Michigan's Road to Redemption: Week One─Western Michigan

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Michigan's Road to Redemption: Week One─Western Michigan

Here we are college football fans. It's the beginning of June leaving us with just over three months until the start of the 2009 season.

For Wolverine fans the season won't begin until September 5...a date Wolverines everywhere will go into with a hint of excitement and anxiety.

But why the anxiety?

How about the 3-9 record in 2008 or the fact that Michigan hasn't won it's home opener since 2006.

What doesn't help the Wolverines is that they play 2008 MAC runner-up Western Michigan to start the season. Considering Michigan lost to lower tier MAC team Toledo last year why wouldn't Wolverine-nation be a little concerned?

But last year was last year and the Wolverines will start the '09 season on a clean slate, starting with Western.

In 2008, the Bronco's finished its season with a 9-4 record after suffering a 38-14 loss to Rice in the Texas Bowl.

But will the Bronco's be stronger in '09?

The good news for Western is that they return senior quarterback and former MAC freshman player of the year Tim Hiller.

The 6'5" 225 lb field-general is the key returner for the Bronco's offense as Hiller threw 339 completions on 522 attempts (65 percent) for 3,725 yards and 36 touchdown passes to only 10 interceptions in '09.

Also returning for the Bronco offense is the team's leading rusher Brandon West. West led the team in rushing attempts (204), rush yards (1,026), longest rush (51), yards per carry (5.0 ypc/ min. 50 rushes), and rush touchdowns (8).

However, Western loses its best receiver going into '09. Jamarko Simmons was the team's leading receiver, accounting for about one-third of the teams receiving yardage. Simmons ended his final season with 1,276 yards on 104 receptions and 7 touchdowns.

The loss of Simmons will most likely be a big enough hit for the Bronco's as they start the '09 season in the "Big House", but it doesn't stop there.

The Bronco's will start '09 without three of their top four receiver's from last season. Now missing are the previously mentioned Simmons, as well as the No. 2 leading receiver Schneider Julian (59 rec/ 712 yards/ 6 TD's), and the fourth leading pass catcher Brandon Ledbetter the tight end (45 rec/ 464 yards/ 6 TD's).

Is it a consolation to say the fifth leading receiver returns? Though that receiver is the running back.

The only returning weapon at receiver for the Bronco's is junior to be Juan Nunez. Nunez was third on the team for receiving yards (701) and receptions (57), and was tied for first in receiving touchdowns (7).

As seen before the Bronco's will lose their top tight end Brandon Ledbetter weakening them at that position.

The offensive line for Western will be their strength early on as all their starters return with numerous reserves also holding starting experience. Western's offensive line enters the 2009 season ranked 40th nationally (out of 120 teams) in combined starts with 71 total.

Defensively there is only one word to describe Western Michigan's problem and that is...OUCH!

Going into the season the Bronco's will have to replace all but two(yeah TWO) starters.

The only returners will be senior's to be NG Cody Cielenski and SLB Austin Pritchard.

Replacing those nine guys won't be easy, especially the back four in the secondary which was full of All-MAC caliber players.

Seeing these kinds of losses on a defense is devastating no matter who you are. Losing all these players and then starting your season against Michigan is only making matters worse.

Needless to say the Western Michigan defensive coordinator will have his work cut out for him.

On special teams WMU will return all their kicking specialist.


Matchups to watch...

Tate Forcier vs the inexperienced WMU secondary:

The highly anticipated debut of the 2009 Wolverines will likely start out with freshman quarterback Tate Forcier at the helms of the Michigan offense. Out of high school Tate was rated as the most accurate quarterback in the nation and through the spring the young Forcier has shown on numerous occasions as to how he got that ranking.

With four new faces in the WMU secondary Tate should have a little bit easier time getting settled into his new role. Even in his freshman debut a good day should be expected.

 

Offensive lines vs defensive lines:

Michigan will enter the 2009 season returning all starters on the offensive line as well as all the majority of their three deep returns on what could be the deepest and possibly one of the best offensive lines in the Big 10.

Michigan's offensive line enters 2009 ranked 35th as a unit in combined starts with 76 total.

Those 76 combined starts going into 2009 are a lot better than last years offensive line, which went into game one with 13 starts combined...and all that was from Steve Schilling the sophomore lineman who started all 13 games as a freshman in 2007.

WMU on the other hand returns only two members of its front seven from 2008. This will or should bode well for the Wolverine offense as experience is clearly in their favor. Michigan should dominate the WMU d-line early and look for that to continue throughout the game.

Michigan's defensive line vs WMU offensive line is equally interesting.

Michigan comes in with two returning starters on the defensive line but have major lack of depth in the middle of the line. However, the two returners are DT Mike Martin(So.) and DE Brandon Graham (Sr.).

Graham is an All-American candidate while the young Martin is an All-Big 10 candidate after what can be said as the best season by a freshman defensive tackle for Michigan in the past few decades.

WMU returns four of five starters and are very seasoned up front. While they will have their hands full with Martin and Graham the other Michigan defenders will have to step up big to get the pressure of the duo if they want to get any pressure on Hiller.


Michigan running backs vs WMU linebackers:

Michigan's greatest strength next season will be their running back unit which will be the deepest and most talented in the Big 10 conference. Returning are senior backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, sophomore Mike Shaw, red-shirt freshmen Mike Cox, and freshman Teric Jones, Fitzgerald Toussaint (maybe?), and of course Vincent Smith.

On the other side of the ball WMU will be missing two of three starters in the linebacker unit which equates to disaster vs a running back unit like Michigan's.

If say Michigan were to run for 200+ yards don't be surprised.

Will it happen? Maybe, maybe not. Just saying don't be surprised.


What to expect:

Going into this game many fans across the country will be skeptic of Michigan as they should be. Anything can happen as Michigan has proved time and time again.

Western does still have a chance at victory, however, if Michigan is anywhere close to what is to be expected then they should come out with a victory.

Don't read this the wrong way though because Michigan will make their share of mistakes in game one, especially with freshman at every other position.

Come September 5 you will see a new Michigan team come out of that tunnel. It won't be a BCS team, not yet, but it will be a team on a mission. It will be a team that competes and a team that WILL win.

Until then, how many days until the season starts...?

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