"This is really important to be here," Lewan said. "I'm here to give back and help out my teammate."
Michigan's history in the Big Ten is full of win
If you've been away for a month, meet our new regular feature, a roundtable of sorts where we have the MGoStaff answer questions about stuff on the fan mind. With the future Big Ten schedules getting announced I thought I'd use this week to pull the one we had to cut (for space) from the HTTV Roundtable, wsg Craig Ross, author of The Obscene Diaries of a Michigan Fan. The schedule (home games in bold):
9/24: @Craig Ross School of Obscure Historical Facts About Michigan/3:30p/BTN
10/1: ACE ANBENDER AGRICULTURAL*‡/7:30p/ABC-ESPN
10/8: ---bye week---
10/15: @ Seth Fisher School of Arts & Letters*/3:30p/BTN
10/22: @ College of Blue in South Bend*/TBA/BTN
10/29: MATHLETE UNIVERSITY*†/3:30p/BTN
11/5: @ Heiko Yang College of Medicine and Constraint Plays*/12:00p/BTN
11/12: BRIAN COOK COLLEGE OF SNARK/12:00p/ABC-ESPN
* Big Ten Game
‡ Night Game
And the question:
How many conference games do you think are ideal?
Seth: Let me throw out some stats. Since coming back to the conference in 1918 Michigan has won 69.5% of its conference games, and 72.2% of its nonconference games. If you narrow it down to games since Bo and take out the bowl games those numbers are 76.8% of Big Ten games and 76.5% of non-conference games. Michigan tends to beat Indiana just as regularly as it does its MACrifices, so for us at least it's not a big deal to add conference games. For the record…
Nine conference games in a 13-game season is 69.2% of all games. Ten of 14 (including the B1G championship) is 71.4% of the season. So nine is technically the same proportion we're used to.
Ace: I’d like to see the Big Ten eventually move to ten conference games so there’s home/road balance, fewer crummy non-conference games, and enough cross-divisional games for us to remember that, yes, Wisconsin is in fact in the same conference as Michigan. Nine is fine for now, though, and moving to ten wasn’t much of an option with programs locked into future non-conference games.
Craig: There is no ideal under the current no-conference-at-all hoo-haw. Like Curly, I prefer to be burnt at the stake (as opposed to having my head chopped off) because a “burnt steak is better than a cold chop.” So, I guess I vote for 10 with two meatball pre-season games. Nine is a joke. 5/4 then 4/5? That sucks. And we get to play Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin three of every seven years? Some years a team in the East may not see any of the three? And another team might see all of them?
Mathlete: Ideal for what is the question? If Michigan is continuing to schedule mediocre Pac-12 teams there probably isn't a ton of difference between 8 and 9 games, unless Wisconsin or Nebraska is the extra game and they are having an up year. The ninth game probably helps Michigan and OSU the most in the conference since in any given season they are most likely to have the best team and the more games the less likely a team makes a lucky run at a title. In terms of national championship it all depends on how the other conferences react. I have my doubts that anyone will give real weight to a Big Ten team that plays a nine game slate versus another conference that plays eight. So if the Big Ten is one of few it's probably a slight negative. If a bunch of other conferences are doing it then its probably a benefit to the Big Ten because the middle and bottom of the conference is typically not as good as others. Especially compared to Bob Stoops' Big Twelve, their bottom half is national championship caliber.
The final question is how do teams schedule non-conference. If this is an excuse to schedule three cupcakes then its probably all a wash. If teams are still pushing for at least one quality game then it's at least a bonus for season ticket holders.
Seth: Ten. Unlike Dave Brandon I can live in a world where Michigan has just seven home games per year, especially if I'm trading an $85 UMass ticket for a road trip to Evanston or Madison. I admit that under such circumstances Indiana might never see another bowl game, but I don't care. Scheduling real opponents is only going to become a tougher challenge as other leagues expand their conference games and crack down on any Vanderbilts who might be undermining their marketing. This probably messes with Notre Dame's need to maintain two of their "odds be great" rivalries, but sending their echoes back to bed is not our concern. Right now it's a major coup just to get a date with Oregon State or Cincy; if it's all the same why can't we just ask out Iowa?
