Part two of four of game-by-game analysis and projection of the 2008 Michigan Wolverines' season.
September 27th – WISCONSIN
Michigan ends the month of September with the start of Big Ten play, welcoming the Badgers to Ann Arbor. Returning eight starters on offense and nine starters on defense, Wisconsin looks primed to make another run at a Big Ten Championship, and will look to build momentum heading into their matchup with Ohio State the following week.
Questions surround the Badgers at the quarterback position, as Kansas State transfer Allan Evridge was unable to distinguish himself from Dustin Sherer at the end of spring ball. However, with Wisconsin returning four legitimate ball carriers in P.J. Hill, Zach Brown, Lance Smith, and prized recruit John Clay—who sat out his freshman season due to academic reasons—the Badgers seem set on wearing down defenses and continuing to run the football.
All-Big Ten tight end Travis Beckum also returns to provide the Badger quarterbacks a reliable target and force defenses to respect the passing game.
On defense, Wisconsin loses stalwarts Nick Hayden and Jack Ikegewuono to the NFL. However, linebackers Jonathan Casillas and Deandre Levy, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, and free safety Shane Carter all return to lead what should be a solid unit.
Though health will be a question mark for this Badger squad, as 26 players missed time due to injuries during spring ball, most if not all should be healthy by the time the season rolls around, providing this young Michigan team with its most daunting task yet.
Though Michigan should enter this contest looking to avenge last year’s loss which cost them a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin dominated on both sides of the ball in last season’s matchup and I anticipate much of the same.
Look for the Badger defense to stymie the young Wolverine offense, and P.J. Hill and Co. to wear down the Michigan front four as the game progresses. Michigan begins Big Ten play with its first loss of the season.
October 4th – ILLINOIS
Following last year’s breakout season, The Fighting Illini look not only to challenge for the Big Ten crown, but avenge last year’s loss to Michigan that knocked them out of the Big Ten race.
The key to Illinois’ success this season hinges on the play of junior quarterback Isiah “Juice” Williams. With Rashard Mendenhall and his 1,700 yards rushing off to the NFL, the Illini offense will run through Williams. If he is unable to get the ball to star sophomore Arrelious Benn and provide a consistent passing threat to pair with his abilities running the football, this season could be a step back for this Illinois program.
On the defensive side of the ball Illinois looks to replace six starters, including stand-out tackle Chris Norwell and leading tackler J Leman. However, with leading sacker Will Davis returning, along with ends Douch Pilcher and Derek Walker, the defensive line looks to be a strength of this Illini squad.
This past spring, two-year starter Brit Miller moved from the strong side to replace Leman in the middle, and with promising sophomore Martez Wilson in the mix, the linebacking corps should be solid as well.
Even with corner Vontae Davis returning, the secondary remains a question mark as Illinois attempts to replace safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison. Their replacements should be a key determinant of the overall success of this defensive unit as a whole come September.
Though Michigan should enter the contest fired up coming off of last week’s loss, with Juice Williams’ improved play through the air, and a talented front seven returning on defense, the Wolverine offense is quieted for the second consecutive week, starting off the Big Ten season with back to back losses.
(L 20 – 13)
October 11th – TOLEDO
The Rockets start the year searching to replace running back Janele Parmele, who is gone after piling up 1,511 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Though quarterback Aaron Opelt and leading receiver Stephen Williams both return to lead the offense, the departure of four-year starter John Greco at left tackle should send shivers up Rocket fans’ spines.
Redshirt freshman Mike VanDerMeulen will be handed the task of protecting Opelt’s blind side from the likes of Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison.
On defense, Toledo returns eight starters. However with coach Amstutz’s reshuffling of the entire unit, their experience may be negated. Michigan’s size and speed advantage will become evident early, as the Wolverines end their two-game losing streak and dominate the Rockets.
Stay tuned for part three as I preview the matchups with Penn State, Michigan State, and Purdue.