he grew a beard
10/1 – Minnesota
10/8 – @ Northwestern
10/15 – @ Michigan State
10/22 – BYE
10/29 – Purdue
11/5 – @ Iowa
11/12 – @ Illinois
11/19 – Nebraska
11/26 – Ohio State
Doom partially averted.
UPDATE: 2012, by the way:
9/29 – BYE
10/6 – @ Purdue
10/13 – Illinois
10/20 – Michigan State
10/27 – @ Nebraska
11/3 – @ Minnesota
11/10 – Northwestern
11/17 – Iowa
11/24 – @ Ohio State
Looks like they're trying to make an important divisional game the second-to-last one of the season. By virtue of dodging Penn State and Wisconsin the next two years, Michigan is set up with pretty easy schedules.
UPDATE II: Sadly, "basketball will chart its own course."
So: everyone and their twitter feed has been pumping out confirmations/assertions that
- the initial reports of the divisions are accurate,
- Michigan and Ohio State will be left at the end of the season,
- the other protected rivalries are PSU-Nebraska, Iowa-Purdue, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Michigan State-Indiana, and NW-Illinois, and
- rumors that cross-division games are just tiebreakers are flatlining.
The only person dropping BREAKING RUMORS to the contrary is Dennis Dodd, who looks like Gollum and can safely be ignored.
Obviously those protected rivals are thoroughly stupid, and Michigan's going to have a tough hill to climb most years, but at least the other historical heavyweights have guaranteed matchups. Iowa and Wisconsin should have been paired with each other to make things even. I guess the MSU-Indiana game is slanted towards MSU but is that ever going to be relevant?
If all this stuff is true, and it's coming from so many different directions now that it almost has to be, Michigan and Ohio State fans can declare Mission Accomplished. At least 80% of the mission. #4 above is more an absence of crazy information than a presence of sane. I would like to see the first tiebreaker in divisions be overall conference record of opponents, even superseding head-to-head, but I don't think that's likely.
Got your torch? Pitchfork? Great:
A person familiar with the discussions says the Big Ten plans to announce Wednesday night how it will break up into two divisions.
The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the conference hasn't released the information, says the process of putting six teams in each division was completed on Wednesday.
Random internet people at Frank The Tank's Slant, the unofficial home of expansion speculation are saying this is the breakdown:
IS THE DUMBEST THING IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE DIVISION
I'm not vouching for that at all, but I haven't seen anything suggesting people have come to their damn senses and put M and OSU in the same division.
Rating: 4 of 5.
|Mark Huyge||Jr.*||Steve Schilling||Sr.*||David Molk||Jr.*||Patrick Omameh||So.*||Perry Dorrestein||Sr.*|
|Taylor Lewan||Fr.*||Ricky Barnum||So.*||Rocko Khoury||So.*||Quinton Washington||Fr.*||Michael Schofield||Fr.*|
|--||--||Elliott Mealer||So.*||Christian Pace||Fr.||John Ferrara||Sr.*||--||--|
Last year the big stat was Michigan's rushing game over the second half of the season, which went from turrible to solidly above average and hypothetically would have been 30th nationally if they hadn't been flailing around the first half of the season. A 3.5 was offered here after the previous seasons oh-so-warranted 1, and that seemed slightly pessimistic as Michigan firebombed its first four opponents on the ground (sacks, kneeldowns, and bad snaps obscured a 222 yard day against Indiana in game four).
Unfortunately, once the opposition got serious the loss of David Molk for all but three snaps of the Big Ten schedule could not be overcome. The right side of the line resembled Drew Palmisano during the Epic Karma series (hey-o!), David Moosman was not as agile as Molk and had a nasty tendency to chuck snaps anywhere but the quarterback's chest, and snap counts got predictable enough for Michigan State players to commit what seemed like five or so uncalled offsides penalties.
The result was a gradual decline, probably an extra loss or two—it's not hard to see Molk's presence swing at least one of the Iowa, Purdue, or Michigan State games, especially since half of Michigan's negatives in the MSU game were attributed to his absence—and the team's failure to lock down this blog's giddy projections of Michigan's BEST RUSH OFFENSE EVER (since 2000) after the first third of the schedule. The resulting absence from a bowl game has us where we are now, on a rickety boat approaching Niagara Falls.
But, hey, silver lining: Molk's absence last year means everyone this year started at least three games and could be regarded a returning starter if you want to squint at it. Sure, the two guys who tried right tackle last year were wonky enough to provide a redshirt freshman his starts, but… hey… like… whatever. Compared to last year, there's a ton of depth and experience. Compared to 2008, there is a Weisload. (Miss you, big guy xoxo.) Ask Rodriguez:
“Two years ago, it’s not even close,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “… Now, we have four or five guys that have started, guys that have redshirted in (Taylor) Lewan and (Michael) Schofield and Quinton Washington that are now ready to play.