Brian: At this point? 12. If Michigan's going to actually play a big name, then I guess ten. To me that means getting the ND series back or actually scheduling home and homes with power programs again. None of this neutral site/Arkansas business.
Do you feel old today? I feel old today, because Michigan picked up a commitment this morning from Philadelphia (PA) St. Joseph's OL Jon Runyan Jr., son of former Michigan All-American lineman Jon Runyan (1993-95), one of the first Wolverines I distinctly remember watching*. Runyan picked up an offer during last week's technique camp and from that moment was expected to be the first 2015 commit; kicker Andrew David narrowly beat him out in that regard, pledging to the Wolverines last night. For the second straight commitment post, we start with a quote about Michigan, Dream School ($):
“It’s my dream school and I really don’t want to play anywhere else,” said Runyan Jr., who is heading into his junior season at St. Joseph’s (Philadelphia, Pa.) Prep. “I just can’t play anywhere else. I couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else.”
“My dad (thought) I was going to commit the whole time. I have been telling him my whole life that I want to play football for Michigan. He wasn’t surprised I committed. He was just happy and relieved. He feels awesome that I am going to Michigan.”
I don't think there will be any concerns about a future decommitment.
*Yes, now I probably made you feel even older.
|Scout||Rivals||ESPN||247 Sports||247 Comp.|
|NR OT||NR OT||NR OT||3*, 85, #37 OT||
3*, #37 OT,
247 is the only service that's ranked 2015 prospects; they bestowed Runyan with an early three-star rating just a couple days ago, so that's likely based on very limited scouting for now. Rivals and 247 both list Runyan at 6'4", 250 pounds, while ESPN pegs him at 6'3", 240. (Scout does not list his height/weight.)
The elder Runyan was listed in the NFL at 6'7", 330, so it's entirely within reason that his son is still growing—which would be nice, since he needs another inch or two to project to tackle. As for adding weight, it appears he's already doing so, according to The Wolverine ($):
Although the younger Runyan isn't quite dad's 6-9, 300 pounds, the 6-3, 250-pounder has good bloodlines, a tenacious attitude, and the ability to put on weight quickly (he's about 30 pounds heavier than he was last we checked).
That was from last week's camp, so those height/weight figures (at least for Junior) should be accurate.
Scouting on Runyan at this stage is mostly limited to last week's camp appearance and his sophomore highlight tape. On the former, here's GBW's Josh Newkirk on Runyan's Michigan camp performance, which stood out among the linemen in attendance ($) [emphasis mine]:
Jon Runyan Jr., 2015 OL, St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia, Pa.)—The son of former U-M offensive tackle, Jon Runyan Sr., Runyan Jr. was offered by the Wolverines’ today after a strong two day performance. Part of the reason behind his offer was his strong showing in the 1-on-1s each day. While he’s not as big as his father, Runyan Jr. comes in at 6-foot-3, 245-pounds, and still looks like he’s growing. He showed good feet today and was able to stay in front of his opponent in the trench battles. He’ll need to add strength, but has two years to add bulk before college.
According to The Wolverine, Runyan measured up well against the other linemen at the camp, including 2015 Top247 prospect Chuma Edoga, who's still waiting to hear about a Michigan offer of his own ($):
A few 2015 players showed out along the offensive line as well. Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern offensive guard Chuma Edoga and Philadelphia St. Joseph's Prep tackle Jon Runyan Jr. both looked strong in the competitive portion of the day. Neither holds a Michigan offer, but it's possible that changes after camp.
Runyan earned an offer before Edoga, obviously; that's likely because Runyan projects to tackle, while Edoga is an interior prospect, an area where the Wolverines have more depth.
