Michigan Football: The State of the Program After 2013 Season
Watching bitter rivals play for a trip to the Rose Bowl this past Saturday must have been bittersweet for the Michigan Wolverines, who, according to preseason hype, were supposed to be in that very position instead of waiting for a middle-of-the-road bowl invite.
The fall didn’t pan out as planned. Michigan finished 7-5 (3-5 Big Ten), with losses to the Spartans, Buckeyes, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers and Penn State Nittany Lions.
Another down season takes its toll.
But coach Brady Hoke and his staff have a cupboard brimming with talent. If they can utilize said talent in an effective manner in 2014, there shouldn’t be a reason why the Wolverines won’t compete in the new East Division.
Football is a game of strategy, determination and a few lucky bounces. Team 134 lacked consistency in those departments and fell victim to a few unlucky moments—the Wolverines lost four games by a combined 11 points.
And that sums up 2013 quite nicely.
Team 135 is now the focus, and so is becoming an active participant in the race for Big Ten titles.
With losses substantial, the Wolverines find themselves looking for Mr. Next at several key positions.
The receivers, obviously, have tremendous upside.
Next year, Devin Gardner or Shane Morris won’t have the luxury of throwing to Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, but they’ll have Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, DaMario Jones, Csont’e York and JaRon Dukes.
Maybe Drake Harris and Maurice Ways will get a chance to prove themselves as freshmen this fall.
How’s that for a stable of wideouts? Throw in tight ends Devin Funchess and Jake Butt—two emerging stars in the offense—and the Wolverines stand to have a healthy aerial show in 2014.
The following chart highlights some of the key players returning to or joining the Big Ten's No. 4-ranked scoring offense (33.8 PPG).
Note: Positions and class years are projected from the team roster on Rivals.com (subscription required to view).
Projected freshmen are based on Michigan's list of commitments, per 247Sports.
|Devin Gardner (RS SR)||Amara Darboh (RS SO)|
|Shane Morris (SO)||Jehu Chesson (RS SO)|
|Wilton Speight (FR)||Drake Harris (FR)|
|Russell Bellomy (RS JR)||DaMario Jones (SO)|
|RB||Dennis Norfleet (JR) *slot/RB/KR/PR|
|Derrick Green (SO)||Csont'e York (SO)|
|De'Veon Smith (SO)||Jaron Dukes (SO)|
|Drake Johnson (RS SO)||TE|
|Justice Hayes (RS JR)||Devin Funchess (JR)|
|Thomas Rawls (SR)||Jake Butt (SO)|
|OL||A.J. Williams (JR)|
|Erik Magnusson (RS SO)||Khalid Hill (SO)|
|Ben Braden (RS SO)|
|Kyle Bosch (SO)|
|Graham Glasgow (RS JR)|
Defensively, the Wolverines probably can't wait to get a fully healthy Jake Ryan onto the field. The star linebacker suffered an ACL injury this past spring and played sparingly after Michigan's loss to Penn State.
As one of the program's leaders and top run-stoppers in the Big Ten, Ryan's presence and performance will be of the utmost importance.
Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator, has depth at linebacker. But he needs improvement in the pass-rushing department due to the loss of Jibreel Black.
The following table highlights some of the key players returning to or joining the Big Ten's No. 6-ranked total defense.
|Jake Ryan (SR)||Jabrill Peppers (FR) *still visiting|
|Desmond Morgan (SR)||Raymon Taylor (SR)|
|Royce Jenkins-Stone (JR)||Blake Countess (RS JR)|
|Mike McCray (SO)||Jourdan Lewis (SO)|
|James Ross (JR)||Channing Stribling (SO)|
|Joe Bolden (JR)||Dymonte Thomas (SO)|
|Ben Gedeon (SO)||Delano Hill (SO)|
|Michael Ferns (FR)||Reon Dawson (SO)|
|DL||Jarrod Wilson (JR)|
|Ondre Pipkins (JR)|
|Willie Henry (RS SO)|
|Frank Clark (SR)|
The kicking game loses Brendan Gibbons, who's delivered game-winners in bowl games and against Michigan State. The logical replacement seems to be Matt Wile, a will-be senior. Kenny Allen could be the full-time punter next year as a sophomore. But he's also a worthy placekicker.
Will Jabrill Peppers stay committed to Michigan? Or will he choose to explore other options, as he recently announced on Twitter?
Imma take a couple Officials after the season myself 🙌🙇— Breezy (@JabrillPeppers) November 26, 2013
Ranked as the No. 1 overall ATH of the 2014 class by 247Sports, Peppers would immediately add energy, excitement, athleticism and skill to the Wolverines secondary.
And the return game.
And the kicking game.
And the equipment-managing game.
He wants to do everything, and that includes being better than Charles Woodson.
But right now, Michigan fans want him to focus on one task, and one task only: Remaining true to Hoke and Team 135. Holding onto Peppers should be the No. 1 priority of the offseason.
Wilton Speight (2014 QB)
Speight is the successor to the No. 1 job. At 6'6", he touts a big arm and adequate mobility that makes him perfect for the role of pro-style gunner in Al Borges' offense. Shane Morris may be viewed as the true next in line, but don't pass by Speight.
Michael Ferns (2014 LB)
Ferns enters Michigan as the No. 6-ranked linebacker of his class. He commands a 4-star rating from 247Sports and the prototypical Ohio-bred defender, a breed that has been more than kind to Wolverines football.
Drake Harris (2014 WR)
Courted by Alabama, Ohio State and once committed to Michigan State, Harris' arrival is among the most anticipated during the Hoke era of recruiting. Harris was a symbol of Michigan's resurgence in local recruiting.