“We still have not as quite as talented in the ones and twos as we’d like to be, but we’ll have seven or eight guys when we’re done with camp in a week or two that we’ll feel comfortable playing.”
The interior line looks killer if Patrick Omameh can live up to the cascades of hype he's receiving, and the tackles… well… like… whatever?
Rating: 3 of 5.
After a spring in which already-hyped Taylor Lewan found himself starting at left tackle thanks to Perry Dorrestein's back injury—thus picking up an extra, even shinier layer of hype—you couldn't find a Michigan fan who would have projected him to start the year on the bench. But that's apparently the case, as the two veterans who made the right side such a mess last year have held onto their starting spots by the skin of their teeth. Rodriguez says this is due to considerable improvement…
“Yeah, the upper classman are battling to keep it. (Mark) Huyge and (Perry) Dorrestein have really done a good job in camp. The two young tackles (Michael) Schofield and (Taylor) Lewan have been pretty solid. They’re bigger, stronger and I think that competition has been pretty good. I’ve been really pleased they way Perry and Mark have responded to the challenge and really have their best camps since I’ve been here the last two years."
…but it is hard to imagine him saying anything else. I believe him, but like a lot of spots on the team the returning starters have a long way to go.
|huge whiff on LB|
|fails to cut LB|
|springs Minor TD|
|GOOD TACKLE STUFF|
|on his way to six points|
|huge cutback lane|
|blocking the backside DE|
|BAD TACKLE STUFF|
Your tentative starting left tackle is redshirt junior Mark Huyge. His issues in pass protection started as early as the Notre Dame game, when a Moosman injury forced Michigan to shuffle him inside. He picked up –6 points after being "driven back on multiple plays" on Forcier's game-winning drive and was so shaky against Michigan State that he was pulled for third-stringer John Ferrara; Ferrara "immediately gave up a crushing sack." This caused "So the right side of the line just can't block?" to become a UFR question and kicked off a stretch of ugly protection numbers that would span most of the rest of the season, with Illinois and Wisconsin standing out as late, hopeful exceptions.
By the Purdue game, Huyge's pass protection issues were "the usual" as he racked up a –5 on a day when the offensive line pulled a very poor 14/29 in the protection metric. He did manage to avoid any minuses on an "extremely shaky" performance against Penn State (Dorrestein got a –2). The clips at right are mixed, but since twenty-yard runs always get clipped and zero-yard runs are only taken out when they are important or seem emblematic of something, a 50-50 mix is not a great ratio.
So he wasn't very good last year. There's reason to expect a significant step forward, though. He enters the year at tackle and won't get bounced back and forth between different positions. He, along with the rest of the offensive line, got swoll in the offseason. After going into 2009 at 288, Huyge is now a strapping 306 pounds, and as a who-dat recruit on the offensive line you can expect a bigger leap forward between redshirt sophomore and junior years than, say, a tailback. And perhaps most importantly, he's held off the charging Lewan.
Perry Dorrestein: GOOD AT HUGZ
Right tackle Perry Dorrestein, meanwhile, started the year off as Huyge's backup and only drew into the lineup when injury forced him to, first temporarily against ND and then permanently for the Big Ten schedule. His first extended action came against Indiana and their surprisingly talented defensive ends. He did not fare well:
PROTECTION METRIC: 22/32, Koger –1, Brown –2, Team –2, Dorrestein –5.
That is not good. That is bad, and all of it save the "team" category came when Indiana defensive ends pwned the opposition. That might be understandable when you're a pass-catching tight end or a tailback, but Dorrestein was responsible for a lot of the Forcier chaos and didn't do much to justify Mark Huyge's move inside. Huyge's struggled in pass protection himself; unless Patrick Omameh surges into the starting position he lost in spring—not likely at this point—it's going to be those guys the rest of the way and the protection will be dodgy.
He picked up a –4 in the ugly Michigan State game, coming in for the same "right side of OL? More like the right side of oh noes!" criticism Huyge did. He was strictly a tackle, never moving inside.
|authoritatively pancakes him.|
|seals the playside DE|
|gets off the ball|
Dorrestein, like Huyge, threw on a bunch of weight in the offseason, but since he's going from 306 to 321 that's less obviously positive. He wasn't the guy struggling at the back of the OL group in the fall scrimmage—that would be Quinton Washington—but 321 seems a little hefty for Rodriguez's offensive style. It's not nearly as important for tackles to have the crazy agility the interior line needs, but those backside DTs need to be chopped down by backside tackles if cutback lanes are going to open up. I thought this might signal an end to the tackle competition before it began, but this is obviously not the case.
For what it's worth, the tackles had good days against Illinois and Wisconsin, the latter against an intimidating defensive line. This was a significant factor in Forcier's excellent passing day against the Badgers; it could have been better but Forcier still had to "get used to the idea" that the pass protection could be, like, good. It was hard to tell who was at fault in the Iowa game, when Iowa stunts consistently fooled the Michigan OL.
