This offseason for the Michigan Wolverines has been quite the roller coaster ride. From the time Rich Rodriguez came on board in controversial fashion, questions lingered.
How will this affect recruiting? Who will help RichRod run his vaunted spread attack? How will the Wolverines fare in 2008?
Well, the first question has been answered. RichRod managed to keep together a strong class and has been off to a strong start for 2009, picking up 12 recruits so far and taking Michigan in the direction of "smallish with the ability to jump to light speed."
The second question? Well, the temporary answer is Steven Threet. All I can really say on this is we're hoping it all works out.
As for that last question? Well, that's what I'm here for.
Without further ado, I'm going to take a look at the schedule for the upcoming year and give my predictions on each game.
8/30 vs Utah Utes
This will set the tone for the season. Utah will be entering this game being touted as potential BCS busters and returning seven starters from a very good offense.
Michigan's defense will have to come to play for this one, and I wouldn't expect a letdown. This could be a huge year for ends Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison, as well as tackle Terrance Taylor. Our corners should help keep the passing attack in check, assuming Utah's QB Brian Johnson is 100% healthy by then.
The key to this one will be Michigan controlling the clock with the run against a questionable front seven. If Michigan can exploit that weakness offensively, they will force Utah to play a one-dimensional offensive game.
Though many are touting upset, I think Michigan pulls this one out.
Michigan 24, Utah 13
9/6 vs Miami (OH) Redhawks
This isn't quite the matchup that is provided by both men's hockey teams.
While the Redhawks return eight starters offensively and nine defensively, there isn't a ton to write home about aside from the linebacking crew.
The Hawks lack playmakers and have as much uncertainty at the quarterback position as Michigan does. Miami traditionally hasn't fielded a strong team to begin with, so this one has advantage Wolverines written all over it.
Michigan 35, Miami (OH) 10
9/13 @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish
This should be an interesting matchup, to say the least, following Charlie Weis' "to Hell with Michigan" comments, a play on the phrase made famous by Bo Schembechler.
While the Irish are burning up the recruiting trail, they aren't doing well on the field. Jimmy Clausen looks like the real deal, but he can't showcase his skills if that suspect offensive line doesn't keep him upright.
They don't have an elite playmaker at the skill positions (at least not until these current recruits show up on campus). The key will obviously be if the Michigan front four can dictate the pace by pushing around the offensive line. I see Graham, Taylor, and the entire Michigan defense putting up a solid game and shutting down Jimmay.
Michigan 21, Notre Dame 13
9/27 vs Wisconsin Badgers
This is a swing game for obvious reasons. Wisconsin is a very good football team and has been for the last few years.
They return one of the top backs in the country and a potential Heisman candidate in P.J. Hill. They are solid in the trenches and boast a strong defense that will surely give the developing Michigan offense a lot of trouble.
A huge question mark, however, is the quarterback position. No one really stands out for them at the moment, and an unsettled situation would be beneficial to the Wolverines.
As strong as the defense looks and will potentially be, I don't see the offense doing enough to beat the Badgers, even in the Big House.
Michigan 14, Wisconsin 20
10/4 vs Illinois Fighting Illini
There is one plus to the new installation of the spread option attack—the defense will see it every practice, so I don't expect the defense to have trouble adjusting to it.
Illinois is going to be a sleeper favorite this year thanks to a solid 9-4 season in 2007. But I think that the Michigan defense will fluster Juice Williams, taking away his running options and forcing him to beat them with his arm—something I'm not entirely sure he can do.
If the Wolverines can get a rhythm going offensively, they should be able to eke this one out against a tough conference opponent.
Michigan 27, Illinois 17
10/11 vs Toledo Rockets
Another MAC team served up on a silver platter.
This game should end up one of two ways: Michigan comes in off big wins vs. Notre Dame and Wisconsin/Illinois and destroy Toledo. Or we could be reeling from back-to-back losses and eke out a close, scary win. I'm really hoping for the former.
