Year two of the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan is just a week away. This is usually about the time of the year that I break out my "Maximum Meechigan" album to let Bob Ufer's legendary calls of Michigan games of the past fill my mind with visions of "cotton-pickin', maize-and-blue whirling dervishes" dancing in the end zone, as I prepare for yet another season of Michigan football.
It was Ufer who penned the poem, "Burying Woody Hayes" after the Wolverines' upset of No. 1 Ohio State 40 years ago. The poem goes like this:
"It was November 22, 1969
that they came to bury Michigan, all dressed in maize and blue;
The words were said, the prayers were read and everybody cried.
But when they closed the coffin, there was someone else inside.
Oh they came to bury Michigan, but Michigan wasn't dead.
And when the game was over, it was someone else instead.
Eleven Michigan Wolverines put on the gloves of grey,
and as the organ played The Victors, they laid Woody Hayes away."
I find this poem very similar to what we're going to see this season from our boys in maize and blue. I'm not saying I think Michigan is going to beat Ohio State, but I think this is going to be the theme of our season. Every opponent is going to circle us on their schedule as a game they can win. This year, as much as any other, Michigan looks beatable on paper.
Coming off a season that resulted in the most losses in school history, and pinning all hopes on a true freshman quarterback, this seems to be the window of opportunity before Rodriguez's system begins to take hold and terrorize the Big Ten.
However, I think we're going to see a very fast, well-conditioned and much-improved Michigan team playing with a chip on its shoulder to avoid being put to rest again.
Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of how I see the season playing out:
Sept. 5 – Western Michigan
The Western Michigan Broncos bring a high-powered offense to Ann Arbor, led by senior quarterback, Tim Heller. However, the Broncos’ defense returns just three starters from a year ago, which should be favorable for the initiation of Michigan’s freshmen quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.
Western Michigan will try to hand Michigan its third straight season-opening loss, but I think its inexperience on the defensive side will help Michigan’s offense gel.
Sept. 12 – Notre Dame
Notre Dame comes to Ann Arbor with an experienced quarterback, Jimmy Clausen, a talented group of receivers, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, and a boatload of expectations.
Last season’s Hawaii Bowl blowout of Hawaii showed what this offense is capable of and the unit lost virtually nobody.
The defense should be solid, with a switch to the 4-3, and much more speed that last year to accommodate defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s blitz-happy style.
I think this game is a toss-up, since Michigan’s offense will have gained some confidence against Western Michigan. Since the game is in Ann Arbor, I think Michigan has the edge.
Sept. 19 – Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan returns experience at quarterback, Andy Schmitt, and at receiver, Jacory Stone and Tyler Jones, but the team finished 3-9 last season.
New head coach Ron English, a former Michigan defensive coordinator under Lloyd Carr, won’t be able to get the Eagles up to speed in his first season, and Michigan should handle this one pretty easily.
Sept. 26 – Indiana
Indiana returns a lot of starters from last season’s 3-9 team. However, those starters don’t bring a lot of stats with them. Quarterback Ben Chappell threw for 1,001 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions, while the leading returning rusher, Bryan Payton, rushed for just 339 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Hoosiers will be led by one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten, senior defensive end Greg Middleton.
This team just won’t have the firepower to beat Michigan for the first time since 1967.
Oct. 3 – at Michigan State
Michigan State lost quarterback Brian Hoyer and running back Javon Ringer, but features an experienced defense with eight returning starters, led by junior linebacker Greg Jones.
The Spartans will have every opportunity to get its offense going with opening games against Montana State and Central Michigan, before traveling to Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
If the offense can perform at least above average, it could be a tough day for Michigan’s young quarterbacks in their first road test.
Oct. 10 – at Iowa
Iowa was a big surprise last season, led by running back Shonn Greene, who is now with the New York Jets. The Hawkeyes return a solid quarterback, Ricky Stanzi, as well as a competent a running back Jewel Hampton, who scored seven touchdowns last season.
The defense should be Iowa’s strength, as the unit that ranked 12th in the nation last year returns all of its linebackers and secondary.
Playing a night game in Kinnick Stadium against a tough defense should be too much to overcome for a young Michigan offense.
Oct. 17 – Delaware State
Delaware State returns its entire offensive line and receiving corps, but must replace its quarterback and running back.
Don’t expect an Appalachian State-style upset in this one.
Oct. 24 – Penn State
Penn State returns quarterback Daryll Clark, who threw for 2,592 yards, 16 touchdowns and just six interceptions last year. The offense also returns its top two runners, in Evan Royster and Stephfon Green. The key will be replacing receivers Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, but the experience of Clark and the running backs should help ease that process.
The defense returns just four starters, non of which are in the secondary, but by the time the Nittany Lions visit Ann Arbor, the unit will have had plenty of time to get acclimated with an easy schedule.
Oct. 31 – Illinois
Illinois will be lead by quarterback Juice Williams and the Big Ten’s best receiver, Arrelious Benn. The Illini lack a proven running back, though Williams led the team with 719 rushing yards a year ago.
Question marks abound on a defense that lost its top four players from a year ago. Linebacker Martez Wilson had a solid spring and will be the leader this year.
Michigan will bounce back from a loss to Penn State by playing its best game of the year and surprise the Illini on the road.
Nov. 7 – Purdue
Only four starters return on the Purdue offense, all offensive linemen. Quarterback Curtis Painter hands over the reigns to Joey Elliott, who has thrown just 49 passes in his career. Keith Smith is the leading receiver with 486 yards and two touchdowns last season, while Frank Halliburton is the top returning rusher with just 37 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Jaycen Taylor should provide a spark, returning from a knee injury, but the offense won’t have the firepower it has lacked since the days of Drew Brees and Kyle Orton.
Defensively, the secondary was the best in the Big Ten last year, but the rush defense was the worst. Those numbers should even out a little bit, but the unit won’t fare much better.
Nov. 14 – at Wisconsin
Wisconsin figures to be much the same as last year’s team, with quarterback Dustin Sherer and tight end Garrett Graham returning to lead the offense. Star running back P.J. Hill is gone, but John Clay ran for 884 yards last season and takes over this year.
The defense should be average, with a strong secondary and an inexperienced front seven. If the line steps up to put pressure on the quarterback, this could be a good unit.
Michigan suffers a letdown in Madison as it looks ahead to Ohio State.
Nov. 21 – Ohio State
Ohio State looks to take its fifth straight Big Ten title and is led by sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. From all reports, his arm has improved, and combined with his quickness, he could be a scary player to defend.
The Buckeyes’ top receivers and running backs are gone, but a stable of new players look to fill in. Sophomore Daniel Herron is expected to break out.
The defense should be a very solid unit, headed by a strong front line in Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Doug Worthington. A pair of three-year starters fills the secondary.
If Pryor can stay healthy and be more consistent than he was last year. I think Michigan is still a year away from being able to beat the Buckeyes.
Overall, I foresee Michigan wining the games it should win and losing the games it’s expected to lose, with a pair of surprising wins over Notre Dame and Illinois for a 7-5 record. The offense will be improved, but still young and a year away from making noise.
The defense will solidify under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and become a solid unit, headed by its front seven.
They will all come to bury Michigan while they are down, but when all is said and over, a winning record and a return to a bowl game will take a lot of heat off of Rich Rodriguez and provide great expectations heading into 2010.
*I will provide a more in-depth game preview and prediction in the middle of each week. These preseason predictions are subject to change in my weekly previews as the season goes on, depending on performance and injuries.
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