Michigan Football Preview 2016

2016 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 129 of 179

128 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY CHRIS BALAS T he days of the Big Ten's Big Two, Little Eight might be gone (due in part to the fact that there are now 14 conference teams), but Michigan seems on the cusp of regaining its rightful place at the top of the league. U‑M hasn't won a conference title since 2004 — since then, five different teams have won a championship — while Michigan State has filled the void with three in the last six years under head coach Mark Dantonio. One thing that hasn't changed — Ohio State's place as one of the league's elite. The Buckeyes have captured six conference titles since the Wolverines won a share of the crown, and proved the Big Ten could compete at the national level by handling Alabama and Oregon in 2014 to capture the national championship. Michigan, though, returns 15 starters from a team that went 10‑3 in head coach Jim Harbaugh's first year and, according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, has 7‑1 odds to win it all this year, second only to Alabama's 6‑1. Here's our Big Ten overview heading into the 2016 campaign. Top Three Storylines Exodus Of Talent: Players come and go each year in every conference, but the Big Ten lost a boatload of talent following the 2015 season, especially the East Division. Ohio State fell just short of its seven-round NFL Draft record for the most total picks (14 in 2004) and 1984 Texas' overall record (17 out of 336 picks in 12 rounds), but the Buckeyes had 12 players taken in this year's draft. In addition, Urban Meyer's crew finished one shy of Miami's record of six first-rounders in 2004, tied the record for the most picks through two rounds (seven) and broke it for the most through three rounds (10). The Bucks return only six starters overall, three on each side of the ball. Michigan State, meanwhile, lost five players to the NFL, including quarterback Connor Cook (fourth round, Oakland Raiders). The Spartans return only three starters on offense, lost center Jack Allen — one of their most important players — and return only one starting skill position player in tailback Gerald Holmes (and part-time starting running back L.J. Scott). Fifteen other East Division players were drafted, as well, and three of them were quarterbacks — Michigan's Jake Rudock, Indiana's Nate Sudfeld and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. Ohio State part- time starter J.T. Barrett, Rutgers' Chris Laviano, and Maryland's duo of Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe are the only returning signal-callers. Michigan Might Be The Favorite To Win The Conference In 2016 PREVIEW New Blood: Not only are there three new head coaches in the Big Ten this year, but 11 of the league's 14 coaches have been around for five years or less, with Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (17 seasons) now the conference dean. Illinois' Lovie Smith, Maryland's DJ Durkin and Rutgers' Chris Ash are the newcomers. Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald ranks second behind Ferentz with 10 years, followed by Michigan State's Mark Dantonio (nine), Indiana's Kevin Wilson (five), Ohio State's Meyer (four), Purdue's Darrell Hazell (three) and Penn State's James Franklin (two). Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, Nebraska's Mike Riley and Wisconsin's Paul Chryst enter their second seasons. Ash (from Ohio State) and Durkin (Michigan) were widely considered two of the Big Ten's best assistants last year.

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