Author's Note: I apologize for this preview being so late (posted an hour before kickoff). It's been a very busy week, but I wanted to make sure I got this in writing before the game. In future weeks, it will be posted in the middle of the week, and with more time and thought put into it.
The Western Michigan Broncos come to Ann Arbor with a live-armed senior quarterback, Tim Hiller, who threw for 3,725 yards last season with 36 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions.
Though most of that was against Mid-American Conference competition, Hiller threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns in last season’s opener at Nebraska.
Leading rusher, Brandon West, also returns from a 1,000-yard rushing season, behind a line that returns four starters. West passed Greg Jennings last season as the school’s all-time leader in all-purpose yardage.
Though Hiller lost his top two receivers, Jamarko Simmons and Schneider Julien, he still has an experienced one in Juan Nunez, who had over 700 yards receiving and seven touchdowns a year ago.
Michigan will start true freshman, Tate Forcier, at quarterback, but Rich Rodriguez plans to use junior Nick Sheridan and freshman Denard Robinson as well.
Forcier, the third and youngest brother in the family, comes to Michigan with a lot of hype and big expectations to lead Rodriguez’s offense back to prominence.
In the backfield, Michigan features a stable of talent, led by senior Brandon Minor. An ankle injury has slowed Minor this week, and reports out of Ann Arbor say he may not play. Regardless, fellow senior Carlos Brown gets the start against WMU.
Brown has been hampered by injuries for much of his career and only tallied 29 rushes for 122 yards last season.
Sophomore Michael Shaw and true freshman Vincent Smith also expect to see time in the backfield. Shaw showed promise last year as a freshman, rushing for 215 yards on 42 carries and scoring Michigan’s first touchdown of the season. Smith is fast and promises to provide a change-of-pace back for Michigan’s offense.
At receiver, Michigan has a wealth of young talent, led by sophomore Martavious Odoms, who led the team in receiving last season as a true freshman with 49 catches for 443 yards.
The outside receiver is Greg Mathews, a senior who needs to step up as the leader of the group. Not an explosive threat, Mathews should be a solid possession receiver.
Michigan has a lot of promise, but Western Michigan has the experience. Western Michigan
Defensively, the Broncos gave up 25 points per game last season, but only three starters return from that unit. Two of those returning, Justin Braska and Cody Cielenski, led the defensive line with a combined 10 sacks.
Linebacker Austin Pritchard, an All-MAC First Team selection last year, returns after racking up 10.5 tackles for loss a year ago.
Michigan’s defense gave up more points than any other in Michigan history, but fired defensive coordinator Scott Shafer in the off-season and brought in former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson to lead the unit.
Robinson coordinated the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowls in the late ‘90s and the Texas Longhorns for the 2004 season.
He inherits a defense that is strong up front and young in the secondary. Senior defensive end Brandon Graham, a preseason All-Big Ten selection, and projected first round pick in the NFL Draft, is the leader, and currently ranks eighth in Michigan history in career sacks, with 19.
Sophomore nose tackle Mike Martin had a breakout season as a true freshman last year, recording 20 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
In the middle, junior Obi Ezeh led Michigan in tackles each of the past two seasons and figures to be a standout linebacker this season.
Junior Donovan Warren leads a young but talented secondary. Warren has started 22 of 24 career games at cornerback. If an ankle injury that slowed Warren down last season can hold up, Michigan can expect big things from him.
Though Michigan's defense was one of the worst in history last season, a lot has changed and this season should be much different. Western Michigan returns only three defensive starters, so Michigan gets the advantage.
Western Michigan returns both its kicker, John Potter, and punter, Ben Armer, though Potter was a freshman last season and Armer ranked 97th in the nation in net punting.
Running back Brandon West handles kickoff returns, and is the school’s career leader in returns and return yards.
Michigan returns senior punter Zoltan Mesko, a All-Big Ten first team selection last season. He ranks second in school history in career punts, punt yardage, and 42.0 punt average.
At kicker, senior Jason Olesnavage takes over with not a single field goal or PAT attempt recorded in his career.
Odoms will handle punt returning duties as he did last season. He had one return for a touchdown a year ago, but also struggled holding onto the ball.
Sophomore corner back Boubacar Cissoko will return kickoffs after showing some promise last season.
Michigan should have an advantage when forced to punt, but lining up for field goals should be anyone's guess. WMU has the advantage on kickoff returns, so overall I say this is a push.
The Broncos have scored 20 or more points against seven of the last nine BCS opponents and look to hand Michigan its third straight season-opening loss.
Michigan has faced a lot of scrutiny in the past week amid allegations of possible NCAA violations. Will that be a distraction for the players, or will it force them to solidify as a group and come out hungry? My bet is the latter.
Michigan will march down the field on its opening drive to take an early lead. The rest of the first half will be fairly slow, but the defensive front seven will pressure Hiller all day and keep Michigan in the game.
Michigan will slowly pull away in the second half with solid, safe game management from Forcier and will pile up over 200 yards on the ground.
Michigan 27 – Western Michigan 21