Stadium: Michigan Stadium (109,901 cap.)
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez (3rd season; 8-16)
Last Season: 5-7 (1-7)
Returning Starters (O/D): 7*/8
Offensive Formation: Spread
Defensive Formation: 3-3-5 (Sort of)
*Depending on how you look at the offensive line
Once again, Michigan comes into the final week before the opening game and has yet to name a starter. Unlike the last couple years, however, the two frontrunners don't have freshmen or walk-on attached to their names. The most likely options are sophomores Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, and the long shot would be freshman Devin Gardner. Really, the only reason Gardner would get the start is if both Forcier and Robinson are hurt come Saturday. If the spring game and positive news coming out of Ann Arbor were the criteria for choosing a starter, Robinson would have the edge. Forcier lost some steam this summer when news surfaced that he did not take practice all that seriously, and when he showed up to preseason drills without wings on his helmet. Since then, though, Forcier has regained his wings, and the race for starter is tight. On the plus side, either option seems reasonable. In a perfect world, Gardner would take a redshirt, but Rodriguez has already said he will not. Scouts have compared him to Vince Young in his playing style (!). He has the strongest arm of any of the quarterbacks, but mechanics are still an issue. Definitely a positive for the future, though. The quarterback position is not one that Michigan fans need to be worried about heading into the season.
Slotted to start the season opener against Connecticut is either sophomore Vincent Smith or junior Michael Shaw. Behind these two running backs are several other viable options in sophomore Mike Cox, freshmen Fitzgerald Toussaint and Stephen Hopkins, or sophomore Teric Jones. As was the case with quarterbacks, this is another position where several players are going to see the field, and they should all be able to contribute. Shaw is a bigger back coming in at 6'1'' while Smith is smaller at 5'6''. I think it quite likely that while one of these two backs in named the starter, the other will be on the field just as much. Running backs coach Fred Jackson has been around awhile now, having coached at Michigan since 1992, so expect him to have his running backs ready. The position has the potential to be one of the stronger positions for Michigan this season.
Receivers and Tight Ends:
The only departure from this unit was receiver Greg Mathews. Projected starters for receivers against Connecticut are either sophomore Roy Roundtree, junior Darryl Stonum, junior Junior Hemingway, junior Martavious Odoms, or redshirt junior Kelvin Grady. Roundtree could be considered a breakout player for Michigan this year. Over the last four games of last season, his play really picked up, and he became the go-to guy for Forcier. Also, Roundtree has a knack for getting open, despite his unimpressive physical skills. Stonum has amazing speed, but this is moot if he can't adjust to the deep ball and make the catch. If you can get the ball to him, good things will happen. Junior Hemingway is finally a junior. Despite flashes of brilliance, injuries have kept him in check, and Michigan hasn't gotten much of of him. A little heavy for a deep threat, his run blocking ability should help out the run game. Odoms has been the most productive receiver the past two years. He's a small guy, but he hasn't shown the electric running ability that most small receivers have. He has the most experience and more catches than the other receivers on the team. Grady had some impressive plays shown on the fall highlight reel, so his play could be fun to watch. He's a former basketball player that switched over to football last year. Anything we can get from him is a plus. Starting at tight end is junior Kevin Koger. He started off the season last year with some amazing catches, but then faded off a little bit as the season went along. His best bet for being a major contributor would be to have Denard Robinson start at quarterback. The defense is going to have to respect Robinson's speed, and Koger will be the guy to exploit this. Assuming Robinson's deep touch is as refined as it was in the spring game, Koger could have an All-Big Ten season.
Starting in the depth chart for Connecticut are LT redshirt junior Mark Huyge, LG senior Stephen Schilling, C redshirt junior David Molk, RG redshirt sophomore Patrick Omameh, and RT senior Perry Dorrestein. The guards and center for the offensive line should be pretty solid. Schilling enters the season as the most experienced lineman; he has played every season. He's been alright, and this season should be another good season for him. Perhaps All-Big Ten honorable mention. Molk was the key player in the offensive line last season. Before he was injured, the offense was able to put together good drives while fending off the defense and allowing time for the quarterback to make plays. After, not so much. If he can remain healthy this year, he should be one of the Big Ten's best centers. Omameh almost started last year, and when he did play, his status as a freshman was only slightly evident. He should be able to take a step forward this year and contribute. The tackles are not so solid. Huyge and Dorrestein were the weakest links of the offensive line last season, and the fact that they are starting this year either means that they have improved greatly, or that they are starting because of seniority. One key backup is tackle redshirt freshman Taylor Lewan. Already wearing Jake Long's hallowed 77, he's added weight and muscle, and if the tackle position falters, expect him to get the nod.
