Welcome to Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mr. Rodriguez. Now, despite the fact that you are implementing a radically different offensive scheme, you will be expected to win at least eight games this fall. Good luck, coach!
Now back to reality.
There is a reason that the Michigan brass hired former West Virginia head football coach Rich Rodriguez: He is a darn good football coach.
With that said, coach Rodriguez's task for this fall, and really through the 2009 season, will be daunting. Michigan's pro-style offense hit the junk pile as soon as coach Rodriguez accepted the opportunity to be the head coach at Michigan.
With that responsibility, however, came the inevitable: a complete makeover in offensive personnel, beginning with finding a way to make traditional drop-back quarterbacks productive within the spread offense.
Coach Rodriguez's offensive system depends on a mobile and heady quarterback to run the show. Michigan currently does not possess that player on its roster, sans incoming freshman Justin Feagin, who went under the recruiting radar for much of last year. Feagin's skills do fit the spread offense, but a true freshman running the spread will lead to miscues more often than not.
No offense to redshirt freshman Steven Threet, but he is not a spread offense quarterback. Threet will likely be the quarterback when the Wolverines take on Utah to start the 2008 season. Good luck with that.
Without a spread offense quarterback who has experience playing in the spread returning to the Michigan roster, coach Rodriguez's spread offense loses the threat of a true option and a quarterback that can improvise when a play breaks down, thus enabling teams to blitz more, place more defenders in the box, and key on other skill position players.
The long and short of this year's Michigan offense—it will be terrible.
A few good bets about Michigan's offense this season are as follows: likely to lead the league in turnovers committed (note the quarterback issues above, coupled with coach Rodriguez's prior public comments that he will not alter his scheme this year despite the fact there is no true spread quarterback returning to the roster), bottom five in the Big Ten in yards per game, points per game, yards per carry, and third down conversion rate.
All of the aforementioned predictions are attributed to the quarterback situation. That's just how important the quarterback position is to coach Rodriguez's system. And then there is the issue with the offensive line…
The former Michigan staff preferred the huge, bulky, powerful offensive lineman. The current coaching staff prefers quickness over size and the ability to make blocks in space, i.e. screen passes and swing passes, and hold the edge for sweeps and option plays.
Michigan's offensive line will be in flux during this season and next. In time, the situation will correct itself. This season Michigan will be solid up front, but expect the offensive line to dramatically improve between this season and next. A year in the spread, and a year within the new strength and training system, will enhance Michigan's offensive linemen considerably.
Yes, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington bolted to the NFL. That will be a tough pill to swallow for coach Rodriguez and his staff. Having that type of wide receiver talent would have made the transition at quarterback much easier. Oh well—Threet will have to grow up quickly.
Michigan will certainly have ample talent at wide receiver, but it will be largely inexperienced beyond junior Greg Mathews.
The good news begins and ends for the Michigan offense at the running back position. With juniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown returning, coach Rodriguez will be able to utilize two talents that know what it is like to play in the Big Ten. Both players will be relied on heavily from the outset of the season.
The Wolverines also boast some talented incoming freshman tailbacks/slot receivers that could see early playing time. The question will be, how much time do they need to learn the system so that they help more than they hurt the offense?
For now, Michigan will have to make do with many parts that do not fit the car. That's just the way it is. Coach Rodriguez will have Michigan back on track by the end of the 2009 season, but it will be a long 2008 season.
Prediction: Michigan will be 5-7, largely due to its offense imploding this fall.