Archive

Monthly Archives: November 2009

Rank Team Delta
1 Florida
2 Alabama
3 Texas
4 TCU
5 Cincinnati 1
6 Boise State 1
7 Ohio State 2
8 Oregon 2
9 Georgia Tech 2
10 Iowa 2
11 Penn State 2
12 Virginia Tech 2
13 Brigham Young 3
14 Pittsburgh 6
15 LSU 4
16 Oregon State 1
17 Southern Cal 5
18 Miami (Florida) 5
19 California 1
20 Houston
21 Oklahoma State 10
22 Nebraska
23 West Virginia
24 Stanford 3
25 Utah 1
Last week’s ballot

Dropped Out: Clemson (#15), Mississippi (#18), North Carolina (#25).

Yeah, it’s a total mess. I might as well have picked the bottom of the ballot out of a hat. So, please leave your thoughts in the comments, and hopefully my final poll will be a little less messy.

Please don't change your mind. Please.

Please don't change your mind. Please.

Yesterday I took my (very) early look at the 2010 offense. Today, we take a look at the dark side of the moon defense, which should return nine starters from a unit that, well, stunk in 2009. [Note: I will be referring to players by what class they will be in for 2010. For example, Donovan Warren will be referred to as a senior.]

Defensive End: Might as well get this out of the way — Brandon Graham will be sorely missed, no matter how good his replacements are. It’s tough to replace 10.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss with three guys (which may be what Michigan tries to do), let alone expecting just one player to step and come close to replicating that type of production. Michigan does return starter Ryan Van Bergen, who put up a solid season and could slide over into Graham’s vacated spot. He’s got the size to hold down the strong side of the line, and his five sacks show he has the ability to get to the quarterback. The other DE spot is very much up for grabs — Greg Banks and Adam Patterson are both redshirt seniors who have failed to make much of an impact in their four years in the program, while redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota was an Army All-American who could vault ahead of both seniors based on his prodigious talent. Incoming freshman Ken Wilkins has the frame to be a DE down the road, but at 6-4, 244, he’ll probably take a redshirt year. The hybrid LB/DE spot has a lot fewer questions, as Craig Roh came in the fall and locked down the starting role as a true freshman. If he adds some bulk, he could become a real force as a pass-rusher and speedy playmaker on the edge. Junior Brandon Herron will return as his backup, and incoming freshman Jordan Paskorz will provide depth, although he will likely redshirt as well given the returning players at the positon.

[table id=23 /]

Defensive Tackle: There’s a lot of promise at DT for the Wolverines, with talented junior Mike Martin returning along with senior Renaldo Sagesse and sophomore (and former five-star recruit) Will Campbell. Martin struggled a bit as he adapted to playing the nose tackle in Greg Robinson’s hybrid defense, but was still one of the Wolverines’ most consistent performers on defense. Both Sagesse and Campbell showed solid improvement as the season wore on, and should get solid playing time in 2010. One possibility that has been thrown around by Michigan fans is for Martin to slide over to Van Bergen’s position, with Van Bergen taking Graham’s DE spot and Sagesse or Campbell taking over at nose tackle. If Sagesse or Campbell can hold their ground at nose tackle, I like this possibility, as it frees up Martin to be more of a threat to penetrate into the backfield (something he did with regularity as a freshman) and gives Michigan more size up front to stop the running game. We’ll have to wait until the spring, at the earliest, to see if this is an option. Michigan has also secured a commitment from DT Terry Talbott, but at 6-4, 255, he’ll probably take a redshirt year to add some weight before he sees the field.

[table id=24 /]

