As the months and weeks count down to the new college football season, many try to predict what will unfold on the gridiron in September and beyond.
Some predict Heisman Trophy candidates, national championship contenders, and of course, who will be the next great college football player to break out.
For the Michigan Wolverines, the 2009 season is a chance at redemption after one of the worst seasons in school history.
That said, I offer six bold predictions for the 2009 season.
1. Brandon Graham wins the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award
While this may not be as shocking as some of the other predictions I make, he certainly hasn't been picked by many media outlets as the player of the year.
Surrounded by other talent, such as linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton, Graham will garner even more attention with his ferocious pass rushing skills.
As a junior, he led the Maize and Blue with 10 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss, and I see those numbers increasing in 2009. Even as teams target him with double coverage, they won't stop him most of the time, and I think he breaks through the line often, causing havoc in the backfield.
He will lead a much improved Michigan defense that helps lead the team back up the Big Ten standings.
Graham will join former Wolverine LaMarr Woodley as the only defensive lineman to win the award for the Maize and Blue and just the fourth player overall (Charles Woodson, Larry Foote).
2. The Wolverines will carry an 8-2 record into a showdown in Madison against the Badgers
This is probably the best-case scenario for this squad in 2009. They could easily start out the season with a 4-0 record, even with the second game being against a ranked Notre Dame team. The Michigan State game is a toss-up right now, but I think Michigan has enough offense to get past the Spartans.
The Wolverines' only two losses in the first 10 games come at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes, who are a dangerous and experienced team, and Penn State at home.
A blowout victory over Delaware State and wins over Illinois and Purdue will have Michigan brimming with confidence heading into the final road game of the season against the Wisconsin Badgers and the loud fans in Madison.
It's really tough to tell what will unfold in those final two games, but Wisconsin always has their best for Michigan, and everyone knows what the final game of the season entails.
If you told Rich Rodriguez right now that his team would be 8-2 heading to Madison, I bet you he'd take that in a heartbeat.
3. Tate Forcier eventually takes over as starter, but Denard Robinson sees a lot of playing action
Forcier pretty much was handed the job when he landed in Ann Arbor.
Yes, three quarterbacks are starting in the opener against Western Michigan. Ultimately, though, should he not play horribly, all indications are that Forcier will lead the offense.
Denard Robinson, or "Shoelaces," should also be called "Shoelaces" because defenders are constantly only nipping at his shoelaces instead of bringing down the young speedster.
He hasn't disappointed on the field this spring, and I think that his speed will be used on the field throughout the season. Whether it's to come in and spell Forcier or perhaps play another position in some kind of trick formation, I think Robinson forces the coaches to come up with creative ways at using him.
It seems as though Michigan has two young and talented quarterbacks with tons of speed to burn, and the coaching staff will be using both on the field this year in Ann Arbor.
4. Defensive tackle William Campbell emerges as one of the top defensive freshmen in the country and wins Big Ten Freshman of the Year
Campbell is one of the top freshman defensive players in the country, and Michigan fans everywhere will get their first taste of him on Sept. 5.
He'll get the opportunity to play right away, and many believe that he'll start the opener against Western Michigan.
Listed at 6'5" and 318 pounds, Campbell should help fill the gaps when the opposition runs the football and also should help Graham and others get through the line and get to the quarterback.
Charles Woodson is perhaps the last true freshman to have a serious impact in his first year in Ann Arbor, and there is no reason not to think Campbell will have the same impact.
5. The Maize and Blue finish the season with a positive turnover ratio
The Wolverines finished dead last in the conference last season with a minus-10 turnover ratio. The team induced just nine interceptions last season and will definitely be looking to cause more turnovers this season.
What is more important, however, is hanging on to the football. The Wolverines coughed up the ball an astounding 30 times (almost three a game) last season and need to do a better job of taking care of the football.
Rodriguez has been preaching it, like every other football coach, throughout spring and summer camps. With veterans Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Greg Mathews cycling with the football, there is reason to believe the team can make some vast improvements in that department.
The key will be if the young quarterbacks are savvy enough with the ball that they don't make mistakes.
If so, this squad should see a staunch improvement and perhaps even a positive turnover ratio in 2009.
6. Michigan finishes the season ranked in the top 25
Even with losses down the stretch, it's not impossible for the Wolverines to finish the season ranked in the top 25. The squad will make a bowl game after missing its first last year in decades, and with a victory in that game, it hangs on to a spot as one of the top 25 teams in the nation.
The Wolverines' strength of schedule will most definitely help here, as Notre Dame is looking to be much improved and Western Michigan plays a strong schedule as well.
With eight or nine wins this season, Michigan could see itself into the top 25 at season's end and find itself set up for years to come.
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