I generally try to exhibit at least some subtlety with my YouTube clip selections, but this did not seem like the time for subtlety. For one, the guy in the clip is about as subtle as a jet airplane. Second, the Michigan offseason can be summed up in two words, “Jim Harbaugh”. If anyone out there has had, or heard of, a conversation about Michigan football in the last six months where Harbaugh’s name didn’t come up then I’d be very surprised. We’ve seen recently with high profile programs that bringing in a high profile coach can pay major dividends (i.e. Alabama and Ohio State), now it’s time to see if the trend continues in Ann Arbor.
Michigan has a stable of backs that theoretically should be very good. De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green led the team in rushing last season, and while they only combined for 990 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns, the per carry statistics for both were pretty good. Green, in particular, was solid averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Drake Johnson also pitched in a solid contribution last season rushing 60 times for 361 yards and four touchdowns. Add USC transfer Ty Isaac to that mix and you should have one of the stronger backfields in the conference, and if anybody should be able to turn solid talent at running back into solid rushing production it’s Jim Harbaugh.
Another position that Jim Harbaugh loves is the tight end, and the Wolverines may have the best one in the conference. Jake Butt “Of No Jokes Whatsoever” may have only caught 21 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns last season, but considering that he was only targeted 29 times all year that’s pretty solid production. Take it to the bank, Butt will have Kardashian status by the end of the season with the numbers he will put up under Harbaugh. On the outside, look for Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and speed demon Dennis Norfleet to be the primary targets, that is if Norfleet even sees the field. He is currently suspended for academic reasons.
Inexperience at quarterback is probably the biggest concern for Michigan heading into the season. Jake Rudock transfers in from Iowa, but it would be surprising, to me at least, for him to overtake Shane Morris for the starting job. Although, Morris was nothing short of bad in his backup attempts last season. He completed a mere 14 of his 40 pass attempts and threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. Yikes! If the quarterback play doesn’t come around, this will be a long season in Ann Arbor.
It does help that all five starters up front have significant starting experience. RT Erik Magnuson is the least experienced starter on the offensive line with 11 starts in his college career. The bad news is that this line was mediocre at best last season. The good news is that mediocre was a stark improvement from the appalling performance in 2013. Another major factor in how good this Wolverine team will be is whether or not the offensive line can take another step forward, and how big that step ends up being.
This defense was really good last season, and entering this season they both lose and bring back plenty of key pieces from that defense. Up front, Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer will be tough replacements as they led the 2014 defensive line in tackles, but everyone else returns. All in all, four defensive linemen who registered three or more sacks last season return, including Taco Charlton, the founder of the EBDB, who I really don’t have anything else to say about, but I couldn’t resist mentioning his name.
Jake Ryan’s departure brings pretty much the same problem to the linebacking corps that the line faces. This group doesn’t lose that much in the way of bodies, but it also loses what was easily its most productive piece. Ryan had 14 tackles for loss last season, no other linebacker had five. Desmond Morgan’s return ought to ease the blow some. Morgan was injured in the season opener last year and missed the remainder of the season. Morgan had 59.5 tackles, 4.5 for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception in 2013. Joe Bolden and James Ross III will play the outside linebacker spots on either side of Morgan. Bolden was right behind Ryan in total tackles last year with 78.5.
Jabrill Peppers is easily the most hyped player on the whole team. I hesitate to use the word “hyped” because in the sports realm it tends to carry a negative connotation, but in this sense I don’t mean it to be a negative. Peppers was a very highly recruited prospect, and has exhibited such an abundance of athleticism that he could see some action on both sides of the ball. I’m a big Pepper believer, and think that even as a redshirt freshman he is poised for a big year. The rest of the secondary consists of some pretty talented guys, too. Cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Wayne Lyons, a Stanford transfer, were both four-star recruits, as was the other safety Jarrod Wilson. Lewis was the more productive of the group last season with two interceptons and six pass break-ups, which was also better than Lyons’ stats his last season at Stanford in 2013.
All of the hype surrounded by the arrival of Jim Harbaugh is warranted, but as I’ve written before it takes time to change the culture of a program. However, unlike most of the Group of Five programs I said that about, Michigan is a “blue blood” college football program and is consistently swimming in talent. It shouldn’t take long for Harbaugh to have Michigan back in playoff and New Year’s six conversations, but it won’t be this season with so many question marks on both sides of the ball. The schedule doesn’t do them any favors either with two tough non-conference games including the season opener at Utah. The Wolverines do get Sparty and Ohio State at home this season, which should make both of those games very interesting.