Michigan Football: Could the Wolverines Win the Big Ten This Season?
Every two years, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is fought out between 12 different sides on American soil.
In this year's tournament, the following 12 sides are competing for the highest honor in North American international football: Mexico, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Cuba, Grenada, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Now that the Gold Cup has kicked off, here is my ranking of all 12 teams in this tournament.
Offensive Production in 2010
Forget the fact that Rich Rodriguez ran his offense last year. Forget that Rich Rod's spread run-oriented offense will be scraped for a more pro-style approach. Forget that there will be another new offensive coordinator for this Michigan team.
This Michigan team ranked eighth and 13th in total offense and rushing offense from a year ago. While the production may change in how it's dispersed, don't expect a huge drop off in statistical production.
Brady Hoke and Al Borges (head coach and offensive coordinator) aren't stupid. You don't try and fix something that works. You tweak something that works to make it work better.
Nine Returing Offensive Starters
Having starters return on either side of the ball is almost always a good thing for a college team. For some teams, the offense struggles the year before, but thanks to the experience, they only get better. That, however, is not the case at all for the Michigan Wolverines.
With the production that they put up, having the three top receivers returning (especially Roy Roundtree, who had 935 yards last year), four offensive linemen returning (including center David Molk, All American player), the starting tight end back (Kevin Koger), and of course Denard Robinson, this No. 1 ranked Big Ten offense from a year ago should be even more improved.
Seven Returning Defensive Starters
This may not be the best reason to be excited for this Michigan team. Last year, the Wolverines didn't finish in the top ten in any major defensive category last year, finishing most notably 112th against the pass last season.
However, there are some reasons to be very optimistic. First off, Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin on the defensive line showed great flashes last year, and both could be the staple of the defense next year. Also, Jordan Kovacs, who had 116 tackles tackles a season ago, returns at safety.
And finally, 2011 starting cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd were both hurt last season, and the team was forced to start two true freshman. Now they have four cornerbacks with experience.
Notre Dame, Nebraska, Play in "The Big House"
I won't say that Michigan has maintained the tradition of being dominant at home in recent years, but the Big House is still "The Big House," and Michigan coaches, players, and fans know that it's a leg up when that crowd gets going.
Notre Dame will have to travel to Ann Arbor Week 2 of the season, and while they are viewed as their usual trendy sleeper pick to be BCS bound, Michigan's offense will have that home-field advantage.
Ending the season on back to back "home games" is a great feeling for Michigan fans, but playing arguably the conference's best in Nebraska won't be easy. Nebraska is probably viewed as the favorite to win the Big Ten this season.
Ohio State won't take the Michigan game easily on a neutral field on Progressive Field in Cleveland, but being at "home" against two teams that lost a lot from last year could be a great chance for Michigan to finish the season on a very, very high note.
Addition of Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison
I am usually a huge advocator of bringing in NFL people to a college organization if they really want to be there long term. Greg Mattison, former defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens since Rex Ryan left, has joined the Michigan program and has said he's excited to be with this Michigan team for the long term.
He'll be moving this defense to a 4-3 base look. His defense really highlights the defensive line, which returns three players from last year, including Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin.
This defense has a lot of work to do as they allowed the most points (458) and yards (5,860) in Michigan football history (131 years).
Brady Hoke as the New Head Coach
I talked a lot about Brady Hoke in an article back when he was just hired that went through the pros and cons of him as the coach:
The most notable stat that shows that he can win and win early at Michigan, is this. In his second season with San Diego State a year ago, he lost four games.
They were at Missouri, at BYU, at TCU, and against Utah. All four of those teams were ranked at some point last year. In those four losses, San Diego State lost by a COMBINED 15 points. That's under four points lost a game on average in the second season without his guys at a non-BCS program.
With the Big Ten's best offense (he had the Aztecs in the Top 20 in Scoring, Passing and Total Offense) and a former NFL defensive coordinator, Hoke has the ability and the personnel around him (219 years of combined experience among 9 staff members) to win early.
Denard Robinson Is Back
The defense has an NFL coach running it with seven returning starters and two cornerbacks coming back from injury. They have three top receivers, four offensive linemen, and their tight end returning from last year. They have two of their toughest games at home this year. And their new head coach has a history of winning and winning early.
However, this Michigan team's success will rest on one player's ability and how he can perform this year: Heisman hopeful and former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in Denard Robinson.
Last year, he finished with over 2,500 passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns, over 1,700 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
This year, with Brady Hoke's more pro-style offense, I'd expect that Robinson goes a little bit more in the passing direction, but another year in college as the feature quarterback should give him another chance to be a Heisman contender.