Wednesday, August 23, 2006

2006 Season Preview

Well, now that I've gone through the positions on the field, I'd like to share my thoughts on the team as a whole and what I think we can expect to see on the field. I'll just start out by saying that last year was a disaster. 7-5 does not cut it on any level at Michigan and some of the performances were downright ugly.

So what exactly has changed to make me more optimistic this year? 2 big things. For one, Lloyd Carr has really shaken up the coaching staff in a big way. We've got a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator, a new linebacker coach, and a new cornerback coach. There are lots of new ideas floating around the staff now and I think that's a good thing for a program that might have grown a little stagnant. The early word on the offense is that Michigan will not be so predictable any more in the playcalling. The rushing plays will have a little more variation and the passing playbook will be opened wider. On the defensive side of the ball, Ron English has been handed the reins by Lloyd Carr and he is promising a more aggressive approach on the field. I look forward to seeing what he can get the kids to do considering some of the enormous individual talents he has to work with (Branch, Woodley, Hall, etc).

Why else am I excited about Michigan's chances this year? Health. Last year was the biggest rash of injuries to ever hit Michigan. The OL was decimated, Mike Hart was banged up, and the defense lost players all over the field for stretches of time. Well, aside from a small number of injuries in camp this fall, Michigan is healthy and ready to roll this year. Guys like Jake Long, Mike Hart, Ryan Mundy, and LaMarr Woodley are all hoping for a chance at being impact players in every game.

So the team should be better, right? Yes, but that still leaves the little matter of who is on the schedule.

Home games
  • Vanderbilt - no more Jay Cutler means Michigan is going to roll in this game. I'll save the more detailed analysis for next week, but does it need to get more in depth than that?
  • Central Michigan - the traditional MAC warmup for the Notre Dame game
  • Wisconsin - they lose a lot from last year including their MVP Brian Calhoun. Michigan lost a heartbreaker in Madison last year after outplaying the Badgers on both sides of the ball but failing to stop them late. This year, the game is in Ann Arbor where Wisconsin is 1-15 since 1962 with the lone win coming in 1994. Wisconsin isn't the easiest team to play, but Michigan has a decided advantage on both sides of the ball and I expect them to win rather handily.
  • Michigan State - a traditional JLS Spartan team that has a very good offense and a very bad defense. I expect similar results to prior editions as they will likely beat Notre Dame, lose to Michigan, and then mail it in the rest of the year.
  • Iowa - Michigan and Iowa have had some very good games recently since the Hawkeyes pummeled Michigan at home in 2002. I expect another good matchup this year. Drew Tate can keep his team in the game against anybody and Albert Young is an excellent runner. They do lose Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, however, that had been the heart and soul of their defense for years. It will be an upset if Iowa wins.
  • Northwestern - I feel horrible for their kids after Randy Walker's death and plan to root for them in many games this year. This will not be one of those games.
  • Ball State - we'll just call this what it is: a filler game to rest up for Ohio State (Indiana technically as well).

Road games
  • Notre Dame - ahh, the road opener. Michigan's traditional house of horrors is scheduled for South Bend this year. The streak is getting so long that I can't even remember when we last won a road opener. Was it 7 years ago? 8? Who cares, it's been too long. Last year, Michigan held Notre Dame's vaunted offense to a mere 17 points. 7 of those came on a pass that should have been intercepted, except a 2nd Michigan defender managed to deflect the pass safely into the hands of an Irish receiver in the endzone. Yeah, it was ugly. Now the Maize and Blue get to go straight into the Lions Den of Charlie Weis hype and take on Notre Dame. I have no idea why, but I am quietly optimistic about our chances.
  • Minnesota - the Gophers had the gall to steal the Jug on a horrible last minute long run when they were trying to run out the clock last year. For the first time in decades, Michigan will have revenge on their minds when they meet Minnesota and see the Little Brown Jug on the other sideline. This one shouldn't be close.
  • Penn State - the Wolverine's decade long dominance of the Nittany Lions will be put to the test in a prime time showdown in Happy Valley. The Lion faithful would love nothing more than to send native sons Chad Henne and Steve Breaston back to Ann Arbor with a loss, but Michigan will bring a talented and battle tested group of players to play. Too early to pick a favorite in this game because Penn State has a lot of questions on offense (new QB) and defense (new DL and DBs) that need to be answered one way or the other.
  • Indiana - following the Ball State home rest game, this can be considered the road rest game in preparation for Ohio State
  • Ohio State - following 4 losses in 5 seasons, something seems amiss in the college football universe when Michigan isn't beating Ohio State. Let's hope the CFB world order gets restored this fall.

So what will Michigan's record be this year? I'd think 10-2 is the most likely outcome and 8-4 is about the worst possible outcome. Chances on running the table? Get back to me after the Penn State game. While coming off a disastrous 2005 campaign, the 2006 edition of the Wolverines do have all the necessary ingredients to make a run at the BCS crown this year. They've got a veteran QB that has played lots of big games and been successful in crunch time. They've got a workhorse tailback that is as good as anybody in the college game. They've got talented playmakers on the outside. And on D they have a potentially dominant defensive line to go along with depth and speed throughout. Throw in a coach that has won it all before and one of the most dangerous return men in recent years and anything is possible.



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