Linebacker: If it wasn’t for the safeties, no position group would scare me as much as the linebackers (and it’s pretty close, anyway). Stevie Brown, who turned into Michigan’s most consistent linebacker in 2009, is gone from the weakside spot, leaving seniors Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton as the Wolverines’ returning starters. Ezeh and Mouton both took steps back this fall, struggling to the point of being benched multiple times in the latter half of the season. The Wolverines will need to see more aggressiveness from Ezeh, more discipline from Mouton, and a better understanding of Robinson’s schemes from both if the defense is going to improve substantially next year. Both will face competition, as redshirt junior (and former walk-on) Kevin Leach and juniors J.B. Fitzgerald and Kenny Demens all saw the field last season. Fitzgerald, a former four-star recruit, has the best change to take one of the middle linebacker spots, but don’t sleep on Demens, who saw limited action but is an athletic freak who could emerge as an upperclassman. The competition is even more open for Brown’s old spot, with sophomore Brandin Hawthorne and redshirt freshmen Isaiah Bell and Mike Jones all in the mix, potentially joined by redshirt sophomore Brandon Smith, who bounced between linebacker and safety but looks more promising (in my opinion) as a linebacker candidate. The bad news for Michigan is this position group played very poorly in 2009, and loses their best player. The good news is that there are a lot of talented players vying for just three spots. Hopefully some spirited competition, as well as a year of experience under Robinson, will fuel some better play in 2010.

[table id=25 /]

Cornerback: Despite losing Boubacar Cissoko, and having a revolving door at the second cornerback spot all season, this group actually looks like it will have a lot of depth next season. Senior Donovan Warren has said that he will return next season (he will ask the NFL about his draft status, but unless he gets told he’ll be a first-rounder, he’ll likely be back), giving Michigan a lock-down cornerback on one side of the field. The status of the other corner spot will be determined by senior Troy Woolfolk, and specifically whether he’ll stay at corner or return to safety. If he does stay at corner, he’ll be the man opposite Warren, and his solid performance in 2009 — despite being moved from safety mid-season — gives Michigan a chance to have two very dependable cornerbacks in 2010. Redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd will be back, and should provide depth or potentially start if Woolfolk is a safety, and sophomore Teric Jones should improve with a full year at cornerback under his belt. Redshirt freshman Justin Turner is the big wild card here — the highly-touted prospect was being hailed as the next great Wolverine corner before academic issues forced a redshirt. He could see the field — and start — at either corner or safety, depending on need and his ability to adapt to the college game. Michigan also has commitments from three cornerback prospects — Courtney Avery, Terrence Talbott, and Adrian Witty (who qualified after sitting out last season and enroll in January) — and are the favorites for Rivals100 prospect Cullen Christian (who will announce his decision tonight) and three-star Tony Grimes. Senior James Rodgers, who has bounced around between receiver and defensive back his whole career, will also provide depth. That’s a lot of bodies at corner, so we could (and probably will) see at least one player switch over to safety. It feels strange to say this, but I’m actually confident that the cornerbacks will be a strong point of the defense in 2010.

[table id=26 /]

Safety: Oh, boy. This position was a total disaster in 2009, with Michigan trying everything from a freshman walk-on (Jordan Kovacs) to a safety-turned-linebacker-turned-safety (Brandon Smith) to just playing Donovan Warren in a deep half from the cornerback position. Michigan does return both starters, Kovacs and Mike Williams, but neither player’s job is remotely safe. Redshirt freshman Vladimir Emilien will have a shot at the starting job, and Woolfolk would be almost guaranteed a spot if he moved over. Justin Turner is also a possibility, as well as Brandon Smith and J.T. Floyd, and even redshirt freshman Thomas Gordon and walk-ons Floyd Simmons and Jared Van Slyke. In fact, you may have a shot as well. It’s that open. I’d be crazy to even begin to guess who will be playing safety when Michigan opens against UConn next fall, so the conjecture ends here. This position group could be anything from the unmitigated disaster it was in 2009 to passably competent, and anywhere in between.

[table id=27 /]

Outlook: Well, the defense certainly can’t be worse than this year’s. Losing Graham will hurt tremendously, but expected improvement across the board for the rest of the defense should mean that this team will be better in 2010. How much better will depend on a wild variety of factors, especially the personnel at linebacker and in the secondary — it’s far too early to guess, and as we found out this year, even the best guesses can be horribly, horribly wrong. We’ll just have to wait and see.

(Slightly abbreviated Wolverines on the Web today … I’m struggling with a never-ending sinus infection and my internet connection keeps cutting out. Hooray, life.)