So that's all kind of scary, but it's worth noting that last year I was full of consternation about Mark Ortmann, whose junior year saw stuff like this go down in a single game…
Ortmann(-2) totally smoked by a blindside rusher… Ortmann(-2) took a poor angle downfield, though, and the MLB beats him, prompting Threet to pitch it despite a State LB having decent contain. … Ortmann and McAvoy just run by an MSU linebacker … A three-man rush; Ortmann's guy spins inside of him and dives at Threet's feet [to sack] … Ortmann(-2) beaten pretty badly [on a sack].
…and left me asserting "I'd be surprised to see Ortmann keep his job." Ortmann not only hung on to it, he played well the whole year, hitting the preview's projected upside of Adam Stenavich. If Michigan had been good and stuff he might have made an all-conference team (second team, but still). The moral is that linemen can develop at any point and that old ones are usually good ideas.
This year will be a big test for Greg Frey, who's generally well-regarded by the fanbase and can now show his mettle by improving the returning veterans in the same way he turned Ortmann into a pretty good Big Ten player.
Lewan left, Schofield right
Taylor Lewan is currently a backup but it wouldn't be surprising to see him supplant someone for one of the starting tackle jobs during the season. He's one of those guys who had an avalanche of recruiting hype actually followed up by at-practice hype—far from a given for offensive linemen—and, as mentioned above, he was sufficiently impressive in spring for visions of freshman starter Jake Long to dance in Michigan fans' heads. This site's take from spring;
On the outside there's been some shuffling with Dorrestein and Huyge flopping left to right at times. This may be due to Taylor Lewan's (right) quick emergence. He's been called an "obvious future star" and "reminiscent of Jake Long." Reports are still conflicting on his readiness but all agree that his upside is as rapturous as the recruiting gurus promised; it seems like it's matter of time before he claims the left tackle spot. That timeframe may be September or it may be next year. The most recent move suggests the move may come sooner rather than later. Flipping Huyge to the right seems to be an effort to get Michigan's best five on the field. If I had to bet, I'd go with Lewan as the starting LT against UConn.
The timeline is going to be at least a little less aggressive than that, but he's also got Jibreel Black's vote:
“The best pass blocker I went against is probably Taylor Lewan, most definitely. Running wise, I would have to say (Steve) Schilling.
Lewan's recruiting profile constantly references Jake Long—constantly sees other people reference Jake Long, that is—and sooner or later it seems likely he'll be a star. Since he isn't actually Jake Long a more realistic timeframe may be the Omameh one where the redshirt freshman year sees some sporadic playing time and starts when needed due to veterans getting injured or not performing, leaving the breakout for next year.
Lewan's classmate Michael Schofield is the backup right tackle (though either tackle going down will see Lewan enter the lineup). A well-regarded and athletic but relatively slight four-star prospect coming out of high school, Schofield's put on 25 pounds over the last year and now stands at 293—his father posts enthusiastically on Scout about how none of his clothes fit any more. Despite that gain, Schofield is probably another year or two away from playing time. In the fall scrimmage he was one of the few linemen to draw Rodriguez's ire (pad level, naturally).
Somewhat frighteningly, there are no other scholarship backups, not even true freshmen. In the event Angry Michigan Secondary-Hating God gets bored and starts picking off tackles like it's going out of style, the last-ditch option is either moving Omameh outside or bringing in Ricky Barnum, who's practiced everywhere his first two years at Michigan.
Rating: 4 of 5.
|seals Ethan Johnson|
|kicks out DT|
|executes tough reach|
|excellent scoop block|
|gets a cutback lane|
|cuts the living hell out of LB|
|blocks no one|
|shoots upfield immediately|
|slanting DT into backfield|
Steve Schilling, now a candidate for the Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth-Year Senior Award, returns for a fourth year as a starter. Unfortunately, none of those years have been super awesome. Persistent pass-protection issues at right tackle (perhaps understandable since Schilling's high school team almost literally never threw the ball) forced him to move inside last year, where his pass-protection issues were mitigated… but not exactly quashed. He came in for some worry after the Purdue game:
… man, the pass protection issues are not letting up and the second-most vulnerable guy other than whoever the right tackle is has been Schilling, which isn't good. You can sort of understand why a two-star sophomore who had only MAC offers is struggling at tackle. Schilling's at an easier spot and is a five-star junior. At this point he's probably not going to live up to the hype. That's not to say he's bad, but pass protection breakdowns from the LG spot are really frustrating, especially when there are many incidents where Schilling doesn't lose his guy but gets shoved so far back in the pocket that Forcier has nowhere to go when someone comes tearing around the right tackle.
Schilling did do well in Genuinely Sarcastic's run charting last year and get Black's vote for best run blocker, so he's not exactly bad. He's just not what people expected when he was the hotness picking Michigan over USC out of Bellvue, Washington.
