On the eve of the Michigan football season, it's time for some optimism. Some of this might be overly optimistic, but I think everyone should have something to feel good about on the way to the game tomorrow. Here's ten reasons Michigan will be GOOD this season. I could have put Mike Barwis for all ten, but I chose to be semi-creative.
10. The players really seem to love Nick Sheridan
Yes players usually back up their teammates to be politically correct; but after seeing what, or more importantly, how, Greg Matthews and Stephen Schilling spoke of Nick Sheridan, it seems as though his teammates have a great time playing with him and respect him. While asking about Threet drew a generic “He’s a more serious guy, but we feel comfortable with whoever’s back there,” Speaking of Sheridan drew laughs and “He’s funny, we really love having him in the huddle.” Now this could just mean he’s a funny guy, but usually fellow teammates won’t be laughing if a guy is doing a terrible job. As much as I have had a hard time excepting that anything good could come out of Sheridan starting, I’m starting to feel that there could be a great story brewing here with the walk-on turning out to be fairly good. I’m probably too optimistic, but his teammates do like and respect him it seems.
9. The schedule
While losing to Miami and Notre Dame would be embarrassing, while a Utah loss might be expected by many, starting 0-3 is not a big deal considering none of the games are in Big Ten play. Those three games are followed by a bye week. I see this as Michigan having four weeks to get ready for Big Ten play where Michigan will truly be judged. Many people will disagree, but I tend to think Big Ten play is the most important, particularly this season with so many question marks. If Michigan wins a lot of conference games, people will start to forget about the first few weeks. Four weeks to prepare for the conference could lead to great success.
8. The Corners
If two years ago someone said Morgan Trent would be a candidate for All-American, that person would have been considered a moron. After a decent season last year, and an offseason full of praise from the new coaching staff, and Mike Barwis, Trent could be terrific this season. Opposite him is a guy many fans think will be better than Trent, Donovan Warren. Warren played very well as a true freshman last year, and with a full year under his belt, and also drawing praise from the coaching staff this offseason, he’s primed for a great year. Both of these guys say they are faster than ever too and Warren will return punts while Trent may return kickoffs. Couple these two with sophomore Troy Woolfolk, who is also ridiculously fast, and incoming hyped freshman Boubacar Cissoko, the corners should be making plays with the aggressive front seven and safeties pressuring opposing QBs into quick decisions. They should force tons of turnovers this year and really make some big, big plays.
7. The offense shouldn’t tell defenses what they are going to run by the same substitutions over and over
The last 5-10 years of Michigan football, Michigan has had one of the most predictable offenses in the country. If Mike Massey was in, expect run. If Mike Hart was out, expect pass. If the fullback was in, expect run. If the slot guy comes in motion towards the offense line, run. It’s amazing Michigan’s offense has been as successful as it has been, minus last year, with the predictability of the offense. With the no-huddle coming in with an offense that likes to get as many skill players on the field and get the ball to them quickly, those days should be over. Of course it’s tough to tell without seeing this coaching staff call a game here yet, and it’ll take a few games to start noticing any trends. But, the fact that Rodriguez will often play two “starting caliber” running backs in the backfield at once, and move the skill guys around from slot, to outside, to the backfield, it should be very difficult for opposing teams to guess what’s coming. That should help the inexperienced offense big time this season.
6. Scott Shafer’s scheme
Blitz, blitz, pressure, pressure, stop the run, force turnovers, and score, is essentially Scott Shafer’s defensive philosophy. Yes, he does say scoring is something he wants this defense to do. With the talent that this defense has particularly on the D-line and at the corners, Michigan could end up with the best defense in the Big Ten IMO. Constant pressure on the quarterback will force them into bad decisions and beat them up quite a bit. Maybe we can see what happened in the ’06 Penn State game (down goes #1, down goes #2). Shafer has a very good track record of turning around defenses in his first year, particularly at Western Michigan when they led the NATION in interceptions and sacks in 2006. The year before that, the team was 1-11 so it is not exactly like he had much talent on his hands. Now, he has plenty of experienced talent and that should lead to disaster for opposing offenses. This defense should be extremely exciting to watch, and if they can force turnovers, they can give the young offense great field position and maybe even do what Shafer says he would like, score.
