Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 125 of 163

124 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW 14. QB Mitch Leidner — Minnesota: The 6-4, 236-pound redshirt junior has not produced gaudy stats, throwing for 2,417 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine picks in 22 career con- tests, but he's a winner, going 10-6 in his 16 starts. Leidner does consistent damage on the ground, too, scoring 17 touchdowns and rushing for 859 yards in two seasons. 15. OL Dan Voltz — Wisconsin: Slowed by an ankle injury late in his sophomore season, Voltz nevertheless managed to start all 14 games at center for Wisconsin. A second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2014, the 6-3, 311-pounder helped UW average a school-record 320.1 yards rushing per game a year ago. 16. OL Taylor Decker — Ohio State: A two-year starter, with 29 starts under his belt, the 6-8, 315-pound left tackle was the anchor of an OSU offensive line breaking in four new starters in 2014, and walked away with second-team All-Big Ten honors. 17. WR DaeSean Hamilton — Penn State: In his redshirt freshman campaign, Hamilton caught a Big-Ten high 82 balls for 899 yards (11.0 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. The 6-1, 211-pounder's 82 receptions are the top mark for a Nittany Lion freshman and second overall regardless of class, while his 899 yards were also a PSU freshman record. 18. WR Jalin Marshall — Ohio State: The Big Ten lacks playmaking wide receivers, and Marshall is a bit of a hybrid, playing some running back also, but wherever he lines up, he produces. A year ago, he had seven touchdowns on 63 offensive touches. The 5-11, 205-pound sophomore racked up 24 catches, 342 yards and four scores in OSU's final six games. 19. LB Ed Davis — Michigan State: The conference is short on stud linebackers this year, with six of the eight voted first- or second-team All-Big Ten in 2014 departing. Davis is on track to be Michigan State's next star, though, accumulating seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss among 58 stops in his junior season. 20. WR Leonte Carroo — Rutgers: A first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2014, Carroo ranked second in the confer - ence with 1,086 receiving yards, averaging a NCAA-best 19.7 yards per catch (minimum 50 receptions) on his 55 grabs. The 6-1, 205-pound senior needs two more receiving touch- downs to set a Rutgers career record with 21. 21. RB Justin Jackson — Northwestern: Only the second Wildcat freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Jackson went for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns on 245 carries (4.8-yard average) in 2014. The 5-11, 185-pound sophomore is looking to become the first NU player since Tyrell Sutton (2005-06) to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. 22. DT Maliek Collins — Nebraska: With the departure of Randy Gregory and his 17.5 sacks the past two seasons, Collins is positioned to emerge as Nebraska's top backfield disruptor. A year ago, he had career highs in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (14) in earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. 23. CB William Likely — Maryland: Opponents that judged the 5-7, 175-pound junior by his size learned their lesson in 2014. Likely was a first-team All-Big Ten selection after leading the conference with six interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. Likely is, arguably, the top cover corner in the league, also breaking up nine passes last season. 24. OL Jack Conklin — Michigan State: A second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2014, Conklin shut down Baylor All- American defensive end Shawn Oakman in MSU's Cotton Bowl win. The 6-6, 317-pound redshirt junior has made 23 straight starts at left tackle, allowing only 2.5 sacks protect - ing Cook's blindside. 25. QB Tommy Armstrong — Nebraska: A two-year starter with 3,661 yards passing and 31 touchdowns, Arm- strong is playing for a new coach in a new system. He was the No. 1 QB of the spring for the Cornhuskers and should remain one of the top dual-threats in the Big Ten, rushing for 907 yards and eight scores in 22 career games (21 starts). ❏ EAST DIVISION 1. Ohio State (8-0 Big Ten record): The Buckeyes peaked during their national champi- onship run in 2014, and the scary thought for the rest of the Big Ten is OSU might just be hitting its stride. With 14 starters offensively and defensively returning, including standouts QB Cardale Jones, RB Ezekial Elliott, DE Joey Bosa and OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State should roll through its first 10 games, and will repeat as East Division champ when it beats Michi - gan State and Michigan back-to-back in November. 2. Michigan State (7-1): The Spartans must replace their skill position players offensively, including RB Jeremy Langford and WR Tony Lippett, but QB Connor Cook will make those around him better, and the defense should again be nasty. MSU must go on the road to Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State, but Michigan State is 14-2 in its last 16 Big Ten games away from home and will fall only in Columbus. 