20 Questions You Were Dying to Have Answered About Michigan Football
By Tony Gerdeman
I found out this week that I now take requests.
With the twenty questions theme we've had going on, I got an email from Samuel A. "Andrew" Alexander, giving me ten questions to answer about Michigan football. Then--if you can believe it--he demanded that I contribute ten of my own! (Pretty lazy of him to only come up with ten questions on his own, don't you think?)
So I've jotted down his ten questions and dutifully added ten that I came up with completely on my own.
Just like I was told to.
All of this, of course, means that I am now basically just a wedding singer taking requests for songs written by other people. By the way, after this column is finished, we're going to have the "Daddy-Daughter" dance and then we'll open up the floor to those of you who want to get your robot on.
Oh, and please do not give Aunt Cathy her car keys back, no matter how belligerent she gets. That woman is a walking open bar with a purse.
1. What will Michigan's record be this year?
Considering that Michigan was 8-4 during the regular season last year with one of their most pre-seasonally talented teams in recent memory, it's hard for me to find more than seven wins on this schedule. Especially if you factor in an opening season loss to Utah when things still aren't working like you'd hope them to be. I think this team is playing ten winnable games, but I just don't see them being able to beat Wisconsin or Ohio State. And even the most winnable of games in the past--the Penn State game--looks like an impossibility in Happy Valley. However, it's still Michigan against Penn State, and we know how that story goes. Michigan has won the last nine against Penn State, so feel free to assume somehow that that streak continues. All of the other road games are going to be very difficult for the Wolverines. Yes, they have to play at Minnesota, but the Gophers can move the ball. Can Michigan? The problem with predicting Michigan's record is that they're just as likely to start out 2-6 as they are 6-2, and based on how they start, we can probably assume a similar finish. So, in an effort to not be too wrong one way or the other, I'm going with 7-5 (but that's with Penn State beating Michigan, which is unhappenable.)
2. Who will be the starting quarterback?
Redshirt freshman Steven Threet. Threet (6'6" 230) is about as atypical as you can get when it comes to Rich Rodriguez's quarterbacks. Threet is not the ideal quarterback for this offense, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he’s replaced in the starting lineup at some point this season--assuming there‘s an alternative. And it wouldn’t be the first time Rodriguez has replaced a non-runner with a runner. Back in 2001, freshman Rasheed Marshall eventually replaced senior Brad Lewis as the starting quarterback. And then in 2005, freshman Pat White replaced sophomore Adam Bednarik in the starting lineup after seven games. So there is a pattern here. Although, maybe Rodriguez has never had a passing quarterback as good as Threet. We will just have to see.
3. How well will Justin Boren's replacement do?
Depends on who it is, I guess. I don't recall heaping too much praise on Boren last year, basically because he lost his job as the starting center because Chad Henne and Ryan Mallett couldn't master the left-handed snap from Boren, so they moved him to guard. And given the fact that Buckeye fans saw center Jim Cordle go from snapping with his right hand to his left hand, and with nary an incident involving the exchange, there was plenty of criticism aimed at Boren. But now that he's a Buckeye, he's totally awesome and those exchanges were completely the fault of Mallett (too tall) and Henne (too short). So you've basically got two separate questions here. The first being, "How will Michigan's new center do?" And the second being, "How will Michigan's new left guard do?" There are plenty of semi-experienced linemen to choose from, but I'm not convinced the positions are even close to set yet. Last year's starting right tackle and pass-rush turnstile Stephen Schilling may end up moving inside, so that will shift things around even more. Whoever replaces Boren, expect them to be relatively quick, and don't be surprised if you don't have a solidified starting lineup until sometime during the Big Ten season.
4. Will Michigan beat the Domers?
Depends. Will the Michigan coaching staff be videotaped during the game? With Charlie Weis no longer calling the plays, we'll probably see more running game from the Irish. If Notre Dame can find a running back--likely Robert Hughes or James Aldridge, and they can establish some type of a ground game, then this should allow Jimmy Clausen to get his bearings back after getting repeatedly hammered whenever he drops back to pass. And make no mistake, Michigan's defensive ends will hammer Clausen. I think I annually have a pretty good grasp of what's going to happen in this game, but this is a pure guess right now. I just have to think Notre Dame's offense will be pretty good this year and I'm a big fan of Notre Dame receiver Duval Kamara against Michigan's secondary. So to answer the question--No, Michigan will not beat the Domers. Wow. That feels weird to type. I'm almost positive I'll change my answer when the game approaches.
