The addition of Doug Nussmeier has to count for something when predicting Michigan’s season.
It just has to.
Now perching at Al Borges’ former post, the former Alabama offensive coordinator faces the task of calling the shots for a Wolverines offense that is abundant with talent but riddled with holes—case in point: an incredibly porous offensive line that didn’t look any better during this past Saturday’s scrimmage than it did during the spring game.
Of course, that’s excluding Mason Cole, a 6’5”, 292-pound true freshman who’ll likely start the season at left tackle. He’d be the sixth true frosh to start on Michigan’s O-line. That’s one mean first job, isn’t it?
Then there’s the running game, which must get its wheels turning in time for Week 2’s assumed series finale with Notre Dame. During the “under the lights” scrimmage this past Saturday in Ann Arbor, neither Derrick Green nor De'Veon Smith were overly impressive, but they showed that they’re willing to take bumps and bruises in the name of gaining a few yards.
Good thing that the offense has Greg Mattison, who’s built a Goliath defense since arriving as coordinator in 2011. His secondary, linebackers and linemen should serve as the glue that binds while quarterback Devin Gardner’s crew gets comfortable.
With enough question marks, loose ends and deficiencies to go around—but don’t negate the potential positives—Team 135 should be approached with great caution. Again, this can’t be stressed enough: Michigan has the personnel to get the job done in the Big Ten, it’s just a matter of head coach Brady Hoke’s staff putting it together in time to do something this fall.
Game 1: Aug. 30 vs. Appalachian State
This has been said over and over, but it’s worth repeating: This isn’t really a “rematch”—these two teams are drastically different than they were in 2007 when the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines at The Big House, 34-32.
Not even close this time.
That was an once-in-a-lifetime, back-to-back-FCS-title-defending team vs. an extremely unfocused foe who took the little guy for granted. There is no need for a statistical breakdown right now, because this one is a win for Team 135.
No doubt. It has to be, or heads will roll.
Score: UM 49, ASU 10 (better be, or else)
Game 2: Sept. 6 at Notre Dame
So, that makes Michigan 1-0 heading into South Bend, one of the most challenging environments in all of college football. Since 2002, the Wolverines have won twice in front of Touchdown Jesus (2006, 2010), so it’d be easy to chalk up another one for the Irish…
Well, not this time. This past week, due to alleged academic fraud, Notre Dame removed four players—three starters—from its team. That won’t be easy to overcome, and that should make Hoke’s job a little easier, despite having to face quarterback Everett Golson, who’s returning from an academic suspension, for the first time.
Special teams could easily decide the outcome. Don’t rule out a big pick-six or blocked kick to turn the tides in either team’s fortune.
However, the Wolverines will be out for a statement victory—one to make up for not throttling the Mountaineers as they should have, and/or to build on that momentum by posting a gaudy win over their rival Irish.
Score: UM 24, ND 20
Game 3: Sept. 13 vs. Miami (Ohio)
Too much maize and blue, not enough RedHawk. We could break down some things, but why? This one should be relatively painless for Michigan.
Score: UM 38, Miami 14
Game 4: Sept. 20 vs. Utah
The Utes may surprise a few by hanging with Michigan. In 2013, Akron and UConn—a pair of perceived pushovers—gave the Wolverines everything they could handle. Of course, the same could be said for Miami (Ohio), a team that I’ve given almost zero chance of beating Hoke in Ann Arbor.
Utah will have to get the most from its seasoned O-line and running back Bubba Poole if it wants to skate by with a “W.” Michigan could experience some lag after trampling the RedHawks, so I'm going to say that this one's close until late in the third quarter.
Score: UM 28, Utah 13
Game 5: Sept. 27 vs. Minnesota
It’ll be a game against a little brother.
Braylon’s little brother, actually.
As the younger sibling of a legendary Wolverines receiver, Berkley Edwards probably won’t receive a warm ovation when he visits big bro’s former stomping grounds.
Minnesota’s on the rise, as coach Jerry Kill has done a wonderful job of implementing his system and consistency, but it’ll probably get grounded by the Wolverines, who’ll want to sink their teeth into their first Big Ten opponent.
It’s at home. Hoke’s lost twice in front of his own. This game will be Michigan’s, but it won’t come as easily as I thought back in the spring (predicted 31-13, UM).
Score: UM 28, Minn. 21
Record: 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten)
Game 6: Oct. 4 at Rutgers
There’s a first time for everything, and Michigan gets to meet the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, New Jersey, to kick off a new Big Ten…rivalry?
Anyway, back to the predictions.