He should take another step forward as a senior, obviously, and finish out his career a solid player. Reasonable expectations are being able to hold up against bull-rushes better and pick up more stunts, though that latter issue could be due to the problems at center once Molk went down.
|you go to ground now|
|sees it and jets|
|on his way to six points|
|gets outside the tackle|
David Molk didn't play in spring and had a green jersey through part of fall camp, so the question foremost in your mind is about his health. The good news is that he's basically Mike Martin when it comes to holding a guy out:
Is David Molk healthy now?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah. He scrimmaged yesterday a little bit. We didn’t have him go the whole time for precautionary reasons, but he got a few good series in and did pretty well.”
Hallelujah. Since he missed most of last year there's not a lot more to go on than this site's assessment of his redshirt freshman season, which was rapturous after the Penn State game:
He got dinged later in the year for being small, but in a system like this where he's reach-blocking all day his agility is an asset. Time and again against Penn State he successful executed these blocks, springing people into the secondary. Against Notre Dame he did the same thing.
The issues are obvious, though: too many missed blocks, and too many blocks where he's just not strong enough to deal with his man. But he's a redshirt freshman; strength should come.
As far as last year goes, he did pick up a couple of holding penalties against Western, resulting in a small cluck. The response of Rodriguez, who called him "one of the team's best players," and the offense when he went out with an injury indicates just how important he was to the team.
Healthy, back in shape, and ten pounds heavier than he was going into last year—twenty pounds heavier than he was the last time he got a lot of playing time against quality opponents—Molk should be the team's best lineman and in the conversation for All Big Ten at the end of the season, with a Rimington finalist kind of year his max upside.
Last but probably not least when it comes to the starters, redshirt sophomore Patrick Omameh is set to bust out. He was the Lewan of last year, the recipient of a torrent of practice hype who fans were surprised to see on the bench, even more surprised to see him still on the bench when Molk went out, and further surprised still when he danced his way into the starting lineup as a guard when he'd been hyped up as the next great Michigan tackle for going on two years. As late as February I was saying things like "Omameh has always been regarded a left tackle prospect."
This wasn't actually wrong:
But following weeks of pats on the back from his coaches, Omameh, in part of a widespread shift along the line, got the start at right guard in UM's third-to-final game of the year. Not only was it his first game action at the position, Omameh had never even worked at right guard in practice.
Why would Michigan make such a weird move? And then why would they stick with it? Well:
Yuck. Is there any hope for the OL going forward?
Well, Omameh had a very good day, and not just for a redshirt freshman. His agility is as advertised:
He was sealing DTs with Moosman all day; he seemed to have a grasp on pass protection, too. He was so obviously good that he's now your starter at RG, no questions asked, as Huyge and Dorrestein fight it out at right tackle. That's an important step forward for him. If he's languished on the bench as Ferrara got the start the hype on him would be heading towards Grady Brooks territory; as it is he's beaten out some more experienced options and played well as a redshirt freshman. You can now put him in pen somewhere on next year's line.
|great, Hart-like run|
|out on the MLB.|
|kicks the DL down the line by himself|
|pulls Omameh around|
In Michigan's offense the guys who can get 15 yards downfield and put a hat on a guy need to be guards. I can't tell you how many times I've UFRed a play where Michigan has creased the opponent's line and looks set up for a big play only for the guard releasing downfield to do an ole and for Michigan to get three yards. (Here's a Picture Pages from '08 that provides an example.) Last year when Huyge was forced inside his strike rate was iffy, as you can see in his "downfield no" section. Omameh and Schilling provide the potential for Michigan to have two guys who can get blocks downfield, sometimes way downfield, and turn those 3, 4, and 5 yard runs into 10, 15, 20, or more. That's why Omameh's inside.
There he's been getting buckets and buckets of hype, from here and anywhere else you want to look. Like most of the other guys on the line he's packed on the muscle, now checking in at 299 after last year's 276. The thing I remember most from the spring game was Omameh not only sealing but pancaking Renaldo Sagesse, a senior and decent Big Ten player, on one particular zone stretch. If this is true…
"The only way I can tell I'm heavier is by stepping on the scale," Omameh said. "I still feel like, and move like, the way I did when I came in. The strength is evident when I play."
This will be fairly brief since no one on the interior has seen game time. At center the primary backup is Rocko Khoury, a middling three-star recruit who was passed over last year in favor of the crazy shuffling. Since he was a redshirt freshman that's not a huge black mark. The ease with which Mike Martin was crushing him in the fall practice is slightly concerning, but hopefully Martin will be doing that to all manner of opponents.
At guard, redshirt sophomores Ricky Barnum and Elliott Mealer plus redshirt freshman Quinton Washington are the primary backups, with Barnum and Washington the top two guys on the depth chart. All came in fairly highly touted and have enough experience that seeing one on the field—probably Barnum—won't be cause for too much alarm.