As for Runyan's film, 247's Clint Brewster broke down the tape and came away very impressed with his technique ($):
A pure technician, Runyan Jr. does everything right with flawless technique, the right feet, the right hand pop and the ability to handle himself well against all types of pass rushers. He is quick off the blocks with plus athleticism and won’t be out-hustled by the high motor types. Runyan Jr. does a great job of getting out of his stance and downfield when pulling or on screens.
Areas for improvement include size—which, in this case, may actually be improved aside from just adding muscle mass—and playing with more aggression and physicality, which should come with the added size. Runyan has a long way to go in that regard, though with more than two years before he suits up in a Michigan uniform he has plenty of time to develop.
Michigan was Runyan's first offer. He also visited Ohio State (camp) and Penn State (junior day) and fielded interest from Arizona, Maryland, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, and Virginia, per 247.
Though his family lives in New Jersey, the state Runyan's father represents in Congress, Jon Jr. goes across state lines to attend school at Philadelphia St. Joseph's Prep. While St. Joe's hasn't produced a four-star prospect in the Rivals era (2002-present), they did develop a fine Michigan player in linebacker Victor Hobson, a 2002 all-conference selection who spent six years in the NFL. This is Google's mini-profile for Victor Hobson:
He's aged gracefully, I guess.
Lineman, no stats.
FAKE 40 TIME
None of the sites list a 40 time, which is largely irrelevant for an offensive lineman anyway. Runyan's athleticism comes in for high praise, so he should be fine here.
Like Brewster, I'm impressed with Runyan's jump off the snap and quick feet. I would also like to see him bury a few more guys into the dirt.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
I see Runyan as a player who could take some time to find a home positionally. He's got the long, lean frame of a tackle—he looks like he could easily pack on 50-60 good pounds over the next few years—but as of right now lacks the ideal height for the position. As said above, there's a good chance he grows into that tackle height. If he doesn't—or if he comes to campus still too skinny to play on the line—the coaches have discussed another possibility ($):
Currently, Runyan Jr. comes in at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds, and says he is being recruited to play multiple positions once he gets to Ann Arbor.
“Coach Funk says he sees me as an offensive tackle,” Runyan Jr. said. “And coach Ferrigno says he wants me at tight end. So I really don’t know, but I probably will play offensive tackle.”
If I had to guess a career arc for Runyan, I'd go with a slightly shorter version of former Buckeye Reid Fragel. Fragel came to Columbus as a 6'8", 250-pound tight end, and played that position during his first three seasons on the field, essentially as an extra tackle (he caught 14 passes in three seasons). For his senior season, Fragel moved to right tackle, starting all 12 games there last season and earning all-conference honorable mention while weighing in at 310 pounds. With the offensive coaches looking to throw a bevy of different looks at opposing defenses, I wouldn't be surprised to see Runyan utilized as a blocking tight end until he fills out.
As for the outlook on the line, the projected tackles on campus when Runyan arrives will be current redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson, incoming freshmen Chris Fox and Logan Tuley-Tillman, and 2014 commit Juwann Bushell-Beatty, plus perhaps another tackle in both the 2014 and 2015 classes. Runyan seems very likely to redshirt; from there, he'll compete for a spot on the depth chart.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
As I said in the Andrew David post, it's far too early to give an accurate figure about scholarship availability in the 2015 class, though at the moment it's expected to be a small group. Runyan helps fill a pressing need at tackle, though I'd expect the Wolverines to go after at least one more in both the 2014 and 2015 classes.
It's become tradition for early Michigan commits to take charge and recruit their classmates, and Runyan told The M Block that he's looking to help out the coaches like Shane Morris and Michael Ferns before him:
Recruiter: "I think I'm up for the challenge to recruit other guys. I was talking to Michael Ferns last night. I think I can do it. We were just talking about Michigan stuff. I saw the t-shirt thing he did on his Twitter, but we didn't really talk about it though. I don't think I can top that." (Laughs)
Don't be surprised if the Runyans get a crate of shirts shipped from St. Clairsville, Ohio, before too long.
