In the past two articles, I looked at the offense, defense, specialists and the team as a whole. In this article, I will look at the incoming freshmen, intangibles, schedule and I will give my final analysis as to how I think things might shake out for the Wolverines.
Scout ranked Michigan's 2011 class third in the conference while Rivals ranked it fourth. Though this class lacked a lot of the 5-star, blue chip players that the Wolverines usually bring in, it says a good deal that UM can still bring in a solid class, despite the turmoil of the offseason.
The first, and most important recruit in this class is kicker Matt Wile. I won't rehash Michigan's place kicking woes, as they are detailed in the second part of this series. Nonetheless, Wile was given a scholarship to come right in and right the kicking ship. He probably will make some mistakes in his freshman year, but almost anything is better than last season.
Canton, Michigan's Brennen Beyer is listed as a strongside defensive end by Rivals. Meanwhile, Scout lists him as both a tight end and defensive end. Listed at 6'4", 220 lbs., Beyer will have to gain some weight. Nonetheless, with a listed 40 time of 4.5 (4.7 on Scout), Beyer could add speed to the line or could give Borges another option at tight end.
And speaking of tight ends, Chris Barnett out of Texas is already already at playing size. He is listed as almost 250 lbs., and according to Rivals, he has "very soft hands."
If Hoke opts to put Beyer at defensive end—or even if he doesn't—Barnett could also push for immediate playing time, both on special teams and as a second or third tight end.
The big question here concerns scheme change. Moreover, it concerns fitting somewhat square pegs into somewhat round holes.
I previously said that no matter how well Brady Hoke does, the transition between Rodriguez and Hoke should be nowhere near as painful as the unfinished transition between Carr and Rodriguez. I stand by that.
However, the thing about Hoke is that he wants receivers playing the receiver position. He wants a quarterback in the quarterback position. He wants a running back in the running back position.
By comparison, Rich Rodriguez liked to play six slot receivers on the offense at all times with five relatively light and quick offensive linemen up front. Can Brady Hoke and OC Al Borges work with that?
Can they turn five fleet-footed spread option linemen into aggressive, lunch-pail, Big Ten offensive linemen? Moreover, can the strength and conditioning coach get those linemen up their ideal Big Ten playing weight, which is, in most cases, 20-or-so-pounds heavier than Rodriguez had them?
Can Hoke and DC Greg Mattison help their defensive players erase the bad habits they picked up under Rodriguez? Can they teach them how to play responsible, technically-sound assignment football?
Yes, Denard Robinson should adjust to Hoke's offense much more easily than Steven Threet adjusted (or failed to adjust) under Rodriguez's offense. But, despite what some people think, there are a lot of out-of-place pieces in this equation.
09/03: Western Michigan. Michigan is the heavy favorite.
09/10: Notre Dame. Michigan is the slight underdog.
09/17: Eastern Michigan. Heavy Favorite.
09/24: San Diego State. Favorite.
10/01: Minnesota. Heavy Favorite.
10/08: At Northwestern. Toss-up.
10/15: At Michigan State. Underdog.
10/22: Open Date.
10/29: Purdue. Favorite.
11/05: At Iowa. Slight underdog.
11/12: At Illinois. Toss-up.
11/19: Nebraska. Underdog.
11/26: Ohio State. Underdog.
Best Case Scenario
The offense takes to the scheme change immediately. Meanwhile, the defense shows notable improvements from last year's abomination.
The Wolverines come out and crush Western Michigan.
They lose on a last-second field goal to Notre Dame in a surprisingly defensive game.
They proceed to destroy Eastern Michigan and then win solidly over a San Diego State that is notably struggling without a large portion of last year's coaching staff.
Heading into the conference slate, the Wolverines handily win the Jug and Paul Bunyan, in between which they win a close one over Northwestern.
By this point, the offense is a well-oiled machine, and the defense is at least in the upper half of the conference.
Michigan routs Purdue, and wins close ones against both Iowa and Illinois.
They proceed to lose to Nebraska, but beat a struggling Ohio State for the first time since 2003.
At 7-1 in conference, they win the Western Division and go on to the conference championship, where they eek by either Penn State or Wisconsin.
At 11-2, UM not only is back with a vengeance, but they secure a Rose Bowl berth for the 21st time in their history.
Worst Case Scenario
Michigan beats UWM, but doesn't look good doing it. In fact, the defense still looks scared to tackle while the offense seems to be thinking too much.
Confidence is not high as Notre Dame comes to town and rightfully so. The Domers crush a disjointed and indecisive-looking Wolverine squad.
UM comes back against Eastern Michigan and looks more settled, but a setback against San Diego State leaves the Wolverines at 2-2 as they head into the Big Ten season.
The Wolverines beat Minnesota fairly handily, but they lose close games to both Northwestern and Michigan State.
The bye week proves to be just what they need as they regroup and get back to basics.
Michigan reels off three wins in a row (two on the road) before finishing the season with losses to Nebraska and OSU, yet again.
Still, 6-6 in a transitional year is much better than Rodriguez's first season.
I don't think Denard Robinson will ever be a great passing quarterback. I do think he will be an adequate passing quarterback.
I also think that if the offensive line can stay healthy, the Wolverines' should have a very strong rushing game on Stephen Hopkins' or Michael Cox's back, as both are made for Borges' offense. This, along with a nice group of receivers means that Robinson will never have to be a great passing quarterback for Michigan to have a great offense.
Meanwhile, any confidence I lack in Brady Hoke's ability to coach up a defense is placated by the confidence I have in Greg Mattison. He'll get the defense back to form. It just may take a while.
Overall, I expect both the Michigan D and O to have some early season hiccups as they get used to the new coaching philosophy and playbook. Luckily, the toughest part of the schedule is at the end of the season.
In the end, I have UM losing to Notre Dame, Northwestern and Michigan State early, but coming out strong following the bye week.
I have them winning three in a row before losing a close one to Nebraska. More importantly, I have them beating Ohio State.
With eight wins and a win over OSU, spirits will be extremely high in Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines receive the Big Ten's fourth bowl pick—a trip to the Insight Bowl.
Be sure to check out past installments of Big Ten Breakdown, beginning with the most recent, the Penn State Nittany Lions.