Senior John Ferrara has fallen to third-string and will probably be limited to special teams; solitary freshman Christian Pace is guaranteed to redshirt.
[Editor's note: "F/+" is an advanced metric put together by Football Outsiders that combines a drive-centered efficiency metric with a play-centered one, adjusts for schedule strength, and comes up with a number that seems more accurate than just yards. For example, Big Ten offenses and defenses last year:
That seems more right than a measure of offensive efficiency that had Michigan's offense 9th in the league last year because they didn't play two below-average defensive teams. More about this later. The numbers below will differ from the numbers above slightly since the scatterplot is just Big Ten play and the below numbers take nonconference games (but not I-AA ones) into account.
You can get your fill of F/+ and everything else with the Football Outsiders Almanac, BTW. On with Tim's show:]
|Ohio State at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||68|
|Offensive Starters Lost||2|
|2009 Defense Rank||5|
|Defensive Starters Lost||5|
|Program F/+||45.3 (3rd)|
The story on offense for Ohio State this season starts and ends with Terrelle Pryor. If he can take the next step as a quarterback, the skill players around him, including wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher and running backs Dan "Boom" Herron and Brandon Saine, will see him to put up big numbers. Returning five offensive linemen from the conference's third-best rush offense should help pave the way and keep Pryor's jersey clean.
All of this depends on Pryor's continued development as a passer, and a willingness from Jim Tressel to open the playbook for his star. Pryor's "breakout performance" in the Rose Bowl was much more a product of the latter, as Terrelle's 37 pass attempts was by far the most of his season, and while his efficiency was above his season average, it would have ranked 44th in the nation - behind many player's without Pryor's threat of running (or supporting cast).
On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes lost a quartet of defenders to the NFL - though that hasn't stopped them from reloading in the past. Along the front line, defensive end Thaddeus Gibson took off for The League a year early and Doug Worthington graduated from OSU. All-Big Ten candidate Cameron Heyward (a first-team selection last year) will be relied upon more heavily; noted workout warrior John Simon will step into the middle. The Buckeyes lose linebacker Austin Spitler, but Ross Homan heads a talented group that shouldn't see too much dropoff. Despite losing Kurt Coleman, the Bucks should start three seniors in the secondary.
|Iowa at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||89|
|Offensive Starters Lost||6|
|2009 Defense Rank||10|
|Defensive Starters Lost||3|
|Program F/+||21.2 (22nd)|
Like the Buckeyes, Iowa has an enigmatic quarterback who is looking to make everything come together. Ricky Stanzi was a pick-6 machine last year, though he was a killer in crunch time. His supporting cast won't be nearly as strong as Pryor's, with four offensive linemen shuffling out of Iowa City, including first-rounder Bryan Bulaga. Stanzi's main options in the passing game are Darrell Johnson-Koulianos and converted QB Marvin McNutt. Tight end Allen Reisner replaces Tony "oft-injured but routinely open by 25 yards against Michael Williams" Moeaki.
A strong D is responsible for the Hawkeyes' optimism going into 2010. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn was a terrorbeast in the Orange Bowl, and he returns along with tackles Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, with sophomore LeBron Daniel manning the other end. The linebacker corps takes a major hit with the losses of Pat Angerer and AJ Edds, and the secondary lost Amari Spievey early to the NFL. Aside from the defensive front, this unit could be looking at a step back after finishing first in conference play a year ago.
|Wisconsin at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||30|
|Offensive Starters Lost||1|
|2009 Defense Rank||17|
|Defensive Starters Lost||4|
|Program F/+||19.5 (28th)|
The Badgers return the Big Ten's best rushing threat and last year's offensive player of the year in John Clay, Clay's entire offensive line from 2009, and one of the conference's most efficient passers in Scott Tolzien. Tolzien's efficiency may have been a product of being a mere complement to a dominating rush game, but with the Badgers are looking to repeat last year's gameplan he can do that again no problem. Deep threat Nick Toon headlines a good receiving corps, though tight end Garrett Graham has moved on to the next level. The offense, as per usual, will rely on enough play-action passing to keep defenses honest but the majority of Wisconsin's yardage will come on the ground.