Michigan picked up their first* commitment of the 2015 class last night when Massillon (OH) Washington kicker Andrew David pledged mere hours after receiving his Wolverine offer. David worked out for the coaches recently and clearly impressed the staff with his ability. For their part, the coaches didn't have to do much to convince David, a lifelong Michigan fan, that Ann Arbor is the place for him ($):
“I grew up a Michigan fan,” David said. “My wardrobe and my carpet in my room are maize and blue. It was a lifelong dream to go there and now it’s coming true. It’s awesome.”
David is now joined in the class by PA OL Jon Runyan Jr., whose commitment post will be up later.
*Sort of: current grayshirt commit FL DT Brady Pallante will join the team in 2015, as well.
|Scout||Rivals||ESPN||247 Sports||247 Comp.|
|NR K||NR K||NR K||NR K||NR K|
Yes, the kicker from the future is unranked on the sites that pay attention to kickers only after they commit. For a better idea at what Michigan is getting, we look to Chris Sailer Kicking, which ranks David as the #6 kicking prospect in the 2015 class; he's the only committed player on the list, and interestingly the lone Midwest kicker to crack the top 50.
For the sake of comparison, Sailer ranked 2013 preferred walk-on J.J. McGrath 68th in the 2013 class. Make no mistake, David is a big-time prospect at his position.
Surprise! The evaluations start with... Chris Sailer, who's already updated David's profile since his commitment:
Andrew is a great young kicker. A fine athlete with a strong leg. Field goals are outstanding. He is smooth, technically sound, and consistent. Kickoffs are solid and will only continue to improve. Also shows punting ability. Makes great strides each time we see him. Is going to be a top kicker in this class for years to come. Has the right attitude and excellent work ethic. Great prospect. Nice early pick up for Michigan!
Don't get thrown off by the 4.5-star rating (by Sailer's system, between a D-I and D-II prospect), as that's the highest rating he's given out for the 2015 class thus far — those will obviously be updated after the next round of camps. A further explanation of why Sailer's rankings are relied upon so heavily comes from a local news article on David:
“If you’re in the top 10 with Sailer, then you should be a scholarship kicker at the BCS level,” [Scout's Bill] Greene said. “That’s how important that is.”
One of the reasons why kicking gurus like Sailer are important is college head coaches really don’t know what they’re getting in a kicker.
“A ranking like Sailer for kickers is actually bigger than the Elite 11,” Greene said. “Those college coaches get a kid on campus and they know what they want in a quarterback. Coaches have no clue about kickers. Urban Meyer knows about quarterbacks. ... Coaches know they don’t know more about kicking prospects than Sailer.
At the Sailer kicking competition last winter, David finished second in the highlight event, "Last Man Standing", connecting on a 55-yard field goal and just missing a 58-yarder in the final round.
David burst onto the scene as a freshman at Massillon, when early in the season he faced a 46-yard field goal into the wind and drilled it—despite thinking he had mis-hit the kick:
“Every kick’s got to be the same,” David said this week. “I knew there was some wind gust. I knew if I hit it right and hit it straight that I have the power to get it there. I followed through, kept my head down and hit it.”
Even with all of that, he admitted to not knowing whether he had put it through the uprights. In fact, to him, things just didn’t feel right when the ball left his right foot.
“At first, I really didn’t think it was going in,” David said. “I turned around and got my stuff. I was pretty mad, then I heard everybody start to cheer. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t really think I hit it that well. I got it off the front of my foot, but I got it.”
When working out for Michigan's coaches, David showed off his power and accuracy in earning an offer ($):
"They had me kick off the ground, not with the tee, and I hit 14 of 15 kicks from 50 yards," David continued. "It was a great workout and I felt I did my best. My kickoffs were strong also, and I thought they would offer, although I didn't know it would be this soon. For me, there was no reason to wait, because Michigan is the only school I've ever thought of attending. This is a definite dream come true for me and my family."