5. The freshmen
While Michigan’s philosophy over the years has been to recruit bigger physical guys at the skill spots, Rodriguez seems to not care about size, but more speed. If they can’t catch you, you don’t have to be physical, right? That seems to be what Rodriguez thinks, and with true freshmen speedsters Martavious Odoms, Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw, and Terrence Robinson (when healthy) contributing often if not starting. Odoms is starting tomorrow and McGuffie and Shaw could start and if not, will play a ton. These guys, especially Odoms, will be central to Rodriguez’s offense and their speed brings an extra dimension to the skill positions for Michigan. Matthews, Clemons, and Hemingway are all legitimate receivers for possession, but lack the breakaway speed that makes them a real threat every time they get the ball in the open field. If Odoms, McGuffie, or Shaw get the ball in open field, they should have a chance to break one each time. The freshmen will make the big plays for this offense.
4. The cupboard is not bare. Michigan does have talent even if we haven’t seen it yet on the field.
When Rodriguez took over West Virginia, WVU did not have near the talent that Michigan has right now. I know recruiting services aren’t great to go by, but they are the only real source of rating incoming talent. WVU was full of 2-star talent when Rodriguez took over there. The last five classes for Michigan have been top 15 classes full of mainly 4-star guys and 3-star guys with some 5-stars there too. Rodriguez won at WVU with a bunch or recruiting classes full of 2 and 3-star players. Instead of trying to win with scrubs who don’t fit his system, Rodriguez has talent players to work with, even if they don’t fit his system. Obviously the quarterback spot is the exception to this and the depth on the O-line is not good either. But Rodriguez has never gotten to inherit a defense this good and talented, and skill guys as talented as the backs and receivers. There is a lot more talent at Michigan, comparing this team to the team in Rodriguez’s first team at WVU simply is not a legitimate comparison.
3. Defensive Line
This D-line could end up way better or at least as good as the 2006 D-line (prior to O-State and USC). Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham in Shafer’s scheme, might end up with better numbers than any defensive ends in the country. Terrance Taylor’s off-season makeover should take him from good player to “beast” for four quarters, as his teammates are now calling him. If Will Johnson uses his strength (many team weightlifting records) to play more aggressively this season, he could end up being a beast too. Johnson has unparalleled size and strength, the only big question is whether he will actually use it this season since last year it seemed like he chose not to. The guys in the middle should be able to stuff the run, and the ends will get to the quarterback alot. If Shafer’s D at Western could lead the country in sacks and interceptions after a 1-11 season, the talent on this D-line could lead to similar success rushing and hitting QB’s all season. The D-line will be the heart and soul of this team and with their talent, they should succeed and help the team succeed too.
2. Rich Rodriguez has never had a first season at a new school with Mike Barwis
Rich Rodriguez went through his first two seasons at WVU without Mike Barwis helping the football team. The Barwis came on the scene for the 2003 season, where the team was looking to replace WVU’s all-time leading rusher (Avon Coburne), three O-line starters, and their top two receivers. The team the year before went 6-1 in the Big East (with Miami and Va. Tech). Despite losing the talent, after Barwis’s first offseason with the team, WVU repeated that success after a rocky start to the season. Enroute to their 6-1 conference record, their lone loss came at the hands at the #2 Miami Hurricanes by a score of just 22-20. And the #3 Va. Tech Hokies came into Morgantown and got smacked 28-7 by the Mountaineers. Granted that Rodriguez’s system was already engrained in the kids and that type of success probably won’t be duplicated this year, but there is some merit to Barwis having an immediate impact. Oh yeah, and that year WVU made their first January bowl since 1996 and has gone bowling in January every year since Barwis’s arrival.
1. Chocolate Milk
Mike Barwis. He seemingly has changed the culture and attitude of this team. I believe he is the reason that more people did not leave the team with the coaching change. The fact that the players could see physical results in their bodies within weeks of working out with Barwis, probably coerced them to buy into the system. Who would have thought Terrance Taylor would be the guy running sprints at the end of practice even when the coaches said he and the rest of the seniors didn’t have to. Yes the same Taylor that had a big bag hanging over his pants all year last season. It’s amazing to see so many players excited about conditioning and it seems to have helped their confidence greatly. This team truly believes they are the best conditioned team and that should give them a swagger unbelievable for a team that lost so much talent. Yes Barwis has gotten too much press this offseason. But buy into the hype, it is real. Mike Barwis’ intensity is contagious and this team should carry that from the weight room to the field.
The season is here!!! There's reason to believe!!!