Junior Mike Martin will start in the nose tackle position this Saturday. Martin has amazing quickness, which allows him to get into the backfield and create havoc. An example of this was in 2008 when he blitzed past a Wisconsin lineman and blasted quarterback Justin Sherer in the one fun game as a wolverine that season. One key backup for this position is third stringer sophomore Will Campbell. He came in last season as an extremely hyped recruit, but it was obvious that he was all body and very little technique. He's lost of some of the excess body, but hasn't added as much technique as would be liked. He has continued to develop, though, and he played well in the spring game. If he can improve more throughout the season, expect him to get more playing time, which would allow Martin to slide outside to defensive end where he is more suited to play anyway.
The starters here are redshirt junior Ryan Van Bergen and senior Greg Banks. Van Bergen should be pretty good here. Last season, he racked up five sacks and multiple QB pressures, and this year, sliding outside will only help him. He's got the size to be an NFL player at 6'6'', 280 pounds. Defensive line coach Bruce Tall coached Brandon Graham into an NFL draft first rounder, so expect Van Bergen to have a pretty good season. Banks did not have a lot of hype coming in, but he has played OK in the action he's seen. He's a better run defender than pass defender.
Here is where Michigan's 3-3-5 defense starts to take shape. Sophomore Craig Roh will play a position something like a defensive end/linebacker hybrid, which is why it is sort of a 3-3-5. One could easily call it a 4-2-5. Undersized as a freshman, Roh added 15 pounds this off-season, which should help him out vastly. He possesses the skills to have a promising pass rush, and he is also good at man-to-man coverage. Misdirection can get him, though, because he is not very good at changing directions. Expect Death Roh to have a good season. Senior Obi Ezeh or senior Mark Moundros gets the nod at middle linebacker. Moundros is a converted fullback, so not much is known about how well he will play this year. He is very enthusiastic about it, though. Ezeh has been something of a disappointment for Michigan. He looks like he should be really good, but for some reason, he has not been able to do well on the field. One possibility for this is because he has never had the same defensive coordinator in consecutive seasons. This year, Greg Robinson is back, so we'll see if this theory is correct. Last year, he was benched in favor of a walk-on, so he will have to work to hold his job this year. Senior Jonas Mouton finishes out the linebackers. When he blitzes, good things happen, but reading and reacting are not his specialty. He is a huge guy who is still learning how to play linebacker. Consider the season a success for him if there are no pictures of guys flying by a futilely spinning Mouton. He has decent upside, but don't expect any All-Big Ten honors.
This is the position of infinite pain. After the premature departure of undrafted Donovan Warren, this unit was already really thin. J.T. Turner is also gone, and Troy Woolfolk is out for the season with an injury, so the only cornerback with any experience is redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd, and he was consistently over matched last year, so that might not be a good thing. Anyway, the starters this weekend are Floyd, and then senior James Rogers. Just to give insight into the lack of depth at cornerback, in one summer preview magazine, the writer wrote that Rogers isn't likely to play, and here he is, starting. Behind these guys are freshmen, and then doom. Highly touted recruit Cullen Christian comes in looking like a Marlin Jackson type player, but without good run support. Courtney Avery and Terrence Talbott are also new this fall, and although they have little or no hype, maybe one of them will develop. Really, no matter who plays, this is Michigan's weakest position.
Here, we have the spur, bandit, and free safety positions. Starting at free safety is redshirt freshman Cam Gordan. If Denard Robinson didn't take all the preseason hype, Gordon would have been right up there. No one really knows how well he will play, but words like natural and hitter have been thrown around. Michigan could really use it if someone lives up to their hype. Starting at bandit is redshirt sophomore Jordan Kovacs. He was one of those players that started last year as a walk-on. He proved himself an alright tackler, and despite his physical limitations, is intelligent enough to have an impact. At spur is true freshman Carvin Johnson. He comes in with not terrific recruiting rankings, but from what has been seen of him so far, he looks like he will outperform those rankings.
After a steady season, Jason Olesnavage graduated, and he left the position wide open. The scholarship option is redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons, and he is considered the favorite. Also vying for the start are redshirt freshman Seth Broekhuizen and redshirt junior Justin Meram. After looking alright in the spring game, this group is dispelling worries. Space commander Zoltan Mesko is now gone from Michigan, and in his place is true freshman Will Hagerup. He comes in a lock to start given that the next best punter on the team is Forcier. Punt returning will likely have auditions during the first few games, and the candidates are redshirt freshman Jeremy Gallon, Martavious Odoms, and redshirt sophomore Terrence Robinson. As long as one of them can hold on to the ball, I am fine with any one of them getting the start. The kick returner for this weekend is Darryl Stonum. His speed should help him out here, as long as he, too, can hold onto the ball.