After what was by far the most unsuccessful and disappointing season in Ann Arbor the last 40 years, Michigan football is on the up rise in year two under coach Rich Rodriguez. With 17 returning starters, 10 on offense, 5 on defense and two specialists, the Wolverines have no where to go but up after a 3-9 (2-6 in Big Ten) campaign. While improving on 3-9 shouldn't be that difficult, there's a belief among the players and coaches that they can contend for a Big Ten title and a major bowl game. While people may think it's crazy to think Michigan can win a conference championship after last season, just look at a few small things that gives the Wolverines an 'optomistic' chance to shock the nation.
For one, Michigan has 8 games at the Big House. They host rivals Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State, all who ran Michigan out of their home stadiums last season. So a little bit of revenge will be on the minds of the returning Wolverines. They play 3 non-conference games which should be wins, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Delaware State. They also get Indiana and Purdue at home during the regular season.
Now, the down side to having 8 home games, they do have four conference road games, non of which will be easy pick ins. They travel to East Lancing October 3rd to square off with rival Michigan State and the following week travel to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes in a Prime Time ESPN showdown. Michigan goes to Illinois on October 31st, a team that embarrassed them last season in Ann Arbor. Then the week before the showdown with Ohio State, the Wolverines travel to Wisconsin to take on a Badger team they defeated 27-25 in dramatic, come from behind fashion last year.
Now it's time to look at the projected roster for the 2009 season.
Last season the quarterback position was a key piece to Michigan's struggles to run the spread option of Rich Rodriguez. With that position being a key in recruiting this winter, the Wolverines picked up California prospect Tate Forcier. Forcier showed signs of excitement in the Maize-Blue spring game in April. The running back position is stacked and set as they are lead by three seniors Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Kevin Grady. The full back position will be held by Mark Moundros.
The wide outs will be lead by senior Greg Mathews. Sophomore Martavious Odoms and newcomer Terrence Robinson will also be key contributiors to their positions this fall. Kevin Koger will more then likely be the tight end this year, who is a good blocker and has good hands in the passing game.
The offensive line will be the anchor of the unit, returning all 5 starters. Mark Ortmann, Tim McAvoy, David Molk, David Moosman, and Stephen Schilling lead a now veteran group that will improve in pass protection and also open up running lanes for a veteran running back group.
Now for the defense. Last year, this group was the unit that needed to hold the Wolverine's together with the offense being inexperienced in their new Spread Option look. This year, the rolls are reversed. Loosing 7 of 11 starters is hard to overcome, but with senior captains Brandon Graham and Stevie Brown, I believe the Wolverines will find a way to fill the voids left by Morgan Trent, Brandon Harrison, Tim Jamison, Mike Massy, Carson Butler, Will Johnson and Doug Dutch.
The D-Line will be led by Brandon Graham at defensive end with Mike Martin, Greg Banks and Adam Patterson all sharing time on the line. The Linebackers will be led by ball-hawk Obi Ezeh, Jonas Mouton and depending on his summer workouts Marrell Evans. The secondary will be anchored by senior safety Stevie Brown. Troy Woolfork moves from corner to Safety and Donovan Warren and Boubocar Cissoko will play on the outside.
The defense shouldn't be too bad, but they can't allow teams to score 30+ points a game like last season or else they'll be in trouble. If they can hold their ground, and wear teams out, the unit will be fine.
Overall, I see the Wolverines going 10-2. YES, 10 wins and 2 losses. They should win the first 4 games, with wins over Notre Dame who will once again have great expectations then go down the drain after week 2, and an opening conference win over Indiana. I see Sparty and MSU giving us all we can handle in a tough loss. We should bounce back against Iowa the next week in a Prime Time showdown and handle Delaware State at home the next week to move to 6-1. Last year, we led Penn State at the half before getting blown away, which is why I believe we will shock the Nittny Lions this season. Illinois may give us a run but our offense should be able to score and pull us to a victory. We should march over Purdue who has a new coach and may struggle this year. The game that scares me this year is Wisconsin. It's the week before Ohio State, and we had pulled a huge upset over them early last season which seamed to be the start of the end of their season. I believe we'll win, but maybe the toughest game this year. I hate to say it, but I once again see us losing to the guys from Columbus. I don't think we'll have an answer for Prior, who I still hate with a passion.
Hopefully i'm wrong with two of my predictions, and we go 12-0. And maybe i'm just a little too optomistic in predicting 10 wins. I'm not asking for nor expection perfection from a team that still is VERY young in experience. This year will, however, bring excitment, cheers, and victory back to this storied program. That I can bet on. Hail To The Victors!!!