Michigan 31, Toledo 7
10/18 @ Penn State Nittany Lions
Michigan puts up its streak of eight straight wins in this rivalry and will undoubtedly come into this game as the underdog.
The Lions return a very good group at wide receiver and a strong defense, led by a quick, experienced secondary and an always solid linebacking corps.
The big question, like every other team so far, is at quarterback. Who replaces the underachieving Anthony Morelli? Whoever is under center, Michigan needs to fluster him. Getting people in his face will undoubtedly throw off the PSU attack and give the Wolverines chances.
I think the defense can get the job done here, and I expect a big game out of one of our backs (will the real Kevin Grady please stand up?), but don't think it's enough to top the Nittany Lions.
Michigan 20, Penn State 24
10/25 vs Michigan State Spartans
It's always fun when Little Brother shows up. Michigan has owned their in-state rivals as of late, and I don't see this changing—at least not in the coming season.
While they have solid playmaking options, led by back Javon Ringer, there are question marks on defense as far as the secondary and pass rush are concerned. If Threet can get going against the defense early, it could be a long day for the Spartans.
As usual, the defense will be the catalyst. Michigan's job will be to shut down Ringer and force MSU to pass. A revamped Spartan offensive line may help that.
Michigan 23, Michigan State 14
11/1 @ Purdue Boilermakers
This could be a sleeper game—and I don't mean that in a good way for the Wolverines.
Purde has a history of being a good passing team, and if they solve their issues with the offensive line and replace four lost receivers, that could again be the case.
I could see this being somewhat of a breakout day for Threet and the offense, as the Boilers defense lacks a pass rush and isn't all that good outside of its linebacking crew.
Look for the Wolverines to pick up another momentum-building win heading into Minneapolis the following week.
Michigan 34, Purdue 17
11/8 @ Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Gophers have done a solid job on the recruiting trail the last few years, but they won't see the results this year.
The nation's worst defense returns, and while it probably won't be the worst again, it won't be much better thanks to a weak secondary and minimal improvements overall.
The offense won't be much better, lacking a true feature back for the first time in quite a while. They also don't have much as far as receiver goes other than Eric Decker.
The Wolverines should make this a relatively easy win before heading into their matchup with the Northwestern Wildcats.
Michigan 28, Minnesota 10
11/15 vs Northwestern Wildcats
After the Armageddon Game last year, I try not to take any opponent too lightly. That includes Northwestern.
Facing obvious talent deficiencies, Northwestern has a brutally bad defense and questions on its offensive line—not something any struggling offense wants to deal with. The good news for the Wildcats is that QB C.J. Bacher returns after totaling 3,656 yards last season.
Regardless, this should be a relatively easy victory for the Wolverines as they head to the showdown in Columbus.
Michigan 27, Northwestern 9
11/22 @ Ohio State Buckeyes
This is the least anticipated birthday for me in quite some time. The Buckeyes will enter this game as the favorites for obvious reasons, and more than deserve to be.
They are stacked at just about every position, returning a tremendous offensive line and Heisman hopeful Beanie Wells on offense.
Defensively, they bring back James Laurinaitis and a stout unit that should be among the nation's best.
Our only hope is that the defense plays out of its mind and shuts down Wells, forcing Todd Boeckman to beat us—something I'm still not sure he's capable of, at least not against a real team.
I don't really have a gameplan for the offense, but the slash and dash will need to be in full force and clicking on all cylinders for us to pull this one out. Ohio State will have bragging rights for one more year.
Michigan 17, Ohio State 27
Final Prediction: 9-3 with an appearance in another late-December bowl game, leading into a potential Championship-caliber season in 2009.
Obviously, this all hinges on the defense being as good as advertised and the offense being slightly above "adequate." If Threet can turn into a viable threat and make the offense hum, we could be in for better things.
Of course, the offense could suck and the defense could fail to live up to the hype, and we could be 6-6. So there's always that...