Even for an elite kicker, this is early for a player to be that proficient at kicking without a tee; this should allow David to be more college-ready than most incoming freshmen at his position.
Michigan was the first school to offer David a scholarship. Given his Wolverine allegiance, I'd expect they'll be the last, too.
Massillon Washington is one of Ohio's most storied football programs, claiming 24 state championships and nine national titles. Michigan's recent history with the program has been, well, a little rocky: their marquee commit from the Tigers was 2009 five-star bust Justin Turner, and in the 2013 class Gareon Conley made a well-publicized flip from Michigan to Ohio State.
David is 6-of-11 on field goals of 40-yards the last two years of varsity football. That includes a 46-yarder as a freshman that he drilled at InfoCision Stadium in a game against Hoban. He is 88-of-95 on PATs and 13-of-24 on field goals.
He was better as a sophomore having converted 56 of 61 PAT kicks and he hit three field goals in a win against McKinley last year. He scored 13 points in that game.
As important is his booming kickoffs. Of his 74 kickoffs, 31 went for touchbacks.
FAKE 40 TIME
He's a kicker.
This video from a Sailer camp shows all of two kicks, but it gives you an idea of David's leg strength:
If you're really curious, the "David Andrew" Hudl page features remarkably extensive highlights from both his freshman and sophomore seasons.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
When David gets to campus, both Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile will be gone from the program, leaving him to compete with 2013 walk-on J.J. McGrath (and perhaps another walk-on or two, as well) for the starting job at both placekicker and kickoff specialist. Since we're talking about the fickle position of kicker here, I won't bother to make any attempt at a prediction about David's career; being a top-ten prospect nationally is a good start, though.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
The 2015 class, at this point, is projected to be very small (like, <15 players), but with a year-and-a-half until their signing day any number put forth right now is certain to grow. We do know this: Michigan has their kicker and are done recruiting at that position, both for the 2014 class (at least as far as scholarships go) and 2015.
The Game 1974 via Bentley
With the new bowl lineup I thought I'd delve into the conference's history with the things this week. Chart of sane bowl names is here.
We whomped Stanford in 1901 so bad they canceled bowl games for a decade.
Rose or Bust.
For a time there was only the Rose Bowl. Then others began to pop up and the Big Ten wouldn't let teams go (Ohio State snuck over to Pasadena after the 1920 season but that was it). Then they said only one team may take a bid from the Rose Bowl.
It's been nearly 40 years and yet any Michigan fan over 50 still shakes with anger at it: In 1973 Michigan and Ohio State met in one of the more epic battles in that epic ten-year war. After Michigan missed three field goals in the 4th quarter the game—and thus the Big Ten title race—ended in a tie. In the process the Wolverines' starting quarterback Denny Franklin was busted up. Woody Hayes, never a particularly classy individual, made an uninformed remark to the media that he's sorry Franklin wouldn't be able to play in the bowl game. In part because they believed Michigan would be without Denny, the conference's athletic directors voted to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl.
The following year Michigan did make their game-winning field goal, but the officials missed it and there was no replay, and Ohio State again went to Pasadena. Since the Big Ten wouldn't let its teams attend any other bowl, both times a more deserving Michigan had to stay home. Overall Franklin and the Wolverines managed to go three years (1972-'74) without a bowl game despite going 30-2-1 over that span.
The whole concept was as mind-blowingly ridiculous as it seems, and the following year the conference finally got rid of the rule that had become outdated due to...
The conference deigned to allow its teams to go to bowls again only after WWII, and then it was "you can only go to the Rose Bowl if they invite you." Once the Big Ten released its members it sparked a new round of bowl expansion (click to inbigmatate):
Note the Y axis is "Bowl Teams" not games—divide by two to get # of games. Some oddities: Michigan wasn't in the Big Ten from 1907 to 1916, not that it made any difference. Having one yellow dot in the bowl picture looks ridiculous. Michigan State went to an Orange Bowl before joining the conference. Penn State and Nebraska obviously went to plenty of bowls before they joined. Ohio State turned down its Rose Bowl bids in 1960 and '61 because of academics(!); Minnesota went in their stead.
