bend, they should start 6-0. Besides the Irish, Michigan has Appalachian State, Miami-O, Utah and Minnesota and travel to Rutgers in the first half of the season.
Next up will be Penn State, in which they should be favored at Ann Arbor and after a bye week, a revenge game at East Lansing with the Spartans. Michigan should be able to handle Indiana, at Northwestern and Maryland next before heading to Columbus for the regular season finale.
It was not what Michigan had expected, not even ranked in the Top 25 for their recruiting efforts according to Rivals.com and just fourth in the Big Ten, behind rivals Ohio State and Michigan and even Penn State, who brought in higher ranked players despite a coaching change.
Way Too Early Conclusion
In trying to determine how Michigan will stack up against the college football odds, three of their four toughest games are on the road. However, if they split them, that should make them 10-2 and get the program back on track.
The season will depend on the quarterback play and how the lines perform on both sides of the ball and realistically a 9-3 season sound right and either second or third in the Big Ten East.