5. Will they surprise anyone else that should be decent this year?
People seem to be jumping on the Illinois bandwagon despite the fact that the guy who drove the bandwagon last year got drafted by the Steelers a couple of months ago. So without Rashard Mendenhall, I just can't see Illinois coming into Michigan Stadium in October and getting a victory. And I'm still not sure how Michigan beat the Illini last year, so maybe they've just got Illinois' number. (It happens.)
6. Who will be Michigan's surprise player on offense?
Andrew--the answer demander--says that it’s going to be Kevin Grady, who returns from injury this season. After looking very good in the spring, I can’t argue with him. However, in an effort to pick somebody else, I’m going to pick somebody else. I’ve always been a Brandon Minor fan--or at least as much as I can be. I think he is very talented, but he just gets stopped in the backfield too often. So, I’m going to choose true freshman quarterback Justin Feagin. Feagin is the type of athlete Rodriguez actually prefers running his offense, and though he may disagree with that statement, the last decade or so would prove him wrong. I just hope he’s good enough to play.
7. Who will be Michigan's surprise player on defense?
The guys that jump to mind for me are freshman cornerback Boubacar Cissoko and senior linebacker Austin Panter. Panter came in last year as a junior college transfer and was lost from day one. He seems to have found himself, because he played very well this spring and looks like he may be in for a decent year. The guy I’m going to go with, however, is Cissoko. While many outsiders immediately dismiss Cissoko because of his size (5’9” on a good day, 5‘8“ every other day), he is aggressive and plays much bigger than his life-size poster would indicate. Given Michigan’s struggles in the secondary, and the proliferation of the spread in the Big Ten, they need as many quality defensive backs as they can handle. I think Cissoko will have an impact just a notch or two below what Donovan Warren had last year for the Wolverines.
8. Will they have an above-average special teams performer?
Yes. Where would Michigan have been last season if K.C. Lopata had been the place-kicker from the outset, instead of Jason Gingell? Well, it's tough to say because Shawn Crable still would have completely missed his block on Appalachian State's game-winning field goal. But as I was saying before I got sidetracked by talking about a game that happened last year that will never be forgotten, Lopata was about as automatic as you can be as a kicker. Now they didn't ask too much of him, but he has to have a world of confidence this season after going 11-12 on field goals (long of 42) and 28-29 on extra points last season. And punter Zoltan Mesko will continue to be above-average...on average. Sometimes he'll be great. Other times he'll be trying to reach the stands from the opponent's 40-yard line. They will need to find some new returners, or some new ideas, because there is nothing in the way of a playmaker in the return game right now. Perhaps a freshman can find a spot.
9. Way-too-early over-under on The Game?
Andrew said 45 points was his over-under. I'd go under that over-under. I'll say 40 points. And if I look back to the average total points scored in this series since 2001, it comes to 46.7. However, if you take out the 2006 game (which will never be duplicated), the average points scored is 41. So I feel pretty good with my pick. (And I think when we say "over-under", we're not trying to predict wagering, we're just trying to predict the total number of points scored in the game.)
10. Is it possible for this year's team to wrest away Ohio State's all-time embarrassment delivered by the Wolver-weenies back in 1902 (an 86 - 0 shellacking)?
Sadly, no. Jim Tressel wouldn't even hang 86 points on Cumberland.
Non-Submitted Questions That I Came Up With Completely On My Own:
11. Will Michigan beat their biggest rival--the Spartans--this season?
Yes. The Wolverines will have had seven games played by the time the Spartans come to Ann Arbor, so some of the kinks should be ironed out. However, this game is sandwiched by road games at Penn State and Purdue, so there could be some drama here. But, as we all know, the Spartans will do whatever they can to make this game as difficult as possible for themselves. They're like Harry Houdini's younger, dumber brother who fell into a bathtub and drowned while practicing his escape from a straitjacket in his bathroom. (That's not a true story, but doesn't it describe Michigan State pretty well?)