Since the bowl field expanded, the Big Ten's tie-ins have gone through a series of confusing shifts, order only recently having been brought into the process. Owing to its TV draw and instant draw the bowls have typically taken Michigan almost as soon as they're allowed to. As a result when you look at the conference's bowl history you can see Michigan tends to go early even in its rough years.
This is ordered by selection (starting from the left). Historically Michigan has been selected higher than its standing in the conference, the more so the lower down we get. For example in 1984 Michigan received an at-large Holiday Bowl bid—effectively the conference's third selector after the Rose and then the
Cotton Peach took Purdue as an at-large—despite finishing behind Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, and tied with Michigan State, whom we lost to that year. Since then there have been progressively more stringent so-Michigan-State-won't-cry rules placed by the conference on the bowls for which teams they can select. Before it was they have to be within 1 or 2 losses of each other. Under the new system there's a tier:
The New Lineup and the Golden Vagina:
1. Teams selected by the playoff committee go to the Golden Vagina Playoff.
2. If the champion is still around they go to the Rose Bowl (vs Pac-12 or at-large), or the Orange Bowl (vs SEC or at-large) in years the Rose are the playoff hosts (2014 and every three years after).
3. BCS bowls can extend an at-large bid.
4. Citrus Bowl (SEC), Outback Bowl (SEC) and Holiday Bowl (Pac-12). Those bowls will unofficially switch off who gets first pick but really the conference will be sitting there negotiating who gets which school with the goal of rewarding better teams and changing things up a bit. Said Delany:
"Someone will obviously select first, but they may or may not get the team they want because that team may have been in that region two years in a row. We're trying to make sure there’s freshness. It's hard when a team goes to say Florida five times in six years to get them really excited."
5. Gator or Music City (SEC), San Francisco (Pac-12), and Pinstripe (ACC). The first two switch off with that bid.
6. Heart of Dallas or Ft. Worth Armed Forces Bowl (Big 12), Motor City Bowl (TBA)
The only way the Big Ten champ will play the Pac 12 champ is if both are seeded as such in the playoff, or both miss the playoff. I am guessing it will not happen very often. The tier system is a rather eloquent method of handling the problem of Michigan State's blubbering over bowls falling over themselves to avoid them. See? You're on the same tier. Everyone on the same tier is the same.
The new system does have its problems:
- Not all of the payouts on each tier are equivalent right now—that seems like it can be negotiated.
- In a scenario where Michigan State beats Michigan in the regular season, thus winning the tiebreaker to get into the Big Ten Championship Game, and MSU subsequently loses that game and is no longer BCS eligible because they're ranked too low now, and Michigan is still ranked high enough for a BCS bid and gets one, Michigan State will still cry.
- In any given scenario, Michigan State will find a reason to cry.
The narrative so far:
- Aug. 31: Devin Gardner is still really good! High five.
- Sept. 7: If Michigan wins, I would be totally okay with listening to Pop Evil.
- Sept. 14: Oh hey, DeAnthony Hardison. What’s up.
- Sept. 21: Still predicting 14-6. U mad, bros?
- Sept. 28: Bye.
Nobody puts Jerry Kill in a corner.
Minnesota went 6-7 overall and won just two games in the B1G. For a team that inspired GopherQuest: Worst Big Ten Team Ever the year previous, that was pretty good. Even the way they lost was much better. You saw glimpses of promise -- like maybe in three years they’ll be a Purdue when Purdue was decent or a Northwestern. They fell to Texas Tech 33-31 in the Texas Bowl, which was still a pretty impressive overachievement, if only for the fact that they made it to a bowl game in the first place.
Please be complete please be complete
Minnesota has clarity and reason for optimism at nearly every position on offense except for maybe quarterback. There is a lot of potential, though, and as rebuilding processes go, that’s a pretty good place to be. Kill and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover have a golden opportunity to build some momentum for the program if they can take the offense to the proverbial next level. It might be worth keeping an eye on the Gophers; this season will probably determine whether they become the next Northwestern or if their shadows force them back into hidey holes for 6 more weeks of Winter. However that analogy is supposed to work.