The video above comes courtesy of Maize and Blue Nation, who also has a second angle of the awesome pre-game flyover. Like Brad says at M&BN, there’s really nothing that compares to seeing a flyover live — it never fails to give me chills. Brad also has his reactions to the game posted, and his first statement just about sums up my feelings perfectly:

Rich Rodriguez did not throw 4 interceptions or fumble the ball in endzone. Tate Forcier did. Anyone who thinks Rodriguez should be fired is wrong. We had a gameplan to win this game. Rodriguez/Magee had a plan to move the ball against tOSU’s defense…and it worked. We just made too many mistakes.

Amen. Reactions are also up from MGoBrian, whose ennui is so strong I can barely muster the motivation to finish this sentence; Maize n Brew Dave, who, like me, was not particularly pleased with the amount of Ohio State fans in the stadium; and Burgeoning Wolverine Star, who thinks Vincent Smith solidified his spot as the 2010 starting tailback (I agree).

Greg over at MVictors has some pretty cool photos from before the game, including one of Paul Bunyan Jake Long and even CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The WCBN blog compares Tate Forcier’s freshman year to Mark Sanchez’s rookie season with the Jets, and also has an interview with 2010 commit Ken Wilkins, who was visiting for the Ohio State game.

In non-football sports, Dylan exchanges questions with Creighton blog The White and Blue Review before Michigan faces off with them on Thanksgiving, and The Blog That Yost Built details the depressing fallout from the Czarnik departure and Jack Campbell’s decision to play in the OHL. Even the hockey fans are saying ‘at least we have basketball’.

graham
It is the nature of college football — players cycle in and out every four years, many are forgotten, and even the best are supplanted in fans’ minds by the newest sensation. However, there are a few players that leave a lasting, indelible impression. Charles Woodson will always be #2. Desmond Howard, #21. Braylon Edwards, #1. Mike Hart, #20.

And for me, #55 at Michigan is now property of Brandon Graham.

His numbers are truly spectacular: 28.5 career sacks and (fittingly) 55 career tackles for loss, both marking the second-best total in school history. The fact that these numbers came when often he was the only player on the defense worth focusing on, when teams stayed away from his side of the line like the plague, only serves to make them more impressive. But Graham’s legacy should go far beyond the numbers.

To watch Graham play on Saturday was to watch a man possessed — his focus was never on the stats, but on doing whatever he could to give Michigan a better chance to win. When the Wolverines needed a stop, down two scores, there was Graham, sacking Terrelle Pryor or hitting Brandon Saine in the backfield to give Michigan hope. When Michigan needed a boost from the fans, there was Graham, arms raised, willing the crowd to make noise, like he has done all season. When Ohio State punted, there was Graham, slamming into three blockers at full, terrifying speed, just in case he could force his way through for a block, or at least put a hurting on a couple Buckeyes.

Off the field, Graham had every opportunity to throw his team under the bus, to say it like it was, that he was carrying the defense by himself and could use some help. I wouldn’t have blamed him — Graham often looked like a varsity player stuck on the JV team. Instead, he called a players-only meeting last week just to let everyone know how much this game meant, how much this program meant, what it truly meant to don the Maize and Blue and battle the Scarlet and Gray. By all accounts, Graham is a good a man off the field as he is a player on it.

With a couple minutes left, as Michigan Stadium started to empty out on Saturday, and the stands turned red with the multitude of celebrating Ohio State fans, there was every reason to turn around and head for the exit. But there was Brandon Graham, still playing his heart out until the clock reached 0:00. No one would have blamed him for quitting, just like no one would have blamed us for leaving. But he was there, so we stayed.

Brandon Graham deserved better. He will be remembered as the best Wolverine on the worst Wolverine teams, and that’s not right. He’s simply one of the best Wolverines, ever. It has been a privilege to watch him play. Hopefully, after a long and successful NFL career, Graham will find himself back in Ann Arbor, with the program in some capacity, and we can give him the victories that he so richly deserved as a player.

Roy Roundtree looks like he will be an integral part of the 2010 offense.

Roy Roundtree looks like he will be an integral part of the 2010 offense.

There’s not much left to say about the 2009 season, so I’m going to go ahead and take a look at what the 2010 team will look like. First up is the offense, which should see little turnover from a very young unit. Just a note: I’ll be referring to players by what class they will be in for 2010 (for instance, I’ll be calling Tate Forcier a sophomore).

