Last week, I got my feet wet with Michigan, looking at the program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Wolverines will do this season.
This week, I'll look at the 2012 Michigan offense.
2011 scoring offense: 33.3 PPG (second in the conference), total offense: 404.7 YPG (third), rushing YPC: 5.15 (second), passing efficiency: 139.18 (fourth)
Average scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 5.4
Best scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: Second (2011)
Worst scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 11th (2008)
Returning starters: QB Denard Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Roy Roundtree, OT Taylor Lewan, OL Michael Schofield, OL Patrick Omameh
Open Positions: FB, WR, TE, OL
Offensive Formation: Multiple
Offensive Philosophy: Will be power-based, but still in transition
Passing Scheme: Possession
Rushing scheme: Varied as it continues to transition from Rodriguez to Hoke
Last year, there was no question that Michigan had the offensive firepower to put points on the board. The question was whether Rich Rodriguez's recruits would adapt to Brady Hoke's more traditional system.
After all, Michigan fans were still smarting over the 2008 Lloyd Carr-to-Rich Rod transitional year, when Big Blue could only manage 20.3 points per game, which was last in the Big Ten and 99th in the country.
On June 14, 2011, College Football News' Pete Fiutak wrote, "It all comes down to Robinson and his ability to adapt to the new style."
On Jan. 19, 2011, shortly after Hoke hired Al Borges as his offensive coordinator, Michigan blog MGBlog opined, "I don't think [Borges is] a particularly good fit for Michigan's current personnel, Denard Robinson most especially."
Lastly, BurgeoningWolverineStar.com went so far as to title a post, "Goodbye spread offense."
As it turned out, Hoke and Borges were more flexible than most people figured, and the personnel did a good job making the adjustments it had to make.
The Wolverines finished with the second-best scoring offense in the conference and tied for 26th nationally.
That said, one has to consider that Michigan returned 10 offensive starters, and frankly, the offense could have been better than it was.
The big problem was turnovers.
The Wolverines came in 10th in the conference in turnovers lost with 22. Much of that was on the passing game, as Robinson individually and UM as a team, threw the most interceptions in the conference.
Heading into this year, Michigan doesn't have as many returning starters, but Robinson is back, and all the players have another year in the system.
This year, there are no questions about transition or flexibility. The question is how good can the Wolverine offense be, and will it fully live up to its potential?
Denard Robinson is at a crossroads this season.
He has proven that he is a dynamic playmaker in any system; however, his abilities as a passer are still in serious question.
As a sophomore in Rich Rodriguez's system—a system he was and is tailor-made for—he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,570 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He ran for 1,702 yards, 6.65 YPC and 14 touchdowns.
As a junior in Al Borges' system, he completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,173 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He ran for 1,176 yards, 5.32 YPC and 16 touchdowns.
Stats don't tell the whole story, but there is one issue that is evident—if Robinson and the Michigan O are to be as efficient and successful as they can be, Robinson will have to take better care of the ball.
In my oft-expressed opinion, Robinson will never be a great passer, but he doesn't have to be, given how incendiary a playmaker he is. This is especially true now that Michigan has a dangerous, established running back for the first time since Mike Hart graduated following the 2007 season.
If Robinson can put up the same numbers he did in 2011, but throw half the picks, the Wolverines will be the best offense in the Big Ten, and it won't be close.
Junior Devin Gardner is the No. 2 signal-caller. He is more ideally fit for Brady Hoke's/Al Borges' system, but it is not his time yet.
There was talk this summer that Gardner was flirting with wide receiver, but as Jeff from MaizePages tweeted (via Michigan blog Maize n' Brew), "'Gardner to WR is overblown as a big change. Borges put him and Denard on the field together several times last year. Headed that way anyway.'"
Maize n' Brew further noted, "Gardner will probably be used much the same as he was last year. As a backup quarterback that gets some run when Borges is feeling especially clever."
Either way, as far as quarterbacks go, this is Robinson's team.
Fitzgerald Toussaint finally broke through after Michigan failed to produce a 1,000-yard running back—or even a 700-yard running back—for three straight seasons.
In 2011, Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards for 5.57 YPC and nine touchdowns.
The Wolverines have a host of different types of backs behind Toussaint.
Senior Vincent Smith is a scat back more fit for Rodriguez's system. That said, he has plenty of experience, and was good for 50 carries, 298 yards, 5.96 YPC and two touchdowns in 2011. He is also an able receiver, grabbing 11 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior Stephen Hopkins—6'0", 228 pounds—is a bull rusher that doubles as a fullback. However, according to Hoke (via AnnArbor.com), he needs to "continue to grow from a maturity standpoint." In other words, he came into spring camp overweight.
