College Pigskin

Another Season in the Abyss?

Michigan 2010 Preview

Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 3rd Year (8-16)

2009 Record: 5-7 (1-7 Conference)

Returning Starters: 15 (8 defense, 7 offense)

When I think about the current state of the Michigan football program, I often think: “how did we get here?”  It seems like just yesterday I was on the horn with all of my Wolverine buddies talking about how dominant Michigan would be, once the newly hired coach Rich Rodriguez was able to install his system . . . what a difference a few seasons makes.

While I fully embraced the Rodriguez hire, I now find myself wondering whether its possible for ole’ Rich Rod to save his job.  I also wonder if Michigan is the right fit for Rich Rod.  Its not that I question his coaching ability.   Rather, I wonder whether new AD Dave Brandon has the patience, or more to the point, the faith to see this thing through.  After all, a dark cloud has hovered over this program, almost since the day Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor.  It started with Rodriguez’ messy divorce from his former team, the West Virginia Mountaineers.  Which was followed by other issues, some big (Justin Boren and Ryan Mallett transferring) and some small (taking the #1 jersey away from Daryl Stonum).  And now, we wait with baited breath as the NCAA decides how it will levy punishment against Michigan for a failure by Rodriguez and his staff to follow NCAA summer workout rules.  All of this along with one of the worst two-year records in the history of the program and it’s clear to see why this is a make or break year for Rodriguez.  Can he deliver the goods and save his job? Maybe.  Here’s a closer look.

Offense: If the Wolverines are to have any hope of making a bowl this year, it will be on the backs of the offense.  For the first time during the Rodriguez era, the Wolverines have at least one quarterback that’s actually started a college game.  The funny thing about it is that he (Tate Forcier) may not even be the starter for the first game against Connecticut.  Yes you read that correctly.  Sophomore speedster Denard Robinson is the odds-on favorite to lead the Wolverines offense.  Sure, Forcier and freshman Devin Gardner are competing for the job, but my sense is that the coaches and team like Robinson’s dedication and game-breaking capability.  Rodriguez says that he won’t name a starter until the night before the first game, but reading the tea leaves, it seems as if the job is Robinson’s to lose.  It had been reported that Robinson had gained the trust of the coaches and the team by working his tail off to improve both mentally and physically this summer.  It still seemed like a stretch to me until recently when now-injured senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk said as much during the Big Ten conference media days.  Whichever quarterback starts, the offense should show some marked improvement from last year; particularly in the turnover category.

As far as the running game is concerned, bruising tailback Brandon Minor will be missed, but a carousel of young running backs should step up to fill the void.  The speedy Vincent Smith returns this year after spending most of the offseason rehabbing a blown ACL, and should step into the starting role.  Expect freshman Stephen Hopkins to play a role in the backfield as a change of pace back.  Regardless of who emerges as the starter, he will be aided by an improved and veteran offensive line.  Center David Molk returns after missing most of the 2009 season to anchor the most experienced line the Wolverines have had since Lloyd Carr’s last season.  5 offensive lineman have started games in the past.  Senior Stephen Schilling is expected to have a big year, and redshirt sophomore Patrick Omameh should have a breakout year at guard.  While the offense lacks a big-play wideout, the receiving corps is deep and experienced.  Darryl Stonum is will be a difference maker in the passing game (now that he can see the ball), along with Roy Roundtree.  Despite a few question marks, there is a lot of experience on this offense and it should carry the team through at least the first half of the season.  Now defense, that’s a whole other matter.  Grade: B+

Defense: 2009 was one of the worst seasons on record for the Wolverines defensively.  Giving up 428 ypg to opposing offenses, these guys couldn’t stop anyone.  To make matters worse, a huge void was left with graduations and defections.   Particularly all-world defensive end Brandon Graham who graduated and is now playing on Sundays.  Of course that would have been manageable had the Wolverines not lost senior corner Troy Woolfolk for the season due to a dislocated ankle.  So now what?  Well, sophomore J.T. Floyd becomes a pivotal player in the secondary, opposite freshman Cullen Christian and senior James Rogers who are battling it out for the other corner spot.  Freshmen Terrance Talbot and Courtney Avery are expected to see time as well, but I wouldn’t expect much.  Although we’ve seen special players start as freshmen at that position in the past (Charles Woodson, Marlin Jackson), these kids are likely not of that caliber, so expecting as much from them may be a fool’s errand.  But it’s not all bad defensively.

The defensive line should be a position of strength with senior nose tackle Mike Martin leading the way.  I’m not holding my breath on linebackers Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh, but the coaches have raved about Mouton’s play all camp, and Craig Roh will continue to grow into an outstanding player at the “quick” position.  Finally, newcomer Cameron Gordon continues to earn praise from the coaches for his play during camp.  Although he’s a converted wide receiver who is learning the free safety position, Gordon is said to have a nose for the football.  This all shapes up as a defense that will be weak in the secondary but improved in the front seven.  Who knows, with a little luck, the defense could show some improvement.  After all, it couldn’t get any worse.  Grade: D

Special Teams: It’s unclear whether this will be an area of strength for the Wolverines.  Will Hagerup steps in as successor to punting extraordinaire Zoltan Mesko.  From all indications, Hagerup is quite talented.  On the other hand, the place kicker position remains unsettled with freshmen Brendan Gibbons and Seth Broekhuizen battling it out.  Though Gibbons appears to be headed towards winning the job, he’s a freshman who will be under the fire for the first time.  Considering a few games always come down to a field goal, we’ll just have to wait and see if the kid’s up to the challenge.  The return game should be adequate with Martavious Odoms and Darryl Stonum returning to handle those duties.  Grade: C

Final Analysis: At critical positions, Rodriguez finally has some players with experience on offense.  Defensively, coordinator Greg Robinson has been in place for two years in a row, which is a first during the Rodriguez era.  Players and coaches alike say that a change in terminology has made things easier for the players to understand defensive play calls, so improvement could be on the way.  Unfortunately none of that will make up for a severe lack of experience and depth in the secondary.  Ultimately that will be the team’s undoing, as it will be difficult for the defense to stop anyone.

Prediction: 7-5 (4 conference) including wins against Connecticut, Purdue and Iowa.

Postseason Prediction: Insight Bowl: Michigan 38 Texas A&M 31

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