To win the Big Ten, the Wolverines must first win over the Great Lakes State. Ownership of the backyard is paramount.
Harris will probably prove worthy of fighting for, so expect him to see the field early and often.
Lawrence Marshall (2014 DE)
The No. 10-ranked weak-side defense end could fight for a spot on the line in 2014. Athletic at 6'3" and 225 pounds, Marshall has the potential to be an excellent pass-rusher.
Damien Harris (2015 RB), George Campbell (2015 WR)
In an effort to stay glued to next year, there won't be much speculation beyond 2014 in this slideshow. However, it's difficult not to worry about the current state of a few high-end recruits, such as Harris, a 5-star tailback who committed to the 2015 class this past July.
Campbell is the No. 1-ranked receiver of the 2015 haul. Getting a commitment from Campbell was a great sign for the offense, which will need a corps of big-bodied wideouts to sustain title runs. At 6'3" and 184 pounds, Campbell fits such a mold.
Since taking over in 2011, Hoke has slid backward. He won 11 games with another coach's recruits, but he posted an 8-5 mark in 2012 and 7-5 (pending bowl game) mark this year.
Will that influence Harris and Campbell in a negative manner? They have enough time to rethink their decisions. Winning, though, will aide in keeping them set on joining Michigan.
Stars of the Future
Recruiting at a nationally visible clip has its benefits. With great recruiters such as Hoke, Mattison and running backs coach Fred Jackson, the Wolverines are certainly going to be in the mix for the highest-profile athletes each year.
Times haven't been easy for Michigan, but the future is bright. The Wolverines have two young quarterbacks who are geared for Borges' offense. There won't be much of a need to run a workable offense with a quarterback that doesn't fit the system, which has been the case for the past three years.
Morris didn't look too comfortable vs. Michigan State, but he held his own in Week 1 vs. Central Michigan. He'll get more experience through practices and drills, so all isn't lost. Hoke should have an option other than Gardner in 2014, although it's certainly possible that Gardner will be the starter.
Derrick Green (RB)
Green wasn't showcased much in 2013 due to a number of reasons, one of which had to be the struggles of the offensive line. Fitz Toussaint, a senior, couldn't find his way behind the mish-mash of linemen. The coaching staff may have thought that throwing a freshman into the fire wouldn't be fair.
Either way, Green is on the rise.
DeVeon Smith (RB)
Smith is a guy who doesn't get a whole of attention. He didn't have the benefit of entering college with a 5-star grade, causing a slip under the radar. Most Michigan fans set their eyes on Green, and rightfully so. But as the season progressed, Wolverines followers began noticing Smith's efforts.
He'll certainly be a go-to next fall. Two hungry sophomores bodes well for the backfield.
Jake Butt, Devin Funchess (TE)
Butt had 17 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns during his freshman year. He scored against Ohio State, a monumental achievement for a first-year athlete. He's added size and complements Funchess, who was named the Big Ten's tight end of the year.
Funchess was undoubtedly weapon No. 1 this fall. Gallon had an outstanding year and set a school record with 369 receiving yards vs. Indiana, but Funchess was the true alpha play maker. At 6'6" and 235 pounds, Funchess is a quarterback's dream.
He finished with 47 catches for 727 yards and six touchdowns.
Willie Henry, Chris Wormley (DT/DL)
The pair of redshirt freshmen were two of the better youngsters on the line this season, so it's easy to assume that they'll continue their ascent next fall.
During a recent speaking event, Hoke told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press that the entire staff would return as is in 2014.
No changes. Not one. Well, that's the line right now.
Speculation of a change has been shot down by Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, so don't expect a move just yet. However, another year of substandard efforts could be enough for Brandon to ax more than one from the payroll.
The following chart highlights the staff as of Dec. 2013.
|Head coach||Brady Hoke|
|Offensive coordinator||Al Borges|
|Defensive coordinator||Greg Mattison|
|Running Back||Fred Jackson|
|Linebackers||Roy Manning (OLB), Mark Smith (ILB)|
|Wide receivers||Jeff Hecklinski|
|Special teams/Tight end||Dan Ferrigno|
Time is not on Hoke's side. The 2013 season was Big Ten title or bust, and that'll be the battle cry in 2014.
At this point, the offensive line is a glaring liability. Losing senior tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield only compound the interior issues. Michigan has recruited well, so finding a replacement on the line shouldn't be a backbreaking undertaking.
Development of the O-line and refining the pro-style attack has to be the mission. Simply contending won't be enough next year, not after the disastrous 12-game spread offered by Team 134.
A 10-win showing wouldn't be out of the question. But given the up-and-down nature of Wolverines football and the timing of this piece, a seven- or eight-win season is certainly possible.
|Aug. 30||APPALACHIAN STATE|
|Sept. 6||at Notre Dame|
|Sept. 13||MIAMI (Ohio)|
|Oct. 4||at Rutgers*|
|Oct. 11||PENN STATE*|
|Oct. 25||at Michigan State*|
|Nov. 1||INDIANA* (HC)|
|Nov. 8||at Northwestern*|
|Nov. 29||at Ohio State*|
|Dec. 6||Big Ten Championship Game|
As usual, the Notre Dame game will be an early-season barometer. The 2014 showdown will be the final meeting unless Michigan and Notre Dame renegotiate their series deal.
Utah beat Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2008.
Oct. 25 at Michigan State and Nov. 29 at Ohio State are the obvious must-wins.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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