These aren’t Greg Schiano’s Knights, and they don’t have a superstar like Ray Rice to handle the workload. I can’t see anything but a crooked-number fest for the Wolverines, who should get their second conference win in the home state of Jabrill Peppers, a 5-star Jersey Kid who’s been maize and blue since childhood.
I can see mop-up time for Shane Morris and maybe even Wilton Speight. Who knows, Hoke may throw Bobby Henderson into the fullback position and let Peppers play quarterback—you know, just for the experience.
If the Wolverines don’t demolish Rutgers, I’ll personally send a bouquet of flowers to Knights coach Kyle Flood as a way to say, “I’m sorry for doubting your team.” But I’ll ask that Michigan reimburse me. It’s a tax write-off, right?!
Score: UM 42, RU 14
Record: 6-0 (2-0 Big Ten)
Game 7: Oct. 11 vs. Penn State (night)
Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg could rattle off a career-type win if he successfully exploits Michigan’s secondary, which is as deep as it’s been since the 1990s.
Of course, the Wolverines want revenge for losing their late-night date with the Nittany Lions in 2013. That Hackenberg-to-Allen Robinson Hail Mary was a punch to the gut.
But 6-0 is far enough. Michigan has potential, but I can’t see it winning seven in a row. Six is pushing it, and I’m giving the Wolverines the benefit of the doubt while assessing their matches with the “underdogs.”
Team 135 could very well start 4-2, which is my way of softening the blow when I see my 6-0 prediction explode before my very eyes. But I’m sticking with it.
Score: PSU 27, UM 23 (Hackenberg-to-Someone, Part 2)
Record: 6-1 (2-1 Big Ten)
Game 8: Oct. 25 at Michigan State
Winners of five of the past six—but might as well make that winners of six of the past seven; Michigan State is going to take this one. There aren’t any reasonable clues or forgotten logic that says otherwise.
The Spartans’ O-line is far superior to Michigan’s—even their second-teamers are comparable—and their offense is years ahead in development.
Oh, and that defense. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State’s defensive coordinator, is probably doing jumping jacks right now, just thinking of his “Dawgs” getting at the Wolverines.
At this point, judging by Michigan’s O-line as-is, I’m seeing at least a handful of sacks. Gardner may want to wear some extra padding on his backside, because he’ll be on it a lot if Cole, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Bosch and, among others, Erik Magnuson, fail to provide adequate protection.
Score: MSU 31, UM 14
Record: 6-2 (2-2 Big Ten)
Game 9: Nov. 1 vs. Indiana
The Hoosiers have quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who’s appeared on a couple of watch lists, and receiver Shane Wynn. This should be fun, as the pair has the potential to frustrate Michigan’s defense, especially during the early goings.
With that being said, once Mattison’s guys apply the clamps, it should be over for Indiana, which doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to outdo the Wolverines defense—one that features an incredible set of DBs led by Blake Countess, Jourdan Lewis and probably Peppers.
Score: UM 28, IU 17
Record: 7-2 (3-2 Big Ten)
Game 10: Nov. 8 at Northwestern
Without do-all running back Venric Mark, who's transferring after being suspended, the Wildcats could find themselves serving as a league doormat. I mean, Northwestern usually puts up a great fight, but it’s hard to imagine it doing a whole lot on offense without Mark, a speedster who could make an entire defense miss by flinching.
He was also a supreme talent on special teams.
And the Wildcats will miss wideout Christian Jones, who's lost to a season-ending leg injury.
I like the Wolverines in this one, only because the offense will almost certainly be clicking and the defense will most certainly be sticking…”it” to the opposition. By this time, everything should be in sync—and if it’s not, it won’t be until 2015 or later.
Score: UM 27, NW 19
Record: 8-2 (4-2 Big Ten)
Game 11: Nov. 22 vs. Maryland
The struggle is real for the Terps, who have All-Big Ten candidate Stefon Diggs leading the charge at wide receiver. Other than him, it’s kind of thin.
Welcome to the league, boys.
Score: UM 30, Maryland 20
Record: 9-2 (5-2 Big Ten)
Game 12: Nov. 29 at Ohio State
News of Braxton Miller’s injury—he dislocated his right shoulder and could be out for the season, per Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch—certainly changes perception of this game. But not that much. Even without their star senior quarterback, the Buckeyes are, top-to-bottom, better than Michigan.
Even without linebacker Ryan Shazier, Ohio State has the advantage.
That’s just how it goes.
When it comes to O-H-I-O, it’s back to the drawing board for Hoke. Michigan just isn’t there yet, and going to Columbus will make that abundantly clear—that’s if Michigan State doesn’t end up doing that in October.
Score: OSU 31, UM 20
Record: 9-3 (5-3 Big Ten)
Agree? Disagree? How many wins do you predict for Michigan? Let me know in the comments section.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81