Michigan 2014 Thoughts

College football season is upon us, and there is no betterindifferent way to keep off the week than a Michigan preview. Brady Hoke is about to start season 4, and is seat wouldn’t be hotter if Mila Kunis was sitting on it in yoga pants. That will happen when your record declines each season, and the most recent one finishes with 6 losses in the final 8, and a 3–5 conference record. Add in the three victories that Michigan was dangerously close to losing, and Hoke is probably lucky to still be employed. The opinions on what Hoke must to do retain his job are split. The non-conference schedule is friendly outside of week 2 at Notre Dame, and one would assume that a winning conference record is a must. Some that tallies out to 8–4 before a bowl game for Hoke to keep his job. Eight wins seems about right. Nine would for sure see him back. Seven (again) probably wouldn’t unless it still included 4 conference wins and one of those was someone against Ohio St. Michigan has beat Ohio St. just one out of the last 10 games, and only two out of the last 13, so a win is worth a lot. Let’s briefly look at both sides of the ball

Offense

QB Devin Gardner is an enigma. He is entering his 5th season on the team, but thanks to a medical redshirt he has actually played in the four previous seasons. He was sparsely used in the first two, and was moved to WR in his third year, before moving back to QB late in the season when Denard Robinson got hurt. He was the started for all of last season until he himself got injured. Gardner is undoubtedly the only QB in college football entering this season having thrown at least 10 passes in the four previous seasons. But there is virtually no buzz around him. Preseason hype is usually overblown, and in this case almost no one is bragging about Gardner. That is a bad sign. The fact that Gardner is on his third offensive coordinator is unfortunate, but this is the kind of team that needs a veteran QB to step up, and at the moment, it’s hard to see Gardner being all that great. Michigan’s schedule is such that it could ride a great year by Gardner to 9 wins. More likely though, the loudest Michigan fans will be calling for Shane Morris by mid-October.

Gardner doesn’t have a ton to work with. Michigan’s running back core is full of second tier guys without much experience. The fact that none of them has singled themselves out significantly this summer is a bad sign. Be worried if Michigan hasn’t identified a #1 RB by the end of the Notre Dame game. Devin Funchess is the Jimmy Graham of college football, since no one can decide if he is a WR or a TE. Funchess will mostly play on the outside this year, so a full-on switch to WR before he is done in college is likely. He has enormous pressure on him in his third year. After him, experience is thin. Amaroah Darboh was supposed to be the #2 WR last seson before getting hurt and missing the year. Jehu Chesson stepped in and played pretty well. Both of these guys have potential to be solid contributors. Freshman Freddy Canteen enrolled early and turned heads in the spring. He will see a lot of time, but a true freshman WR not named A.J. Green or Julio Jones is probably not something to get excited about.

The offense line lost both tackles to the NFL draft. The starting lineup with consist of 3–5 new starters, including one true freshman, depending on how it all shakes out. This is not good. Hoke’s offensive line recruits haven’t panned out much, and even with two NFL draft picks, this was a problem spot last year. This could be very ugly if guys like Maguson, Braden and Kalis don’t live up to their hype.

Defense

Michigan has a long line of famous defensive backs. Blake Countess definitely looked like he was on his way there before missing almost all of his sophomore season with an injury. He was good, approaching great, and probably has to clear the bar of first team all-conference to satisfy expectations. Raymon Taylor emerged as a good player across from him, and hype train recruit Jabrill Peppers is getting Charles Woodson comparisons already. Peppers’ expectations are through the roof, and with Jourdan Lewis emerging as well, Michigan might have the best set of CBs in the country. Unfortunately they will be breaking in new starters at safety which would be a challenge.

Greg Mattison is a good to great defensive coordinator, and his decision to move Jake Ryan to MLB means he must think Ryan will thrive there. Ryan missed most of last season after being a monster two years ago. That breakout campaign seems like a decade ago and he needs to play well in the middle. There is experience all around him at LB, and mistake free play will be important.

If experience is the steak, and dominating play is the sizzle, then the defensive line is all steak, and no sizzle. Frank Clark didn’t live up to the hype last season, and Michigan again enters the season without a pass rusher to get excited about. Will Clark finally have the breakout season everyone is waiting for? The goal of defensive line is probably just to limit mistakes.

Prediction

It’s hard to see this team being much better than last season. How they enter conference play will be a good indication. If they lose any game but the Notre Dame one, start looking at coaching resumes. When it’s all said and done, 7–5 (4–4) seems likely:

WeekOpponentPredictionChance of Winning
1Appalachian StateWHighly Likely
2@ Notre DameLUnlikely
3Miami (OH)WHighly Likely
4UtahWLikely
5MinnesotaWHighly Likely
6@ RutgersWLikely
7Penn St.WToss Up
8BYE
9@ Michigan StLUnlikely
10IndianaLUnlikely
11@ NorthwesternLUnlikely
12BYE
13MarylandWLikely
14@ Ohio St.LHighly Unlikely

It’s impossible to see them beating Michigan St. anywhere, and even without Braxton Miller, Ohio St. on the road seems impossible, although a lot can change by then. The pivotal games on this schedule are Penn St., Indiana, Maryland and @Northwestern. Michigan almost certainly will lose one game to a team they should beat, and therefore losing at home to Maryland or Indiana will likely be that 5th loss that costs Hoke his job. Penn St. is too hard to predict because even though they have Christian Hackenberg they lost a lot elsewhere. Northwestern lost it’s top RB and WR, but could have a way to work around that by then. 4–0 over this stretch keeps Hoke employed. 2–2 or worse and he’s probably fired.

Michigan is still not close to returning to glory. Rich Rodriguez didn’t win national championships. He also didn’t “fit in”. Brady Hoke fits in, but he could be done after his 4th season. Jim Harbaugh isn’t coming back to college. Les Miles would probably laugh if Michigan called him now. There are zero other big names with Michigan ties. And at this point why would a high profile guy come here after Rodriguez and Hoke couldn’t make it work. If Hoke is gone, the guys on the list to replace him would not be glamorous. That being said, this is a huge season for the Michigan program.