12. Will Rich Rodriguez have to re-tool his system to fit his personnel?
The system does not get retooled, you just have to make do with what you've got on hand right now. Imagine Steven Threet being the butter knife that you use when you can't find your screwdriver. And then once you do have your screwdriver, you never use your butter knife as a screwdriver again. Right now, he's got a crapload of butter knives in his junk drawer. So what you'll see is a little bit of Rodriguez calling plays to suit his players, while still trying to stay true to the spread that he knows.
13. Or can he only run his system and force players into it?
I don't know if he can "only run his system", but as a Division I head coach, he has thus far chosen to "only run his system". People want to point to his time at Tulane and Clemson where he threw the ball, but that's when he had bosses telling him what they wanted to see from his offense. Now that Rodriguez is the boss, we've seen what his system entails--running the ball. A lot. Obviously, Steven Threet is not who Rodriguez wants at quarterback and he'll unquestionably look for a playmaker to get some snaps there at some point this season.
14. How long did it take him to shift West Virginia to his style?
In Rodriguez' first season at West Virginia, he started out with a “passing” quarterback by the name of Brad Lewis. Rasheed Marshall was the change-of-pace quarterback as a freshman, and he eventually took over the starting job. The situation is similar this season. Threet is the passer and freshman Justin Feagin will be the change-of-pace. However, given that Rodriguez prefers a running option at quarterback, Threet's time is fleeting as Michigan's starting quarterback. He may make it all season, but Rodriguez is currently hot on the trails already looking for replacements. So, to answer the question, it didn't take long to shift to his style, but it was by no means appealing to the eye right away.
15. How will the running game be without Mike Hart?
It will be fine. If there is one thing a Rich Rodriguez team will always be able to do, it’s run the ball. And Michigan has plenty of options to choose from. Running backs Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor will probably get most of the carries but Kevin Grady will be in the mix too. And we can’t forget about the heralded freshmen Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw. As far as what type of running game we’ll see, there will still be the read-option that we’ve grown accustomed to from Rodriguez, there just won’t be as much threat of Threet running it. He will, however, still have to run it. Wide receivers are also looked upon to run the ball in this offense, but I don’t know that Michigan has too much in the way of playmaking at the wide receiver position. Or at least it hasn’t been demonstrated yet.
16. Will there continue to be transfers?
Yes. But all teams have transfers, especially after coaching changes. I think we’ll see wide receivers and tight ends transfer* because there just isn’t enough passing to go around to make kids at Michigan happy. *(Especially the ones who are really into family values.)
17. How offensive is the offensive line?
PG-13? The good thing about the offensive line is that there are a lot of upperclassmen in the mix and a couple of talented freshmen in Dann O’Neill and Elliott Mealer. As the season progresses, the offensive line will be “edited for television” and we should be looking at a wholesome “PG” rating by the time November rolls around.
18. Will Rich Rodriguez's system cause the Big Ten to recruit differently?
No. The Big Ten has been recruiting differently for a while now. The spread got here long before Rich Rodriguez did.
19. What about that secondary?
I have no idea. I’m completely sold on Donovan Warren being an elite cornerback. I’m also completely sold on Morgan Trent being completely average. The most proven candidate at safety would probably be Brandon Harrison, and I’m not sure if anybody wants him playing anymore than he already has. He’s an okay nickelback, but that’s about it. Other candidates like Stevie Brown and Charles Stewart have experience, unfortunately, most of it’s been bad. But then again, maybe new coaching will help. After all, when Ryan Mundy transferred to West Virginia from Michigan last year, he greatly improved to become a mediocre safety. Perhaps the same will happen for the others this season.
20. What should we expect from the passing game?
Short, wide passes. And that’s about it. But oh, the variety of wide passes! There will be swing passes, bubble screens, quick screens, flares, hitches, and maybe even the occasional tight end screen. The problem with all of this is that the defense is going to be so close to the line of scrimmage, there really won’t be much room to run. So without much of a running threat at quarterback, the Wolverines are going to have to look downfield if for no other reason than to open up the field. Oh, and don’t expect too much passing in general. Rodriguez’s best finish at West Virginia was 2001, when his team finished 96th in passing yards per game--but that was before his offense was fully implemented.
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