Hey, how about some talk about actual football? We’re just five days away from the Western game, which means I need to hurry up and finish my predictions. Today I look at the Indiana, Michigan State, and Iowa games. Part I can be found here.
Game Four — Sept. 26: Indiana
Indiana returns 17 starters from a team that finished 3-9 in 2008, but, well, they were 3-9 and lose their best offensive weapon (WR/QB Kellen Lewis, who was booted from the team in April). Also, returning nine starters on defense doesn’t sound nearly as good when that defense gave up 35.3 points per game the prior season (good for 108th in the country). If my prior picks are correct, then Michigan will be riding high going into their fourth consecutive home game, and the attention should be back on the football team’s play on the field, not their practice habits off it.
Key Matchup: The offensive line vs. Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton — Kirlew and Middleton give Indiana perhaps the Big Ten’s best defensive end tandem, with Kirlew coming off a First-Team All-Big Ten season in 2008 (10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss among 74 total tackles). With a freshman quarterback (presumably) starting, Michigan will have to be at their best when protecting the passer. Pressure can lead to drive-killing sacks, fumbles, and interceptions, so the offensive line, especially tackles Mark Ortmann and Mark Huyge, will have to step up.
Prediction: Hoosier head coach Bill Lynch will really be feeling the heat after a beatdown in the Big House. Michigan 41, Indiana 24.
Game Five — Oct. 3: @ Michigan State
Ah, the Spartans. A team expected to finish in the Top 25 despite losing both their quarterback and running back (/entire team offense) from last season. Everything I stand for as a Michigan fan makes me want to pick us to beat little brother and start the season a shocking 5-0. However, Kirk Cousins/Keith Nichol (whichever Spartan QB wins the starting job) will be surrounded by a lot of returning talent, with WR Mark Dell leading the way alongside a stable of talented running backs vying to replace Javon Ringer. The defense, led by preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones at linebacker, should be solid. The difference in this game could come down to kicking, as Michigan has yet to name a starter while MSU returns All-Big Ten kicker Brett Swenson.
Key Matchup: Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko vs. Blair White and Mark Dell — Big plays by Spartan receivers killed Michigan in last year’s loss to MSU (White and Dell combined for over 200 yards receiving, and White opened the scoring with a 61-yard TD reception). Warren and Cissoko will be relied on to shut down the Spartans’ dynamic duo this year, and they have to cut down on the big play if UM hopes to win.
Prediction: This should be close, and my heart tells me to pick the good guys, but my brain just won’t let me do it. Michigan State 27, Michigan 20
Game Six — Oct. 10: @ Iowa
Some fans look at this game and see it as the toughest on Michigan’s schedule. Iowa has a lot of experts thinking Big Ten dark horse, and they do return eight players from a defense that only allowed 13.0 points per game in 2008 (5th in the country). However, losing Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene is a huge blow to the Hawkeye offense, and his expected replacement, sophomore Jewel Hampton, has been plagued by knee injuries in the offseason and is no guarantee to stay healthy in the fall. Also, Iowa loses both starting defensive tackles from last year, and could be vulnerable to the run as a result.
Key Matchup: Michigan’s rushing attack vs. Iowa’s defensive interior — The loss of DTs Mitch King and Matt Kroul (both four-year starters) leaves Iowa with a big hole to fill in the middle of their defense. If Michigan can get an interior running game going, they can control the pace of the game and move the ball against an otherwise stingy defense.
Prediction: Michigan is going to upset somebody this season, and if I had to pick a team that looks the most vulnerable, it’s Iowa. I think Michigan moves the ball enough on the ground to pull the upset in a defensive battle. Michigan 20, Iowa 16.
So, I see Michigan starting the season 5-1, getting a signature victory against the Hawkeyes, and being just seven points away from shocking the world and starting 6-0. Unfortunately, the schedule gets a little more serious from this point forward. Keep checking back as I continue my preseason predictions tomorrow.