Quarterback: There will be a lot of speculation about the quarterback position, especially with the way Tate Forcier finished his freshman campaign. Forcier obviously has the inside track at the starting position in 2010, with a full season as the starter in Rich Rodriguez’s system under his belt. Denard Robinson has shown value as a situational quarterback, but hasn’t shown the passing ability to be a full-time solution at the position. The wild card will be the presence of incoming freshman Devin Gardner, Rivals.com’s #1 quarterback in the Class of 2010 and a threat to start from the moment he steps on campus. Unfortunately, Gardner will not be able to enroll early, and will have a tough time learning the offense quickly enough to unseat Forcier. In all likelihood, we’ll see the same quarterback rotation that we saw in 2009 — I doubt Rich Rodriguez wants to put his job on the line with another true freshman starting at the most important position on the field. Forcier should be an improved player when we see him next fall, and hopefully the rookie mistakes that marred the Ohio State game will be largely absent from his game a year from now.

[table id=18 /]

Running Back: Michigan loses two talented (but oft-injured) tailbacks in Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, but there is still a lot of talent returning at the position. Junior Michael Shaw and sophomore Vincent Smith should provide a solid one-two punch similar to how Michigan rotated Minor and Brown when they were healthy. They could be pushed for playing time by redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint (a highly-regarded four-star who put up very impressive numbers in high school) and redshirt sophomore Mike Cox, who at the very least will provide some depth at the position. Smith showed flashes of real promise in the second half of the season, and scored Michigan’s only touchdown against Ohio State on a nice 18-yard reception — he has showed an ability to run between the tackles despite his small stature, and could turn into a workhorse-type back. Shaw is more in the Carlos Brown mold (right down to the consistent nagging injuries), a guy with track-star speed who is a threat to take any run the distance. The Wolverines will also add Livonia Stevenson running back Austin White, a three-star tailback who is a very good receiver out of the backfield, and the large (6-0, 235 lbs.) Stephen Hopkins in the freshman class, although both will have an uphill climb for playing time. Despite losing two senior backs, Michigan looks to be in good shape at running back in 2010.

[table id=19 /]

Outside Receiver: Michigan only loses two players, Greg Mathews and LaTerryal Savoy, from a unit that couldn’t consistently produce in 2009. Juniors Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway are your likely starters for 2010, and have the potential to provide Forcier with two solid deep threats if they continue to develop as players. Michigan will also return sophomore Je’Ron Stokes and redshirt freshman Cameron Gordon, a couple of four-star players from the Class of 2009, and will add some young talent in incoming freshmen Ricardo Miller, Jerald Robinson, D.J. Williamson, and Jeremy Jackson. Miller, an early commit who moved to Ann Arbor after playing his first three high school seasons at Dr. Phillips (FL), has the best chance to see the field early, although Jerald Robinson is the highest-rated player (Rivals.com four-star, #45 wide receiver) of the true freshmen and could also have an impact early on. The issue with the outside receivers isn’t talent — Stonum, Stokes, and Gordon were all four-star recruits, and Hemingway has been impressive when healthy — but consistency. Expect to see a lot of rotation at receiver until somebody steps up and establishes themselves as a consistent threat.

[table id=20 /]

Slot Receivers: An injury to Martavious Odoms gave Roy Roundtree an opportunity to show his ability at slot receiver, and Roundtree may have edged out Odoms as the starter with his performance over the latter half of 2009. Both players should see ample playing time in 2010, and Roundtree’s emergence as Forcier’s go-to guy could mean Michigan shows more four-receiver sets next fall. Before his injury, Odoms had established himself as Michigan’s most consistent receiver under Rich Rodriguez, and also garnered praise for his downfield blocking and knowledge of the offense. Each player brings a different set of skills to the table, and Michigan will likely utilize both with regularity in 2010. There is a lot of depth at this position, with junior Kelvin Grady, sophomore Terrence Robinson, and redshirt freshman Jeremy Gallon all returning, to be joined by incoming freshmen Drew Dileo and Tony Drake. Grady, who saw his playing time decrease as Roundtree’s role expanded, could see more playing time as his transition from basketball to football continues. Many thought Gallon would contribute this season, but a late start because of academic clearinghouse issues forced him to redshirt — he’s a dark horse guy who could have a breakout season if he gets the opportunity. Overall, there’s a lot of talent in the slot, and Michigan should once again see the majority of their receiving production come from the position.

