We're counting down the weeks until kickoff by profiling a different Big Ten team each week. Today, the Michigan Wolverines are up.
I think there was a coaching change at Michigan after last season, but I haven't heard too much about it.
Apparently some guy named Rich Rodriguez is taking over for LLoyd Carr and RichRod (as they call him), along with his posse of coaches are bringing the fastest, meanest, most unbelievable style of football the Big Ten has ever witnessed along with them.
There is no doubt this hiring has made a splash over the last eight months, but I think it is a good hire for the conference as a whole. The hatred for Ohio State and the Big Ten is evident and without a very strong Michigan team, this conference becomes even weaker.
COACHING: Rodriguez is going to be the most scrutinized coach in college football this upcoming season, after his abrupt departure from Morgantown and the fallout that ensued. Michigan is in the midst of 40 straight winning seasons and haven't missed a bowl game in 33 years. The learning curve for this team needs to be small, if those records are going to continue.
OFFENSE: It is anyone's guess how the offense will play out this season, as Michigan returns only 3 starters and breaks in a new system. Their quarterbacks have 1 career pass between them and Steven Threet, the Georgia Tech transfer seems to have the lead going into camp, but true freshman Justin Feagin may get some early season time.
The Wolverines do return Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, the RB tandem who filled in for Mike Hart last year, each managed to average over 4.3 yards a carry when not battling their own injury bug. Freshman Sam McGuffie, the great White Hope, could see the field early on.
Greg Mathews (WR) and Carson Butler (TE) lead this young receiving corps. Mathews had 39 catches for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns last year, while Butler had 20 for 246 and 2 touchdowns. Darryl Stonum could be a freshman to watch.
The O-line has a combined 16 starts between the returners, which ranks 118th in the nation, but will be anchored by Stephen Schilling, who started 13 games as a freshman.
DEFENSE: One of Rodriguez's smartest moves has been the hiring of DC Scott Shafer, who coaches an aggressive style and was the engineer behind Stanford's defeat of USC last year. Shafer will have the benefit of 7 returning starters, including his entire defensive line.
The Wolverines lost their top four tacklers from a year ago, but return their next 11 and will be lead by sophomore linebacker Obi Ezeh, who registered 68 tackles in 2007. Shafer will have to replace his outside backers and both safties, while cornerbacks Donovan Warren, Morgan Trent and Brandon Harrison return.
KEY STRETCH: Michigan plays at Notre Dame Sept. 13th and after a bye week, will host Wisconsin and Illinois in consecutive weeks.
BEST-CASE: Michigan's schedule sets up a little weird. They play 5 of their first 6 at home and then finish with 3 road games in the month of November. Utah rolls into the Big House to start the season, while Miami, OH. and Toledo are also on the OOC slate. If Rodriguez is as good as advertised, this team could finish 8-4, earning another New Year's bowl.
WORST-CASE: Unfortunately for Michigan fans recently, there are no games that can be considered automatic, but I can't imagine the Wolverines going worse than 4-8. Wisconsin, Illinois, at PSU, and home against MSU is a tough opening stretch for Rich's introduction to the Big Ten and road games at Purdue, Minnesota and Ohio State await his team in November.
I always want Michigan to be highly ranked when they face Ohio State, but for the 2008 season, it would give me great pleasure to see Michigan repeat Notre Dame's performance of a year ago. They can climb back near the top next year, but if they are going to struggle, why not just make it a 3-9 season. After all, RR started 1-7-1 at Glenville St. and 3-8 at WVU in his debut seasons.
Finally: The Dispatch is reporting Eugene Clifford has been given his full release to play elsewhere. Clifford unfortunately just couldn't stay out of trouble and will probably seek the 1-AA route. This frees up another scholarship for Tressel to use on his crowded class for next year. Best of luck to Clifford and let's hope he can keep his nose and urine clean.