Michigan: After three of the historically worst seasons ever recorded in the annals of Michigan football, the Rich Rodriguez experiment ended, with a thud. The 52-14 thrashing by the sixth best SEC conference finisher Mississippi State showed just how far this once proud program had fallen. After an exhaustive search UM got their man, or should we say their third option, Brady Hoke. Hoke is a former UM assistant who has spent the last decade or more rebuilding the Ball State and San Diego State programs, and is believed to the right “Michigan Man” to return the Wolverines to glory. Considering all the talk made by many of the Michigan fans about how Rich Rodriguez was going to revolutionize the Big Ten with his style of football and have the Wolverines contending for multiple national championships, Hoke is coming in with a lot less bravado. His style of play does not quite fit the players recruited by the previous regime so it will take some time before he gets enough of his type of players to contend with the conference heavy weights Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Offense: For the past two seasons everything has revolved around UM’s two September Heisman award winning quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Regrettably Tate Forcier was forced to leave the team prior to their bowl game for academic reasons, meaning that he will now have to transfer to another school to resume his Heisman career. Thankfully Mr. Robinson is still in the neighborhood which assures the media will have another September in which to bestow upon him college’s most prestigious award. All sarcasm aside, Robinson is a truly electrifying college football player. He has breakaway speed, and deceptive moves that make him a threat every time he takes off and starts to run. Unfortunately that is neither the Brady Hoke, nor Al Borges, Michigan’s OC, style of offense. They spent all spring trying to transform him into a traditional pocket passer to fit their west coast style offense. The early results were not promising as Robinson struggled throwing the ball in the spring game. If Robinson does not make significant improvement in this capacity over the summer, expect a quarterback battle between him and sophomore Devin Gardner during preseason camp. Michigan returns three from last years offensive line, sophomore tackle Taylor Lewan, junior guard Patrick Omameh, and All-Big Team first team selection, sernior center David Molk. What has yet to be determined is how they will adjust to the new blocking scheme after having been coached to block for a spread offense. Michigan running backs have not been heavily utilized, especially last year where the bulk of the rushing yardage accumulated and attempts were handled by Denard Robinson. Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw shared duties in 2010 and both had respectable yard per attempt averages from a limited amount of carries. The receiving corps returns all three starting receivers used in Rodriguez’s spread offense, seniors Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway, and junior Roy Roundtree. Recent developments surrounding Stonum’s third DUI infraction makes it likely that he will receive a harsh, team imposed punishment consisting of having to kiss a UM coed prior to the start of every game, other than that there is no reason to believe he will lose any significant playing time. Expect fewer three and four receiver sets in Borges’ offense, and more involvement using the TE, which should make senior Kevin Kroger happy.
Defense: The past two years the most popular three letter tweet used by Michigan fans watching their defense was OMG. This wasn’t just a bad defense this was an OMG WTFCWSA (Why the F*ck can’t we stop anyone) bad defense. There are plenty of adjectives to describe the performance of the Wolverine defense these past few years but shredded, and nonexistent are probably the most fitting. Up front UM is switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 and will be returning All-Big Ten second team selection, senior Mike Martin at NT. Joining Martin will be returning senior Ryan Van Bergen who played as a DT last season but might find himself as an edge rusher in the new scheme. Junior Craig Roh has played a hybrid LB/DE his first two seasons, and it is unsettled if he will continue in the role or if he will focus on one specific area. Martin and Van Bergen form a respectable tandem that will likely flourish in the new alignment. Talk coming out of Ann Arbor is that highly rated DT William Campbell has gone from bust to beast. If that is the case then UM might field a decent defense against the run. Three of the four starting linebackers return in 2011, senior J.B. Fitzgerald, junior Kenny Demens, and sophomore Cam Gordon. For most teams that would be a good thing, but UM’s best linebacker last year was the guy who graduated, and these three did nothing to distinguish themselves except for getting run over by opposing teams running backs. The old adage that error increases with distance could best describe the UM secondary. The further away from the line of scrimmage you go the worse the caliber of play.
Special Teams: What do Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and a Michigan placekicker have in common? Proof of their actual existence is mere speculation. To say that Michigan struggled in kicking field goals last year would be an understatement. Combined UM was 4 of 16 on field goals. If they left their Robinson and the offense out there on fourth down they probably would have had the same percentage of converting a first down. Punting was handled by Will Hagerup who had a solid freshman campaign with a 43.6 yard average on 33 punts.
Outlook: The three year failed experiment that was Rich Rodriguez is finally over. UM fans boasted that he would usher in a new era of UM football that would continue their success but offering a more entertaining and exciting offense than what characterized them in the past. Three years later that same crowd are crowing loudly and embracing their past because of getting their man, “A MICHIGAN MAN”, Brady Hoke, who was in fact at a minimum their third option. If the argument for Rodriguez’s first two losing seasons in Ann Arbor was based on the assumption that Lloyd Carr had left the program bare, what will be the excuse applied to Hoke while he and his staff rebuild. The contrasting styles of offense between Rodriguez and Hoke means that the majority of the talent available was suited specifically for running the spread, and not playing power football. Al Borges returns his west coast offense to the Big Ten for a second time, the first with Indiana. The issue the past three seasons has not been the offense, but UM’s absolute inability to stop any team with a pulse. Thankfully Hoke was able to pry the anointed one, DC Greg Mattison away from the Baltimore Ravens. UM fans have been reassured that he will immediately resurrect this group into a combination of the Pittsburgh Steelers Steel Curtain, and Dallas Cowboy Dooms Day defenses. For all those other fans living in the real world and dealing with reality know that outside of Mike Martin, UM talent pool is about as deep as a puddle and as unappealing. Michigan’s out of conference slate has them facing Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan and San Diego State, all at home for the first four weeks of the season. Normally that would guarantee a minimum of a 3-1 record, but these are not normal times. Western will be a tougher out than what the Wolverine fandom anticipate. Hoke will also have to make sure that his troops aren’t looking ahead to their game with the Irish the following week. EMU in all likelihood will be the easiest and surest win. Hoke will be facing his former Aztec program and if the rumors are to be believed about his coaching prowess, should put up significant resistance. The conference schedule has the Wolverines playing six teams that were bowl eligible in 2010, Northwestern, MSU, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and OSU. The two teams that might be considered breathers in this schedule are Minnesota and Purdue, but with a program instituting new schemes and returning much of the failed defensive talent nothing is a given. This is a team that at best I see going 6-6, but that is saying there can be no slip ups among WMU, EMU, SDSU, Minnesota and Purdue, and stealing a game from either Northwestern or Illinois.