[table id=21 /]

Tight Ends: Big things were expected from the tight end position, especially junior Kevin Koger, in 2009, but a strong start from Koger was followed by a disappointing string of drops as the position became more of a non-factor as the season wore on. However, there is still a lot of talent at tight end, with Koger joined by senior Martell Webb and redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore. The position will be one to watch in 2010 — Rich Rodriguez rarely utilized tight ends at West Virginia, but Koger has shown the potential to be a huge weapon in the spread. Along with Webb, who also struggled with drops this season, Koger may just be playing for the survival of the tight end position at Michigan next season. If he can catch the ball, Koger could be an All-Big Ten player next year, and a great safety valve for Forcier.

[table id=22 /]

Offensive Line: The unit with the most turnover is the offensive line, which loses starters Mark Ortmann and David Moosman, as well as backup Tim McAvoy. However, Michigan returns five players who earned starts in 2009 in Steve Schilling, David Molk, Mark Huyge, Perry Dorrestein, and Patrick Omameh. Schilling (right guard) and Molk (center) will likely hold down their current positions, but the other three spots on the line are up for grabs, with a bevy of talented linemen all competing for playing time. Omameh performed well at right guard in the last few games of the season, and will likely earn a starting spot somewhere on the line. Huyge is another player that can play multiple positions, and should compete with Dorrestein and redshirt freshmen Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield for a shot at one of the tackle positions. On the interior of the line, redshirt sophomores Ricky Barnum, Rocko Khoury, and Elliott Mealer, as well as redshirt freshman Quinton Washington, will provide depth and push for playing time. Regardless of who earns starting spots on the line, the experience and talent at every position should mean an improved unit for 2010.

2010 Outlook: The 2009 offense improved drastically from a disastrous unit in Rich Rodriguez’s first year at Michigan. With Tate Forcier having a full year at Michigan under his belt — and hopefully with a greater appreciation for holding on to the football — the Wolverines should once again have an improved offense in 2010. Forcier will be the key — the offensive line should be better with experience, and there is a lot of talent and depth at all the skill positions. If Michigan can get more efficiency from the quarterback position — and they should — we could be seeing one of the nation’s most potent offenses next season.

Rank Team Delta
1 Florida
2 Alabama
3 Texas
4 TCU 1
5 Boise State 1
6 Cincinnati
7 Georgia Tech
8 Pittsburgh
9 Ohio State
10 Oregon 1
11 Oklahoma State 1
12 Iowa 1
13 Penn State 1
14 Virginia Tech 2
15 Clemson 3
16 Brigham Young 3
17 Oregon State 3
18 Mississippi
19 LSU 9
20 California
21 Stanford 6
22 Southern Cal 1
23 Miami (Florida) 1
24 Utah 1
25 North Carolina 1
Last week’s ballot

Dropped Out: Wisconsin (#17), Nebraska (#25).

The top ten has settled out pretty well, but making sense of the bottom half of this ballot is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube while downhill skiing. Yes, Cal beat Stanford, and Stanford beat USC, but USC also beat Cal earlier this season. Ole Miss beat LSU, but do they really deserve to vault from unranked to #18 because Les Miles lost his mind in the final minute of their game? As always, leave your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll have a final ballot in on Tuesday night.

They say not to blog angry, but this has nothing to do with the outcome of the game, and I feel it needs to be said: The alumni turnout for the game was nothing short of embarrassing. There must have been close to 40,000 Ohio State fans at Michigan Stadium today, and only a few of those were in the student section. By the second half, the fans dressed in scarlet and gray had practically taken over our own home field. I will never be able to shake off the image of Ohio State fans chanting “O-H I-O” in all four corners of our stadium.

If you sold your ticket to an Ohio State fan, for any reason other than necessity, I hope you strongly consider giving up your season tickets to some real Michigan fans. Today’s showing, on Senior Day, when the team needed us most, was pathetic. The student section did their job, showing up and making noise like we always do. I can’t say the same about the rest of the people who held tickets to the game. I’ll stop writing before this becomes an even more bitter rant than it already is, but I truly hope this never happens again.