He and Smith will be pushed by sophomore Thomas Rawls—5'10", 219-pounds—another "battering ram" that, according to Hoke (also via AnnArbor.com), "'had a strong spring.'"
Either way, head coach Brady Hoke has plenty of options. He will have even more options when his three true freshmen tailback recruits report for fall camp.
Quarterback has been the most publicized transition between Rodriguez's offense and Hoke's/Borges' offense. However, receiver also requires a significant shift.
Rodriguez wanted six slot receivers—think Steve Breaston—on the field at all times. On the other hand, Hoke wants a passing quarterback, a big, durable running back, a versatile tight end and physical, NFL-type receivers that can make plays on the sidelines and downfield—think Braylon Edwards.
Unfortunately, he doesn't have any of that in his established personnel.
Senior Roy Roundtree, and juniors Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo—Michigan's top three returning receivers—all measure between 5'8" and 6'1". In other words, they're the slot-receiver type that Rodriguez coveted. Sophomore Jerald Robinson, who also falls into the slot receiver category, will be in the mix as well.
In effect, the receivers that might have the most opportunity to make waves this season are 6'3" junior Jeremy Jackson or one of the two true freshmen—Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson—who are 6'3" and 6'2" respectively.
Tall or not, it is time for Roundtree to fulfill his promise as a Wolverine. He flourished in Rodriguez's offense—72 REC, 935 YDS, 7 TDS in 2010—but regressed considerably last year—19 REC, 355 YDS, 2 TDS. Apparently, Hoke believes in him, as he has designated Roundtree (per The Detroit News) to wear the first "legend" number—No. 21 for former Wolverine Desmond Howard.
Meanwhile, Rich Rod had very little use for tight ends. Therefore, building the position back up will be a process. It was random luck that Lloyd Carr-holdover Kevin Koger was still with the team last season, but Koger is gone, and there doesn't look to be anybody that can easily step into his spot.
The top candidates for the job are senior Brandon Moore, junior Mike Kwiatkowski, and true freshmen A.J. Williams and David Funchess. Moore is the beginning and end of experience having served mostly in a blocking role as Koger's backup. Moore also had one reception for nine yards.
There is a good deal of talent amongst the pass catchers, but there could still be growing pains. Moreover, next to Robinson, Roundtree might be the most valuable and irreplaceable Wolverine in 2012, and Michigan will need him to step up.
After a year in Hoke's system, this season's Michigan line—the fourth-most experienced in the conference (stats per Phil Steele)—should be bigger and more powerful.
Two-year starter Taylor Lewan is UM's best tackle since Jake Long, and he can solidify himself as a first-round NFL Draft candidate with a strong junior year. If he stays healthy, he will be first-team all-conference this season.
Senior Patrick Omameh will look to finish up an occasionally rocky career with a strong senior season. He will man right guard.
Junior Michael Schofield will move from guard to right tackle.
During the spring game, sophomore walk-on Joey Burzynski and junior Elliot Mealer split the first team reps at left guard.
This leaves leaves senior Ricky Barnum to take up the open center spot—a position he has never played (via AnnArbor.com). His job is made more daunting in that he will have to replace consensus All-American and four-year starter David Molk.
According to ESPN, redshirt freshman Jack Miller is also in the mix at center.
There is a lot to like about Michigan's offensive line. The Wolverines should have the best offensive line in the conference if Barnum can catch on to his new responsibilities and the new guard can get up to speed,
This will be one of the three best offenses in the conference in 2012.
It can be the best offense in the Big Ten, as well as a top-15 offense nationally.
In order for that to happen, Michigan needs two things.
Firstly, Denard Robinson is an electrifying playmaker. He is the unquestioned team leader (per ESPN) and the heart and soul of the offense.
He will never be a great passer, and he will never be an NFL quarterback, but none of that is important. What is important is that Robinson cuts down on the interceptions. If he is able to do that then his playmaking ability alone will force defenses to respect his arm.
The second element to Michigan's offensive success concerns the pass catchers.
Last year was a letdown for a group that had a strong 2010 and returned en masse in 2011. Needless to say, the play of the receivers didn't help Robinson.
I don't expect a tight end to replace Koger—at least, not this year. In effect, the receivers will have to pick up their game.
Roundtree has proven he can get it done. It will be up to him to get back to where he was in 2010. The Wolverines will also need at least one other pass catcher to step up.
If all of this happens, Michigan will unseat Wisconsin as the Big Ten's top scoring offense three years running.
If it doesn't, the Wolverine offense will still be the second or third top scoring offense in the conference.
Coming next Monday, an overview and breakdown of Michigan's defense.