Sophomore QB Philip Nelson will be the guy under the microscope. He’s coming off a true freshman campaign in which he beat out MarQueis Gray midseason for the starting job. While his stats through seven games aren’t that shiny (49%, 873 yards, 8 TDs, 8 INTs), he performed well enough to beat Purdue and Illinois and clinch bowl eligibility. That’s something, I guess, and there’s not a lot of shame in playing poorly against Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
So we’ll see if he makes the sophomore leap. Nelson has a nice veteran supporting cast around him, so chances are he will. I mean, he gets all five offensive linemen back. From left to right: Ed Olson, Tommy Olson (Ed’s brother), Zac Epping, Caleb Bak, and Josh Campion. In more useful terms: 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, 6-5, all 300+ lbs. #B1G! Ed, the elder Olson, is the only senior in this group, which means their O-line continuity will span another season. Plus the fact that O-line seems to be Limegrover’s thing … Be afraid, B1G West Division. Be very afraid.
The running game should be much improved with RB Donnell Kirkwood returning. The 5-10, 230-lb bowling ball almost eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing last year with a 4.2 ypc average. Smart money says he breaks the barrier this season. RB Rodrick Williams, another bowling-ball sized object (5-11, 230 lbs), will be a solid backup. He didn’t get too many carries last season, but he made them count, averaging 4.6 ypc on 51 carries.
Of note to Michigan fans, Braylon’s little brother Berkley joins the Gophers roster as a freshman and will be pushing to be their version of Dennis Norfleet, excepted more utilized.
As far as receiver goes, well. This appears to be a touchy subject. Late last season the team’s No. 1 wideout A. J. Barker called it quits and blasted the coaching staff via the internet on his way out. That was not ideal, I guess. And Jerry Kill seems like such a nice guy.
Whether Minnesota’s passing game truly took a hit after that, no one knows because no one was really paying attention. But more to the point, playing Nebraska and Michigan State to close out the season can make any passing offense look bad. The Gophers didn’t have the best day through the air against Texas Tech, either -- not that they needed to with their running game that gained over 200 yards -- but it looked like there was a lot of reason for optimism. Well, there was one reason for optimism: Senior wideout Derrick Engel had himself a 4 catch, 108 yard day. He's now a bona fide deep threat.
Regardless, the wideouts should be just fine in 2013. Veteran contributor Isaac Freuchte (19 rec, 256 yards, 2 TDs) saw his production fall over the course of the season but is still an able body with a sweet name. The rest of the bunch has a lot of size, speed, and potential -- their development should be on the upswing with a more experienced, non-Freshman quarterback.
Let's block this guy next time.
They have one! Kind of? Sort of. They have Ra’Shede Hageman, and he’s probably the only name to know. Hageman is a 6-6, 310 lb nose tackle who came up with 6 sacks and 7.5 TFLs last season. Hageman probably should be playing either 3-tech or 5-tech, but when you’re Minnesota I guess you can’t afford to be so particular. Anyway, he’s very active and very good, not just by Gophers standards.
DT Cameron Botticelli returns on the interior next to Hageman. You won’t recognize his name (or anyone else’s) because he doesn’t do a whole lot other than exist. Having 21 tackles as a starting defensive tackle without any for a loss usually means that opposing running backs ran into him 21 times by accident.
The defensive ends will be dudes who have taken occasional snaps here and there, but unless one of them blows up at the beginning of the season, they’re not really worth keeping an eye on. I mean, really, the strategy here is clear: successfully block Hageman, earn $$$.
Minnesota can probably get by with a one-man show on the D-line if the linebackers are competent. That’s hard to predict at this point. The only returning linebacker is senior OLB Aaron Hill (74 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 INTs). They’ve got a converted running back and a pair of JUCO transfers competing for the interior spots. Word on the internet is that the JUCOs are good.
