With the start of the 2009 college football season already underway and soon to be underway for many other schools tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow evening, I'll be here each Friday night to preview Michigan's upcoming game for that weekend. Check back weekly for a Wolverine's weekly preview.
Western Michigan (0-0) @ Michigan (0-0) 3:30 P.M. Saturday, Michigan Stadium.
I'll start with Michigan. Last season's 3-9 record was thanks largely in-part to a brand new offensive system and a new coach running the show. The Wolverines finished 109thin the nation in total offense and averaged a sluggish 20 points per-game.
With one full season under their belts and another preseason preparing, a Michigan offense which returns all eleven starters should see tremendous improvement.
Freshman Tate Forcier will get the call tomorrow afternoon, becoming the third freshman in Michigan's football history to start on opening day. Another freshman, Denard Robinson, will also be a key contributor to the offense.
Robinson was in the running for quarterback as well, and may even get some calls from under center at some point in the game, but will play Saturday as a slot receiver.
Brandon Minor returns at running back, and a year bigger, faster, stronger, and healthier will hopefully add up to good things for an offense which averaged 147 yards per-game on the ground. It also helps that they have seven offensive linemen with game experience.
Another year into the system for them as well should open up holes for Minor, Carlos Brown, and freshman Vincent Smith. A solid running attack against a solid WMU front seven which includes all four of their returning defensive starters should help Forcier find throwing lanes against a young, inexperienced secondary.
A young secondary should lead to a highlight-type game for senior wide out Greg Mathews. Mathews, who was a starter on the 2007 team which won the Capital One Bowl against Florida, was Michigan's top receiver last year since Mario Manningham entered the NFL Draft after his 2007 junior season.
Mathews is a big, physical receiver with good speed and better-then-average hands. He made some big catches last season that always seamed to be over-shadowed by a turnover or some form of misfortune. Michigan will need to cut down the turnovers this year for sure if they want to see a serious turn-around.
For Western Michigan, the offense revolves around fifth-year senior quarterback Tim Hiller. Hiller threw for over 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns last season. Joining Hiller in the backfield is senior running back Brandon West. West ran for over 1,000 yards last season and the combination of West and Hiller lead the Broncos to an average of 411 yards per-game.
Even though WMU lost three of their top four wide outs from last season, including leading receiver Jamarko Simmons, the offense shouldn't miss a beat. With a playmaker such as Hiller calling the shots, he will find ways to get different players the ball and find holes in the Michigan defense.
Western Michigan's offensive line is also a huge key for Western Michigan's success. The unit returns four of five starters from last season in which they allowed only fourteen sacks in thirteen games.
In addition to being excellent pass blockers, they obviously have the ability to pound the rock, as they produced another 1,000 yard back in Brandon West last year, the third time WMU produced a 1,000 yard back in four seasons.
Seven of the eleven starters from Michigan's 2008 defense are gone, so young and inexperienced players will have to fill the voids left by the seniors ahead of them.
Of the four returning starters on defense, the biggest and most crutial one is vocal leader and 2008 M.V.P. Brandon Graham. Graham caused havoc for offensive lines all season and is a pre-season lineman to watch according to coaches across the country. Michigan will rely heavily on his run- stopping ability to shut down Brandon West.
Stevie Brown makes the transition from safety to linebacker, thanks to new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson's hopes that his size, speed, and agility will help Michigan's front seven in the run game and even pass game in ways.
Juniors Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are returning starters and will look to stuff Brandon West and force Hiller to throw the ball to his inexperienced wide receivers.
If the linebackers and linemen can shut down West, the secondary will be called upon to shut down Western's Tim Hiller and his host of wide outs. One big key for the secondary is that Western Michigan's receivers are just as young.
Donovan Warren is a returning cornerback who has potential to be a shut-down corner in his junior year as the number one corner. Troy Woolfolk will have his number called as he replaces Brandon Harrison at safety, and Boubocar Cissoko, a sophomore who saw playing time last season, will play mirrored from Warren as the other corner.
