2012 Recap: Michigan led the nation in moral victories. They went 8-5. All five losses were away from home. Four were to top 10 teams (three by one score) and the fifth saw them lose their quarterback mid-game. Alternatively, they were fortunate to escape unscathed against Michigan State and Northwestern at home. The impressive wins came against hapless opposition.
Offense: The Wolverines now have the personnel to transition toward Al Borges’ preferred offense. Getting Taylor Lewan back was huge.The major issue is the interior offensive line. It was woeful last year and now has three new starters (who were highly-touted recruits). Whether that, a possibly healthy Toussaint and three massive freshman running backs equals “old man football” remains to be seen. There are no apparent standouts this season at wide receiver or tight end. But, most of the younger guys will be much taller than anyone covering them in the Big Ten. The unit’s ceiling depends on how much Devin Gardner progresses with a year’s preparation.
Defense: Michigan went from 101st in yards per play defense in 2010 to 46th in 2011 and 25th in 2012. The Mattison difference. Michigan defended the run well. They need to get more of a pass rush from the line. Perhaps that is Frank Clark fulfilling his potential. Maybe it is some big-time redshirt freshman recruits stepping forward under Hoke’s tutelage. The level of success there could make the secondary look better or much worse. The x-factor is Jake Ryan, whether he can indeed return by October and at what level.
Forgiving Schedule: The schedule crafters were kinder to Michigan this year. They play UConn and their fearsome helmets instead of Alabama. They play Ohio State, Notre Dame and Nebraska at home, where Brady Hoke is 14-0. Importantly, for a young team looking to settle in as the season moves along, almost all of their tough games are in November. Besides Notre Dame in week two, Michigan starts the season with Central Michigan, Akron, UConn (away), Minnesota, Penn State (away), Indiana.
The Game(s): B1G Divisions realign after 2013. There is a strong possibility Michigan and Ohio State could play, and then have to play again for the B1G title at some soulless dome in Indiana. It would be “novel.”
Ceiling: 12-0. Devin Gardner is by far the best passer in the Big Ten. Michigan’s offensive line is not just stable but good. Mattison’s defense takes another step forward into the Top 15-ish range. They can beat any team on the schedule. They beat every team. The number of losses equals the number of times Brady Hoke directly answers a football question.
Floor: 6-6. Gardner gets hurt. The offensive line and defense struggle. Every projection for Michigan in 2013 goes out the window.
Prediction: 10-2. Michigan gets better as the season goes along. They win three out of five, in some form, against Notre Dame, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State. They reach the B1G title game, depending on how things shake out. If Gardner comes back for his senior year, they are the team that gets the full offseason fellatio treatment heading into 2014.