Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 123 of 163

122 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Top Storylines Reigning National Champion: The SEC's seven-year reign as national champion (2006-12) came to an end when ACC power Florida State won the 2013 NCAA title, but that victory did little for the Big Ten. The conference could not claim high ground, having gone 10-14 in bowl games against the SEC from 2006-13, including Ohio State losses to Florida and LSU in the 2006 and 2007 BCS National Championship Games, respectively. However, with the arrival of Urban Meyer in 2012, the Buck - eyes could face off with the SEC for recruiting talent; Meyer signed the top-five classes in 2012 (No. 4), 2013 (No. 2) and 2014 (No. 3) needed to compete for national championships. It took Meyer just three seasons to realize his ambition, and now the Scarlet and Gray must meet the challenge of wearing a bull's-eye. There is precedent for continued success, though — OSU went 11-2 and finished No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll following its 2002 national title, while six of the 10 national champions from 2004-13 put together a top-10 season the year after winning it all. Ohio State returns 14 offensive and defensive starters, and both its starting punter and kicker, and will welcome the country's No. 9 recruiting class. To win the Big Ten and earn their own potential playoff berth, the league's 13 other programs almost certainly will be forced to go through the Buckeyes, which have won a league-record 24 consecutive Big Ten regular-season games. Competitive Imbalance: In the 2014 bowl season, the Big Ten East went 5-1, buoyed by OSU's two playoff victories, while the Big Ten West went 1-4. Collectively, the Big Ten East, which consists of Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers, Michigan, Penn State and Indiana, posted a 2014 record of 56-35 (.615 winning percent - age). The Big Ten West of Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue had a record of 49-41 (.544 winning percentage). The West did go 7-8 in head-to-head competition with the East, but suffered humiliation in the Big Ten Championship Game when Ohio State steamrolled Wisconsin 59-0. The gap between divisions could widen this fall if Michigan and Penn State rally their programs under distinguished coaches James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh, while Rutgers and Maryland are better positioned to rise up than many schools in the West because of access to fertile recruiting territories. Nebraska may be a traditional power, winning four national titles since 1970, and Wisconsin has constructed a consistent Big Ten contender, but neither school, nor Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue or Illinois, recruits at the level needed to match the top four of the East — Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. The real battle for conference supremacy is expected to occur within the East. Program Makeovers: Bo Pelini went 67-27 in his seven- year career with Nebraska, winning three division titles when the Huskers were a member of the Big 12 (2008-10) and one in the Big Ten (2012). He was 4-3 in bowl games, finished in the AP top 25 five times and never lost more than four games in a single season. However, the expectation in Lincoln is to win champion - ships, and Pelini could not deliver, leading to his dismissal. In his stead, Nebraska welcomes former Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, who was 93-80 in 14 seasons with the Bea- vers (1997-98, 2003-13). He never won the Pac-10/12, with a pair of runner-up performances, but was 6-2 in bowl games. On the surface, trading a .713 career winning percentage for a .538 winning percentage doesn't make much sense, but Cornhusker fans are convinced Riley is a better fit, with the personality and game plan to draw higher-ranked recruits to Lincoln in an effort to produce the type of team it will take to beat Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game and make an NCAA playoff. Meanwhile, in Madison, Paul Chryst returns to Wisconsin after a three-year head-coaching stint at Pittsburgh. Though he was only 19-19 with the Panthers, he served as offensive coordinator for the Badgers from 2005-11, and is schooled in the Wisconsin formula that relies on a monster offensive line/running game and a physical, smothering defense for success. Gary Anderson bolted UW for Oregon State after just two seasons, and the Badgers were eager to hire a coach that views Wisconsin as a final destination. Finally, in Ann Arbor, a native son has returned to resurrect a Michigan program that has won just 52.3 percent of its games since Lloyd Carr retired in 2007 — a tally that ranks the Maize and Blue ninth among the current Big Ten teams over that seven-year period. Harbaugh faces a stiff rebuilding project, one that should BY MICHAEL SPATH T he Big Ten hasn't had it this good in a decade. For the first time since 2003, the defending national champion hails from the Big Ten while the league earned five bowl wins — the conference was 6-5 — for the first time since going 5-2 in 2002. Then, and now, Ohio State was the class of the Big Ten, beating Miami 31-24 to claim the 2002 national title and defeating Oregon 42-20 to earn the 2014 NCAA championship. Meanwhile, Michigan State has posted back-to-back top-five finishes nationally, Wiscon- sin and Nebraska remain top-25 programs, and Michigan made headlines by convincing Jim Harbaugh to leave the NFL for his alma mater. For years, commissioner Jim Delany has made the Big Ten relevant by his off-field moves — developing and implementing instant replay, creating the Big Ten Network, starting the expansion movement with the addition of Nebraska in 2011, while growing the league's customer and recruiting bases with the inclusion of Rutgers (New York/New Jersey) and Maryland (Washington, D.C./Baltimore) in 2014. But the conference has finally made itself relevant with its on-field success. And it is possible the best is yet to come. BIG TEN PREVIEW Ohio State's National Championship Has Boosted The League's Reputation And Provides Rivals A True Goliath To Dethrone Prior to suffering a season-ending injury against U-M last year, J.T. Barrett produced 3,772 yards of total offense and set a single- season school record with 34 scoring passes. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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