Michigan finished 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten Conference) in Brady Hoke’s third season in Ann Arbor. The disappointing finish and resulting discontent among Michigan fans caused athletics director David Brandon to issue a statement on mgoblue.com affirming his faith in Hoke’s leadership. But offensive coordinator Al Borges wasn’t so fortunate. He was dismissed earlier this month and replaced with Doug Nussmeier from Alabama.
As Michigan prepares for the 2014 season, the pressure is on. Michigan was swept by rivals Ohio State and Michigan State last season, and the longtime rivals faced each other in the Big Ten championship game. The Spartans won the Big Ten title and capped the season with a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford—a bitter pill for Michigan fans who've seen their in-state rival dominate recent meetings and now rise to national prominence.
Michigan entered last November competing for the Big Ten title until a 1-4 slide exposed weaknesses that wrecked its season. But help is on the way with another recruiting class headed to Ann Arbor. Some of the players are already enrolled to get a head start on their weight training and take part in spring practice.
Here are the incoming players to watch for next season.
Jabrill Peppers, 5-Star, Defensive Back
No recruit in the upcoming class has more potential for immediate impact than Peppers. The 6'1", 210-pound cornerback from Paramus, N.J., has no shortage of talent or confidence—declaring his intention to follow in the steps of Michigan Heisman trophy winner Charles Woodson. The Michigan secondary struggled last season, and Peppers is expected to compete immediately. Eclipsing Woodson is a tall order, but as one of the top recruits in the nation Peppers has the potential to be a special player in his own right.
Drake Harris, 4-Star, Wide Receiver
The graduation of receivers Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo means that quarterback Devin Gardner will need new receiving targets next season. Harris, a 6'4", 185-pound receiver from Grand Rapids, Mich., has the speed and hands to fill the gap left by Gallon and Dileo. Harris missed the bulk of his senior high school football season because of a hamstring injury but enrolled earlier this month and is working to be ready for next season.
Bryan Mone, 4-Star, Defensive Tackle
The Michigan defense struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and contain the run last season. It usually takes a defensive lineman a season to acclimate to the collegiate game, but Mone, a 6'4", 338-pound defensive tackle from Salt Lake City, Utah, may be the rare exception. As an early enrollee, he will get instruction during spring practice from Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who both work with defensive linemen.
Mason Cole, 4-Star, Offensive Guard
A major factor in last season’s 7-6 record was the inconsistency of Michigan's interior offensive line. Cole, 6'4", 285 pound offensive lineman from Tarpon Springs, Fla., has enrolled early and is looking to compete at offensive guard. The graduation of tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield means that every position on the line is up for grabs heading into next season.
Lawrence Marshall, 4-Star, Defensive End
Another potential player in the mix to help Michigan put pressure on opposing quarterbacks is Marshall, a 6'3", 225-pound defensive end from Southfield, Mich., who has the speed and agility make an impact as a true freshman. Marshall was personally recruited by Mattison, who likes to constantly rotate his defensive players to keep them fresh, and Marshall has the potential be in that rotation as a freshman.
Freddy Canteen, 4-star, Wide Receiver
Graduation leaves Michigan lacking experience at wide receiver, and Canteen, a 6'1", 175-pound receiver from Elkton, Md., is another early enrollee who hopes to be a prime target for quarterback Devin Gardner next season. If Drake Harris’ high school injury hampers his progress at Michigan, Canteen could surpass him.