The Badgers' defense was decent last year and possibly underrated. Wisconsin held Ohio State's offense to just 10 points last year, but lost thanks to three non-offensive touchdowns from the Buckeyes. Defensive End O'Brien Schofield and tackle Jeff Stehle are the big losses up front for Wisconsin, and linebacker Jaevery McFadden is gone after leading UW in tackles each of the past two years. The rest of the D is mostly intact, including last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year in linebacker Chris Borland, and safety Jay Valai, who seems like he's been around forever. It's the consistency in personnel that has many people projecting the Badgers to finish near the top of the conference, and that's the spoils of returning 19-ish starters from last year's Champs Sports Bowl winners.
|Northwestern at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||40|
|Offensive Starters Lost||5|
|2009 Defense Rank||47|
|Defensive Starters Lost||5|
|Program F/+||1.6 (57th)|
Mike Kafka quietly led the conference in total yardage last year, so losing him to the NFL(-ish) is a big deal. However, this isn't the Northwestern of old. The Wildcats can plug in Dan Persa, a redshirt junior with some experience under his belt. The run game is a much bigger question mark, as the Wildcats struggled on the ground last year. Kafka was the only player with more than 100 attempts, and leading rusher Arby Fields finished with just 302 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. What should help the running game this year is more experience. A green offensive line last year has grown up, which should also mean the Cats don't finish second-to-last in the Big Ten in sacks allowed this year.
Though Northwestern has become a program somewhat capable of reloading, replacing two NFL draft picks on defense is not something they're used to. Defensive end Corey Wootton and corner Sherrick McManus have left big shoes to fill, and safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith have also graduated. That leaves linebackers Quentin Davie and Nate Williams and corner Jordan Mabin to be the stars of the show. I think they'll have trouble living up to last year's experienced defense, which was already in the bottom half of the conference by most measures.
|Penn State at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||37|
|Offensive Starters Lost||4|
|2009 Defense Rank||9|
|Defensive Starters Lost||4|
|Program F/+||40.1 (6th)|
Quarterbacks continue to be a theme among Big Ten teams, as Penn State will have to choose between an unimpressive sophomore, a walkon, or a true freshman to lead their team this fall. Nittany Lion fans are denying it's a Threet/Sheridan situation, but I'll believe PSU has a competent signal-caller when I see him. Of course, the supporting cast will be much better than Michigan's was in 2008, with Evan Royster willing to carry a big portion of the offense. The offensive line has plenty of talent and gained experience last year. Stefen Wisniewski is the headliner there, moving from center to guard. Tight end Andrew Quarless is the only significant departure from the receiving corps, though with a young quarterback, having no security blanket (backup Mickey Shuler has also moved on to the NFL) could be an issue. Penn State is also starting a 6'3" converted guard at left tackle.
The other side of the ball sees serious losses, including a first-rounder in defensive tackle Jared Odrick, and all three starting linebackers. Despite those, Penn State will still be able to field an experienced unit as the new linebackers are all seniors, as are three defensive linemen and both safeties. Even in Penn State's dark years, the defense was good, and that should be the case again.
|Michigan State at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||38|
|Offensive Starters Lost||5|
|2009 Defense Rank||73|
|Defensive Starters Lost||4|
|Program F/+||9.1 (43rd)|
The Spartan offense went from heavily run-biased in 2008 to pass-biased in 2009. With Larry Caper and Edwin Baker coming of age, there's bound to be more balance this year - which should only help Kirk Cousins continue his prolific passing. A couple starters on the the offensive line need to be replaced, along with leading receiver (by a country mile) Blair White, so I'm not willing to predict that the Spartans will be the top offense in the Big Ten, but they should be good or better. Former QB Keith Nichol will try to fill the "white wideout" void, and some people are projecting an All-Big Ten season from him... on the basis of two career catches. Still, there's a lot to work with in East Lansing, and Cousins is the lynchpin of this unit.
The Spartans will be led defensively by linebacker Greg Jones, who rejected an early entry to the NFL Draft to win a Big Ten Championship in East Lansing (or go to the Insight Bowl, either one). The Spartans' second-best defensive player last year, end Trevor Anderson, is off to the NFL, so the Spartans may have trouble replicating the pressure they put on opposing QBs last year. That's unfortunate, seeing as how MSU's secondary was - are you sitting down? - worse than Michigan's last year! Competent aerial attacks should shred the Spartans once more.
|Purdue at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||53|
|Offensive Starters Lost||5|
|2009 Defense Rank||69|
|Defensive Starters Lost||6|
|Program F/+||5.4 (51st)|
Robert Marve is sure getting a lot of hype for a guy who finished just inside the top 100 nationally in pass efficiency last time he played a live down. There's nothing (aside from the four stars next to his name in 2008) that suggests he'll be better than Joey Elliott was last year. Running back Ralph Bolden has a torn ACL, causing him to miss at least part of the season, and his backup, Al-Terek McBurse, has been dinged up during camp as well. The Boilermakers return top receiver Keith Smith, along with a couple other key pieces in the receiving game. They do, however, lose a couple offensive linemen from a mediocre unit, which could mean a step back.