3. Michigan (5-3): The Wolverines still face a lot of issues offensively, especially at quar - terback and along the offensive line, but the defense, with 11 players back that started at least two games in 2014, should be good enough to allow Michigan to win the four confer- ence games it will likely be favored in. Contests against MSU, Penn State, Minnesota and OSU will ultimately decide U-M's fate within the Big Ten. 4. Penn State (4-4): With the NCAA lifting its 2012 sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal — allowing Penn State to go to the postseason while reinstating all al - lotted 85 scholarships — the expectations go way up in State College. The defense, No. 2 nationally a year ago, should again be legit, but the offense needs to develop a ground game after averaging only 101.9 yards per game (120th in the country) in 2014. 5. Maryland (3-5): The Terrapins are probably a year or two away from posing a serious threat in the East Division. In 2015, they have far too many glaring holes to contend, need - ing to replace three-year starting QB C.J. Brown, develop a dormant running game and field seven new starters defensively, including the entire linebacker corps. In Wisconsin and Iowa, Maryland also faces two of the better West Division teams. 6. Indiana (2-6): The good news for IU is outside of Ohio State, no team has more quarterback experience than the Hoosiers, who bring back senior Nate Sudfield (25 QB appearances and 14 starts) and sophomore Zander Diamont (six). The bad news is Indiana remains a terribly flawed team with a defense that has ranked 95th, 120th, 106th and 109th nationally in head coach Kevin Wilson's four seasons. 7. Rutgers (0-8): For a team that went 8-5 a year ago, and 3-5 in Big Ten play, a winless con- ference season seems unrealistic, but the Scarlet Knights are inexperienced at quarterback, running back, tight end, three offensive line positions, and six spots defensively. Rutgers also receives no favors on its schedule, playing both Wisconsin and Nebraska from the West. WEST DIVISION 1. Minnesota (7-1): The Gophers must replace TB David Cobb and his 1,626 yards rush- ing, but their offense revolves around QB Mitch Leidner. If he stays upright for 12 weeks, Minnesota will claim the West Division. The Maroon and Gold welcome Nebraska and Wisconsin to Minneapolis and should have a chance to beat both — the regular-season finale against UW deciding each team's fate. 2. Wisconsin (6-2): It is hard to imagine the Badgers stumbling even though they are on their third head coach in four seasons. Wisconsin has developed a machine that keeps cranking out mammoth offensive linemen, capable tailbacks and the Big Ten's best rushing attack. A victory over Minnesota likely wins the West because Wisconsin avoids Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan from the East. 3. Nebraska (5-3): The Cornhuskers return 15 starters from last year's Big Ten West runner-up team and on paper look like the division's best, but they must adjust to the new culture of first-year head coach Mike Riley. The former Oregon State boss is known for pro - ducing underachievers, and there are just too many unknowns to predict Nebraska beating the two of UW, Minnesota and MSU it would likely take to win the West. 4. Iowa (4-4): Kirk Ferentz took a big gamble when he made the decision to bench two-year starter QB Jake Rudock for QB C.J. Beathard, bidding adieu to an experienced quarterback for an unproven one. Iowa also needs to replace its best RB (Mark Weisman), OL (Brandon Scherf ), DL (Carl Davis), LB (Quinton Alston) and S (John Lowdermilk). The Hawkeyes would probably have a tough time reaching four wins if not for playing Indiana and Maryland out of the East Division. 5. Illinois (3-5): Tim Beckman finally feels like he has the Fighting Illini on the right track, and with 15 starters offensively and defensively returning, including QB Wes Lunt and TB Josh Ferguson, Illinois could be that pesky team no one wants to play. The defense needs to take a big step forward, from 112th nationally a year ago, for UI to actually win some of the tough games, though. 6. Northwestern (1-7): Perhaps this is the season, when expectations are incredibly low, that Northwestern will instead surprise. The Wildcats did finish strong in 2014, winning two of their final three, including an overtime victory at Notre Dame, but NU appears to lack the engine (a dynamic QB) that makes head coach Pat Fitzgerald's offense go, and the defense has proven again and again it is not good enough to win games on its own. 7. Purdue (1-7): No school in the Big Ten returns more offensive and defensive starters than Purdue (16), but that might not be a good thing after the Boilermakers went 1-7 in conference play last year and ranked 111th offensively and 82nd defensively. Purdue put up a fight last year in losses to Michigan State (45-31), Minnesota (39-38) and Indiana (23-16), but it's hard seeing them beating anyone other than IU. Big Ten Championship Game Prediction Ohio State over Minnesota: The Gophers weren't physical enough to beat Wiscon- sin and earn the West Division title a year ago, but this team will be the culmination of head coach Jerry Kill's vision, giving Minnesota the slight edge over the Badgers. Ohio State makes it by virtue of winning the head-to-head battle with Michigan State. OSU won't blow out Minnesota like it did the Badgers in 2014, but the Buckeyes are the class of the conference and will punch another ticket to the college football playoff. Ohio State 42, Minnesota 21. Predicted Order Of Finish

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