Part One of Four of game by game analysis and projection of the 2008 Michigan Wolverines season.
August 30 – UTAH
The Utes are regarded as one of the top non-BCS teams in the nation and are favored to win their conference. Incumbent starter Brian Johnson has had an injury-filled career, but he appears to be fully recovered from the ACL and shoulder surgeries that have plagued him the past two seasons.
When healthy, Johnson constitutes a true dual-threat at QB, and as this squad also returns its leading rusher Darrell Mack and four starting offensive linemen, the offense has the potential to be very productive and the strength of this team.
However, the Utes did lose several starters on the defensive side, and are expected to play numerous young players at linebacker and on the defensive line.
With that, I believe Michigan’s offensive line will be able to dominate the line of scrimmage, racking up yardage on the ground and putting up points while taking pressure off whoever the QB will end up being.
Though the Ute offense will do its fair share of damage, the Michigan defense returns enough talent, experience, and size to eventually contain Johnson & co. and squeak out Rich Rodriguez’s first game as Michigan head coach. W (28-20)
September 6 – MIAMI (OH)
The Redhawks enter the 2008 season as a fairly experienced squad, returning 17 total starters, with eight on offense and nine on defense.
However, with incumbent starter Daniel Raudabaugh unable to separate himself from redshirt freshman Clay Belton after spring ball, questions still circle the quarterback position.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the offense, the Redhawks will look to the defense to carry them this season, and as reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year Clayton Mullins returns to lead this senior-laden unit, the Redhawks may find some success in slowing the Michigan running game.
But with the Redhawks' lack of playmakers on the offensive side, and lingering questions surrounding their quarterback situation, the Wolverine defense holds for the second straight week as the Michigan offense puts enough points on the board to win in week two. W (14-3)
September 13 – @ Notre Dame
This matchup between the two winningest programs in college football provides Michigan with its first road test of the young season, and will be a key determinant on how this Wolverine squad will finish—either helping build momentum and confidence, or acting as the start of a disappointing three months.
Notre Dame returns nine starters on offense, headlined by sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen. After last year’s 3-9 season, the Irish figure to be a much improved team in 2008, and it will be up to Clausen, receiver Duval Kamara, and running back Robert Hughes to carry this offense.
Following back-to-back blowouts at the hands of Michigan, Notre Dame will be out for blood. However, if the offensive line, led by sophomore right tackle Sam Young, fails to improve drastically from last year’s debacle, Notre Dame could be in for much of the same.
Because the offense was so putrid last year, many seemed to have glossed over the fact that this Irish defense remains nothing more than a very pedestrian unit. With defensive leaders Tom Zbikowski and Trevor Laws now playing on Sundays, younger players will be forced to step up and contribute on a consistent basis, and that is far from a certainty.
With Michigan still working out kinks of its own at this point of the season, and a highly inexperienced offensive unit entering a hostile environment for the first time, I foresee a low-scoring affair and a game determined by the play of both defenses.
The Wolverines will depend on the play of their talented front four of Brandon Graham, Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson, and Tim Jamison—a unit that sacked quarterback Clausen eight times in last year’s matchup—to once again give the Notre Dame offensive line fits and lead Michigan to a narrow victory in its first road contest of the season. W (13-7)
Stay tuned for my projections on the next three matchups: Wisconsin, Illinois, and Toledo.