The defensive leaders for Purdue will be a pair of seniors in defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Jason Werner. The linebackers should be the same as last year, with Joe Holland filling one of the spots, and Chris Calrino and Dwayne Beckford battling for the final position. The secondary is almost entirely new, as Torri Williams, David Pender, Brandon King, and Dwight McLean are gone. The defense should be a serious weakness of the Boilermakers.
|Minnesota at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||109|
|Offensive Starters Lost||3|
|2009 Defense Rank||63|
|Defensive Starters Lost||8(!)|
|Program F/+||1.5 (58th)|
Adam Weber has had one of the more bizarre career arcs as a starting quarterback you'll ever see, with strong seasons as a freshman and sophomore followed by a disappointing 2009 (last in the conference in passing efficiency) and the threat of being replaced by a freshman in 2010. His struggles over the past couple years coincide with a number of coordinator and philosophy changes on offense for the Gophers, and if they return to more of a spread don't be surprised if Weber is replaced by MarQuies Gray. Running the ball, Duane Bennett should be better than he was last year, as he's had more time to improve from a 2008 knee injury. The top two receivers, Eric Decker and tight end Nick Tow-Arnett, are both gone. Gray might see time split wide when he's not behind center.
The Gophers' defense was middle-of-the-pack last year, and now the three starting linebackers are out the door (with one of the candidates to replace them, Sam Maresh, at a junior college instead of in St. Paul). The defensive backs should be a strength though, with Kim Royston, Kyle Theret, and Marcus Sherels all seniors, though Royston has had health issues with one of his legs. The defensive line was poor last year, and losing Eric Small and Cedric McKinley won't improve that. This defense should be awful.
|Indiana at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||72|
|Offensive Starters Lost||4|
|2009 Defense Rank||88|
|Defensive Starters Lost||7|
|Program F/+||-14.9 (84th)|
The pistol offense has worked out in Bloomington (sorta), as the Hoosiers finished fourth in the conference in passing offense—but they couldn't run the ball at all. Quarterback Ben Chappell and running back Darius Willis both return, forming a solid nucleus, though Willis's top two backups are gone. Wide receivers should be led by Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner until Tandon Doss returns from a groin injury. On the offensive line, a terrible unit running the ball loses an NFL second-rounder, and the Hoosiers aren't likely to replace Roger Saffold with an equally-talented player. A few other linemen depart, though not all starters. The offensive line should be the downfall of this offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Hoosiers lose two players to the NFL in seventh-rounders Jammie Kirlew and Ray Fisher at defensive end and corner, respectively. For a unit that finished second-to-last in both scoring and total defense last year, that's not a good sign, as the Hoosiers aren't exactly pumping out draft picks. Also departing are linebackers Matt Mayberry, Justin Carrington, and Will Patterson, along with defensive lineman Greg Middleton. This unit could be historically bad, unless there's a lot of talent that should have been on the field last year.
|Illinois at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||47|
|Offensive Starters Lost||6|
|2009 Defense Rank||91|
|Defensive Starters Lost||4|
|Program F/+||-2.8 (65th)|
Out goes the Juice Williams era, and in comes... Nathan Scheelhasse? The Illini brought in Paul Petrino to be offensive coordinator, so look for a QB-centric, pass-heavy offense. Juniors Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford should do most of the rushing, but there's little proven talent in the receiving corps. Arrelious Benn, Chris Duvalt, Jeff Cumberland, and Michael Hoomanawanui are all gone, leaving behind little experience—and these aren't the talented prospects Zook was bringing in at the start of his tenure in Champaign. The Illini also lose an NFL pick on the offensive line in guard Jon Asamoah, along with aptly-named fellow starter Eric Block. They gave up a lot of sacks last year, and without the mobile threat of Juice (and with a move toward a downfield passing game), you can probably expect more of the same in 2010.
Defensive lineman Doug Pilcher is gone, as are defensive backs Donsay Hardeman and Dere Hicks, but the rest off Illinois's defense returns mostly intact. Of course, when that defense was dead last in the Big Ten in total, scoring, and pass efficiency defense, there's a legitimate question as to whether that is a good thing. Losing starting DBs off a horrible pass defense means more of the same is probably in order unless the Illini can do a better job getting to the quarterback. Unfortunately, they were - you guessed it - last in the conference in sacks last year. They have talent in the system, and if those players can grow up, there may be room for improvement (along with a return from Martez Wilson). However, there's a long way to go to even reach competency.
Overall rating: 3.
|Punter||Yr.||Kicker||Yr.||Punt Return||Yr.||Kick Return||Yr.|
|Will Hagerup||Fr.||Brendan Gibbons||Fr.*||Martavious Odoms||Jr.||Darryl Stonum||Jr.|
|Seth Broekhuizen||Fr.*||Justin Meram||Jr.*||Drew Dileo||Fr.||Martavious Odoms||Jr.|
|--||--||Seth Broekhuizen||Fr.*||Terrance Robinson||So.*||Mike Shaw||Jr.|
Just don't fumble and we're good. Unless kicker is a black hole, but what's the worst that could happen?