The secondary should theoretically be able to hold their coverage long enough for Hageman to do something. There’s plenty of experience. CB Derrick Wells (74 tackles, 10 PBUs, 2 INTs) will move from safety to replace departed star CB Troy Stoudermire. CB Martez Shabazz (6 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 INT) was a backup last year but made clearly made some nice plays with limited opportunities. Brock Vereen (64 tackles, 9 PBUs, 2 INTs), and Cedric Thompson (43 tackles, 2 INTs) will form a nice safety blanket. The secondary overall was pretty good at limiting big plays against crappy Big Ten quarterbacks, so it’s reasonable to expect them to maintain status quo.
You know, Minnesota could actually field a pretty decent defensive unit. Player development will be key as always, but already the Gophers are in much better shape than the other B1G bottom feeders.
This team is kind of like: Remember the girl you never noticed in high school? Her name is Minnesota, and she drives a Kia.
Vs. Michigan: Over the last two years, Michigan has had a habit of destroying opponents in their B1G opener. Minnesota fell victim in 2011, and it's hard not to see that being the case again. Not that I’m predicting a 58-0 blow-out, but anything less than a multiple touchdown win margin would be kind of disappointing.
This is primarily because of that quarterback issue: the Gophers can grind it out all they want with the running game, but it’s going to be a tall order for their offense to try to keep up with what an experienced Devin Gardner is going to do against their defense. A mediocre non-mobile sophomore QB probably won’t cut it against Mattison’s defense in Ann Arbor.
Unless Philip Nelson plays out of his mind. We’ll have an idea of whether he has that ability when Minnesota plays Iowa the week before; not that Iowa is any good these days, but it’ll be their first competitive game all season (Way to go scheduling the Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks.) We’ll also get a good look at their receivers when they play Iowa. There’s a lot of unproven talent in that group, and they may given Michigan’s secondary some trouble with their size.
Either way, the Wolverines should have a field day on offense. Minnesota doesn’t have the athleticism to match up well against Michigan’s skill players, and questionable defensive line play will not last 60 minutes against two of the best tackles in the conference. The interior line just needs to keep Hageman blocked, and we’ll have a good idea of whether they can do that after the Notre Dame game.
Outlook: 6-6 overall, 2-6 B1G.
- Wins: Entire non-conference schedule, Iowa, Indiana.
- Losses: Michigan, Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State.
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
The recruiting services are split on the #1 overall prospect in the 2014 class; Rivals and 247 give VA DE Da'Shawn Hand top honors, while LA RB Leonard Fournette earns that distinction on Scout and ESPN. Michigan is among the top contenders for Hand, of course, and Fournette is a lock to stay in the SEC, either at LSU or Alabama. Unless...
LSU and Alabama are the teams to beat for five-star New Orleans-St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette.
Except Fournette says it isn't so.
"That's not accurate," Fournette said Thursday, insisting he doesn't yet have any favorites among a list of offers so long he's stopped counting.
Well, then. The article by al.com's Mike Herndon names two other schools Fournette has visited—Florida State and Texas—as well as a certain program he's strongly considering for an official visit; yes, Michigan:
"You could say that (top prospects) pay attention to where other guys go," Fournette told Rivals.com. "I like Michigan. School-wise, they're more focused on grades than football. That's what I like about them. I think Jabrill made a good choice."
This is not happening. I refuse to believe this is happening. I will refuse to believe it even if Fournette makes it to campus, and will cease disbelief if—and only if—Fournette's name is signed in ink on a LOI faxed directly to Schembechler Hall in February. At that point, I'll still consider the whole thing a cruel hoax until Fournette actually suits up in a Michigan uniform.
[watches highlight tape again]
[counts plays before Fournette is tackled]
Apologies in advance for him committing to LSU and all of us feeling sad.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest round of underclassmen #JPTTA, updates on several top 2014 targets, and more.]