Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 17 of 163

16 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW MICHIGAN FOOTBALL By now, everyone has weighed in on the big change at The Big House. With Jim Harbaugh in charge, the Wolverines are gar- nering far more attention for 2015 than they would have coming off a 5-7 season without dramatic moves. Even with the new era making a splash, Michigan has plenty of work to do, national football preview magazines note. Here's a look at what they have to say. Athlon Sports This publication ranks Harbaugh's hiring as the No. 1 such acquisition in college football for 2015. It also identifies defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin among its best as well. That doesn't mean the Wolverines are going to be instant winners, though. One problem involved Michigan being firmly embedded in one of the toughest divisions in college football. National champion Ohio State heads Athlon's top-25 list, with the Buckeyes' multiple starting quarterbacks and loaded roster. Michigan State checks in at No. 7, with the mention that "the Spartans have owned the state of Michigan for the past seven years." The Wolverines? Nowhere to be found in the top 25, and located at No. 34, a ranking no doubt elevated due to the Harbaugh hire. The publication figures the Wolverines to be headed for the Pinstripe Bowl against Virginia Tech, following a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten's East Divi- sion, behind the Buckeyes, the Spartans and Penn State's Nittany Lions. The Wolverines are projected for a 7-5 overall finish, 4-4 in the Big Ten. A piece entitled "Inside the Athlon Sports War Room" lends some insight into the thinking behind the ranking. "Harbaugh was a terrific hire for Michigan at a critical time in the program's history," it noted. "It will be a signifi- cant surprise if he doesn't have the Wolverines competing for Big Ten titles in the near future. In the short term, how- ever, there figure to be some growing pains. He is taking over a team with uncertainty at quarterback — though the addition of Iowa transfer Jake Rudock was a positive development — issues on the offensive line and a general lack of playmakers. And while Harbaugh has won at every stop, we can't forget that he went a combined 9-15 overall (7-11 in the Pac-12) in his first two seasons at Stanford. Yes, he is inheriting a more talented roster at Michigan, but the Wolverines are — at this point — a notch below Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten East's food chain. Beating out Penn State for third place would make the 2015 season a success in Ann Arbor." Among the unit rankings by the publication, Michigan doesn't have any higher than No. 4 in the Big Ten, with the running backs, defensive line and linebackers sharing that team-best honor. Michigan defensive backs check in at No. 5, the offensive line No. 6, and the quarterbacks and wide receivers/tight ends No. 7. Redshirt freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers, senior linebacker Joe Bolden and junior tight end Jake Butt get the nod as "Key Wolverines," while sophomore defensive tackle Brian Mone draws the "Rising Star" notice. The magazine notes Michigan's new coaching staff fea- tures a combined 34 years of NFL coaching experience and 49 years of NFL playing experience. At the same time, there's always a reminder of the task ahead. "From 1968 through 2007, the final year of Lloyd Carr's tenure, Michigan won fewer than eight games only two times," Athlon points out. "In the seven years since, the Wolverines have won fewer than eight games five times, including last year's 5-7 mark." The publication projects this to be another of those sea- sons featuring fewer than eight victories. "Jim Harbaugh's arrival should provide an immediate boost for a program that is just 20-18 over the last three years," it noted. "The Wolverines won't challenge for the Big Ten title, but improvement should be noticeable. Harbaugh should provide a spark for an offense that averaged only 19.4 points in Big Ten games last year. Iowa transfer Jake Rudock will provide stability at quarterback, but uncer- tainty remains in the receiving corps and on the offensive line. The defense limited opponents to 22.4 points per game last season and remains a strength with six starters back, along with the return of defensive back Jabrill Pep- pers from injury." The ever-popular anonymous opposing coach shared some opinions as well. "I think it's pretty cool that Jim Harbaugh is in the league," he said. "I think it's good for the league, and it's obviously good for Michigan. He's helped the perception of our league. … Their talent level was down a bit, but they still had some good players. Their offensive line was a big prob- lem. They kind of had the same problems that Penn State had. … I think Devin Gardner was better than people gave him credit for. He is a unique athlete who was capable of throwing the ball. He could have been a great college foot- ball player in the right system. They had one of the most dangerous receivers in the league in Devin Funchess. They had two or three five-star running backs. They had a slot receiver [Dennis Norfleet] who could make some plays. So I don't think it was a lack of skill. … They lacked confidence. That was a big problem. They lost some tough games. They lost to Minnesota and looked bad, and then they changed quarterbacks because everybody was busting their chops. … It's not like they were horrible. By no means did I think they lacked talent." Sporting News This publication also has Ohio State No. 1, with Michigan State No. 8. That automatically causes problems for the Wolverines, who don't make the top 25. The hopeful side, though, puts Michigan as the No. 6 overall college football program in the nation, factoring in facilities, coaching, recruiting bases and fan support. Ohio State heads this list, with Michigan also behind Texas, USC, LSU and Florida. "A year ago, you'd laugh at the very thought of it," the publication acknowledged. "But think of Michigan as a loaf of bread: old yeast leaves the loaf dense, heavy and inedible. Fresh yeast raises everything. New coach Jim Harbaugh is your fresh yeast; he's the one guy who walks into the room and there is instant credibility. With that, everything that always has been in place to support win- ning looks a whole lot better. No other hire could have done that at Michigan." That said, there's the not-so-simple matter of winning in 2015. The Wolverines should do a decent job of it, but this projection has them third in the East behind the Buckeyes and Spartans, and headed for the Outback Bowl. The magazine noted U-M made the biggest offseason splash by hiring Harbaugh, raising its national profile and giving OSU's Urban Meyer "a worthy foil to re-ignite the rivalry with the Buckeyes, perhaps to the level of Woody Hayes vs. Bo Schembechler." It lists Meyer as the Big Ten's "Best Coach As Recruiter" and Harbaugh the league's "Best Coach As Strategist." The maga- zine noted: "Harbaugh's liberal usage of formations worked in the NFL. It's going to work again in college." The publication's "Bottom Line" ranks Harbaugh's first sea- son in Ann Arbor as one of college football's top storylines. How it plays out is another matter. "The season finale against defending national champion Ohio State might be the most sought-after ticket of the season," Sporting News insists. The matchup between Har- baugh and Urban Meyer already had a '10-Year-War' feel to it, and Ann Arbor will be rocking no matter what the Wolverines' record is. "Michigan is the wild card in the Big Ten East race. It's am- bitious to expect a division championship, and eight or nine wins is a more reasonable request. The Wolverines are a long shot for anything more that — at least until Harbaugh finds a quarterback he can trust." The magazine also lists junior running back Derrick Green as a "Difference Maker," and cites rookies Brian Cole at wide receiver, Zach Gentry at quarterback and Tyree Kinnel at safety as U-M's top signees for 2015. Butt gets the nod as preseason All-Big Ten at tight end. Magazines Take Note Of Jim Harbaugh, Not Sold On U-M Athlon Sports preview magazine stated, "Harbaugh was a terrifi c hire for Michigan at a criti- cal time in the program's history." PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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