After a spring in which the motley collection of walk-ons assembled to punt managed to keep just one of their attempts on the field of play, it was a relief to see Will Hagerup launch Zoltan-like bombs in the fall scrimmage. While he's likely to go through some growing pains as he adjusts to college, mgouser Wonk put together a diary demonstrating that punter is a spot at which you can throw in a true freshman without much worry. A three-year study of freshman punters sees them land around 73rd nationally—just a smidgen below average—with a 39.3 net.
So your average freshman punter checks in just below average, and Hagerup is not your average freshman punter. He got the rare third star from Rivals and is their #1 true punter after a senior year in which he actually bettered Zoltan's numbers:
As a senior, Hagerup punted 22 times, landing seven within the opponent's 20-yard line, and averaging 42.9 yards per attempt. By comparison, Mesko had a career average of 42.5. In a statistic suggesting Hagerup applies adequate hang time to be a factor at the college level, opponents averaged just three yards per return against him.
No word on awesome high-stepping fakes, or disastrous mind-meltdown ones. Rodriguez called Hagerup "a real talent" this fall, then repeated it for emphasis. I'm not saying he's the Space Emperor of Space or anything, but while no one can replace Zoltan in our hearts Hagerup probably won't be far off on the field.
As per tradition when this site attempts to project a kicker it's never seen play, we punt. (HA!) Projecting kickers remains a rube's game. For example, last year this preview expressed "disquiet" because projected starter Jason Olesnavage couldn't beat out mediocre competition in '08, sucked in the spring game, and wasn't the touted freshman Brendan Gibbons. Olesnavage proceeded to go 11 of 15, a 73% strike rate. So we won't really have a grasp on what's going on here until midseason.
Right now the tea leaves are grim things scattered everywhere except the center of the cup, however. Rodriguez has been openly fretting about the situation since spring. An example from Big Ten media days—here Rodriguez is asked what's his biggest concern:
"Probably the kicking game, particularly field goals."
Troy Woolfolk's ankle had not yet been smitten, but even at that point being more concerned with anything other than the secondary (which thankfully finished second) sets off alarm klaxons. More go off when AnnArbor.com quotes Rodriguez saying "guh," which is my line.
But I was pretty guh last year, too, and that worked out okay. Hopefully Gibbons can find the accuracy to live up to his scholarship status; if he can't the silver lining is that Michigan might be forced into correct fourth-down strategy. That's the ticket!
Michigan found its best kickoff returner since Steve Breaston in the form of blazing fast Darryl Stonum last year. Stonum ripped off this critical touchdown against Notre Dame…
…and took enough other kicks out to midfield to see Michigan into the top 25 nationally at #23. Stonum himself was actually better than that; his 25.7 yard average would have been good for 4th if he took back all of Michigan's returns.
Touchdowns are outliers and we should expect Stonum's production to fall back to earth a little bit this year; hopefully Michigan has a better second option and can maintain their above-average production here.
When it comes to punts,
HOLD ON TO THE GODDAMN BALL
was the directive last year. It was not followed very well. This was actually an improvement on 2008, when kickoffs were also 50-50 to be horrible turnovers, but it wasn't very fun. A rotating array of jelly-fingered receivers toured the position last year, with Junior Hemingway's 10 returns for 86 yards and Martavious Odoms's 6 for 54 leading the returning players. (Brandon Graham's punt blocks actually made him Michigan's best punt returner: two for 36 yards and a TD.)
This year it looks like Hemingway has been relieved of duties. The four guys in contention this fall are Odoms, Terrence Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, and Drew Dileo. Gallon reputedly did not seize his opportunity to perform over the summer* and then suffered an ankle injury in fall, Robinson's hands have plagued him since his arrival in Ann Arbor (he was the only player to fumble a punt in the fall scrimmage), and Dileo is a true freshman. Your punt returner by default is Odoms until such time as one of the guys who isn't a fumble-prone starting receiver steps up and takes it from him.
Will that happen? It's 50-50. If it does I wouldn't put it past Dileo to step forth and claim the job. The man himself said he was recruited primarily to return punts, and reports from the fall scrimmage said that he looked extremely smooth doing that. If Odoms makes some bad decisions it won't take Michigan long to yank him.
I suppose here's where we should make mention of Michigan's coverage units. A combination of Zoltan and the spread punt formation made the punt cover guys highly effective, with opponents managing just 5.6 yards a return. I put together a little stat that measures how many yards a team gives back on average (so a punt without a return is zero) and Michigan finished 28th last year despite Zoltan finishing 9th in gross average. That's pretty good; Michigan can probably expect similar.
On kick returns, opponents averaged 22.3 per, which was slightly below average. Stonum's Beanie Bowl-opening KOR TD and some disturbing half-speed practice returns in the fall scrimmage have people worried, but that's scant evidence to suggest last year's kickoff team, which returns largely intact, is going to fall off a cliff.
*(Mmmm David Brandon euphemism.)