Like Michigan's defense, Western Michigan lost seven of its eleven starters from last season. The key returner for the Broncos is also a defensive lineman, senior Cody Cielenski.
Despite only starting five games, the 6'2 280 pound force accounted for 36 tackles, ten of which for a loss. Defensive end Justin Braska also returns after seeing game action in all thirteen games. He recorded 52 tackles and lead the team in sacks.
First-team ALL-MAC performer Austin Pritchard returns at linebacker along with sophomore Mitch Zajac, who was selected to the ALL-MAC Freshman Team last season. Pritchard and Zajac will be the two key backers featured in Western's 4-3 set.
The secondary faced major struggles last season, but all four starters are gone. Mario Armstrong, a junior safety, has the most experience, as he started a handful of games towards the end of last season. Miami(Fla.) transfer Doug Wiggins will be counted on to be a force right away as he will jump right into the starting lineup at free safety.
An young Western Michigan defense will go up against a Michigan offense which now has two off-seasons and one full season under their belts. The Broncos will rely on their two stud defensive linemen to make Forcier make decisions throwing the ball instead of being able to just hand off to Minor or any other running threat.
Zoltan Mesko is a silent but deadly weapon for Michigan's special teams. Mesko, Michigan's punter for the last three seasons, has had 63 punts downed inside the opponents' 20 yard line and 43 punts of over 50 yards.
If field position becomes a factor in this game, the edge should deffinately be in Michigan's favor.
Speedy sophomore receiver Martavious Odoms will also be a threat in the kicking game. He was second in the Big Ten in kick return yards last season, and made his name known with a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against Purdue last November.
Rich Rodriguez is in his second year at the helm in Ann Arbor. Despite stumbling to a 3-9 record in year one, there is an opportunistic feeling buzzing across campus. Rich Rodriguez has been known for a sluggish-start, and then coming out of the gates in year two and having tremendous success.
He went 3-8 in year one at West Virginia in 2001, then followed up with a 9-4 record in 2002. Michigan faithful are hoping for that sort of turn around in year two in Ann Arbor.
Before anyone looks that far ahead, i'm sure Coach Rodriguez will have his team focusing on each opponent and not letting outsiders have their input on the team and on history.
Bill Cubit is entering his fifth season at Western Michigan and is looking for his fourth win over a BCS school since 2005. The Broncos took down Virginia is 2006, Iowa in 2007, and then Illinois last year, so Michigan better be ready because Cubit has made his team no easy-pickins.
Cubit has coached several all-conference players and accounted for 29 wins in four years, but he has yet to lead the Broncos to a Conference Championship, a preseason goal they have made evident. A strong offense, lead by Coach Cubit himself, should cause problems for a young Michigan defense.
If Michigan Wins
A win for the Maize and Blue would basically be a sigh of relief. After loosing their last two home-openers, 34-32 to Appalachian State in 2007 and 25-23 to Utah last year, Michigan is looking to get ahead of the schedule and get a plus .500 record for the first time in what feels like forever for the supporters and team members.
Rich Rodriguez's popularity may also take a rise up, since history is in his favor and people may hope the win will be a sign of things to come.
If Western Michigan Wins
A win for Western Michigan would give the Broncos their fourth win in five years over a BCS school and their first ever win over Michigan. Tim Hiller will more-than-likely have a big game in a Broncos' win, which will lead to national recognition for a kid that has NFL-potential.
A win would also give Western Michigan a confidence boost on the road to their first conference title since 1988.
Michigan. I am not being biased with my pick, just honest. Michigan has not only talent, size, and tradition on their size, but they also have a feeling of redemption. The seniors want to go out on top, and leave their mark on one of college football's most storied programs.
They want to help engrave their names in Ann Arbor during what they hope will be the "turn-around season" after a dismal and embarrassing 3-9 campaign.
Their opportunity to turn the program around starts Saturday afternoon, and the seniors will lead their teammates through the tunnel at Michigan Stadium in what is the beginning of what they hope is a new beginning.