5 Bold Predictions for Michigan's 2014 Season
Michigan kicks off its season on Saturday looking to avenge 2007's 34-32 loss to Appalachian State—and to show the world of college football that it's a far better program than 2013's 7-6 record suggests.
With Doug Nussmeier, the new offensive coordinator, the Wolverines are expected to revert to their former pro-style ways by attacking the ground and ruling the trenches. While at Alabama, Nussmeier had the backs and O-line to do such things.
However, in Ann Arbor, he's inherited somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle up front and in the backfield. Getting those two position groups back on track will ultimately be goal No. 1 for Nussmeier, who, talent-wise, certainly has enough mammoths on the line and horses in the stable to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.
With that being said, this slideshow will throw out a few predictions regarding Team 135's season. Hopefully a few stick to the wall.
Are you ready for football? Saturday football?!
Michigan's Defense Will Finish Season in Top 10
That's the only way to describe Michigan's defense, which returns nine starters: Frank Clark (DE), Willie Henry (DT), Brennen Beyer (DE), Jake Ryan (LB), and Desmond Morgan (LB), along with James Ross III (LB), Jarrod Wilson (FS), Blake Countess (CB) and Raymon Taylor (CB).
Needless to say, Greg Mattison, who enters his fourth year as defensive coordinator, has been raving about his players for months. He was excited about them in June. He was excited on media day about three weeks ago.
And he was excited during Monday's presser at the Crisler Center.
"We feel very strongly about the young men we have," said Mattison, who made it a point to emphasize specifics with further detailed walkthroughs during the offseason and fall camp. "So as a coach, what you have to do is make sure that everything you're teaching them, they understand. So we're all on the same page when we're out there. If we get these young men to go at the level they should and will, then you're going to have something exciting.
"That's the way we feel."
Mattison and the Wolverines should feel "very strongly" about this fall. With the level of talent at his disposal, they have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
However, Mattison said that works needs to be done—the defense is by no means a finished product. But overall, he's quite confident in his athletes' abilities to get the job done.
About a week ago, Michigan's D-line looked like a wave of bulldozers during the "Under the Lights" scrimmage. The corners and safeties had 17 picks this past season, and the top contributors (Countess and Taylor) are back for more, along with Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis.
Linebackers are abundant. And that's putting it lightly.
Could this be Mattison's best maize and blue defense?
For the sake of predicting boldly, let's say "yes." On top of that, it'll finish among the top 10 in the country.
Wolverines Win 2 of 3 Against Rivals
Beating rivals has been all but routine for Michigan, which faces nemeses Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State on the road.
It would seem that the Wolverines just can't catch a break. Or maybe things will even due to a weaker home schedule. Either way, let's say that Michigan, which has the talent, gets two of three this season.
Take your pick: Spartans and Irish, Irish and Buckeyes or Buckeyes and Spartans.
Note: Michigan State has won five of the past six, Ohio State's only lost thrice since the turn of the century and the Irish have lost thrice at home to Michigan since 1994.
It won't be easy, but Team 135 could surprise a few people and take two of the big ones on Saturday instead of confining victories to the recruiting trails.
Devin Gardner Proves He Is Indeed 'Captain Gardner'
Hoke isn't naming captains until "after the Ohio game," presumably to keep players focused on the task at hand, rather than who holds what title and why.
But realistically, being a fifth-year senior and starting quarterback should be enough to get the nod. Official captain or not, Gardner, who threw for 21 touchdowns and 2,960 yards in 2013, plans to lead by example.
"I feel like I'm going to be looked at as a captain just for the position I play," Gardner said, grinning. "Even some of the young guys call me 'Captain Gardner,' which is weird...I tell them not to do that. It's not a big deal, you know. We just want to go win football games." He later added: "I think Coach Hoke made that decision because he thinks it's going to help the team."
Sure, he's coming off foot surgery and has had to defend his job for months, but he's Michigan's quarterback and he's going to lead the charge until he can no longer do so. Look for a huge year for Gardner, who should hit 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns this season (if the team's improved as much as coaches say).
Team 135's Rushing Attack Goes Ballistic
Given the doubts surrounding the offensive line, it'd be logical to project an up-and-down year for Michigan running backs.
But with a renewed sense of continuity and brotherhood, per Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, an upward trend seems all but guaranteed for the Wolverines, who have searched for a 1,000-yard running back since 2012.
Their search could end, as both Green and Smith have the power, wheels and vision to crack a grand this fall.
In 2013, Michigan rushed for 1,634 yards, finishing No. 11 in the league, per BigTen.org. Yes, No. 11, which was hardly a Wolverines-esque showing, considering that individuals have done more than that with their eyes closed and hands tied behind their backs.
Plus there's Nussmeier, who watched Alabama ball-carriers barrel defenders and pick real estate with relative ease during his two-year stay (2012-13) in Tuscaloosa.
With that being said, let's say that Michigan returns to the limelight by finishing 2014 seated among the Big Ten's top five in team rushing. Prediction time: Somewhere in the 2,500-yard range, with Green eclipsing 1,000 and Smith turning in about 800.
Nussmeier likes where Green is going, per MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner:
Nussmeier says Derrick Green looks like a different back now. Says he's still improving, but has earned that job.— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) August 25, 2014
Michigan's depth, courtesy of Rachel Lenzi of the Toledo Blade:
So, on paper at RB - Derrick Green is 1, De'Veon Smith is 2, Justice Hayes 3A and Drake Johnson 3B.— Rachel Lenzi (@RLenziBlade) August 25, 2014
Brady Hoke's 'Hot Seat' Gets Icey
At this point, the discussion of Brady Hoke's "hot seat" has been pounded to a pulp. Other than speculation, there really isn't anything officially stating that the coach's job is in jeopardy. It's all a big ruse.
Even David Brandon, the athletic director, has reinforced that notion, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press:
Michigan AD Dave Brandon says talk of Brady Hoke's job status is 'nonsense' http://t.co/O6HdnkaM9D— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) August 6, 2014
This has to be Hoke's year. It just has to be. After starting 11-2, he's fallen to 8-5 and 7-6. Anything short of nine wins, starting with an annihilation of Appalachian State on Saturday, would be a failure in the eyes of fans. If this slideshow and my prediction of 9-3 are correct, he'll get two rivalry wins and be around to see Team 136 contend for something special next fall.
Bonus: Jabrill Peppers and the Heisman
Michigan coaches and players have tempered the Jabrill Peppers hype, but recent statements have stoked the fire.
What are they supposed to say about one of the most gifted athletes to ever commit to Michigan? That he's not going to be good?
Of course not.
On Monday, Devin Funchess, Devin Gardner and Brennen Beyer each praised the 5-star out of Paramus Catholic in New Jersey, saying that it's obvious that he "loves the game of football." They've also been impressed with his work ethic.
Mattison also offered his assessment of the 6'1," 205-pound true freshman.
"Jabrill has come in and bought in right away, bought into playing the scheme and trying to do exactly what [DB coaches] Roy [Manning] and Curt [Mallory] are telling him to on the back end," Mattison said. "He's played tremendously fast and has great confidence. He's a very confident young man...", later adding: "He loves to play the game of football and he loves Michigan. So far, with everything that we've done in practice, he's really been what we thought he would be."
Be careful not to get too riled up over that. Mattison was simply telling the truth, not cheerleading for Peppers. The DC knows he has a special talent. Michigan knows it, too.
Peppers is a great football player who'll only be greater with more experience. Give the coaches a chance to...well...coach. Then watch the Jersey Kid go full force.
But sadly, he won't win the Heisman this season.
Maybe next year.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Unless otherwise noted, quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.