1. reducing the ridiculously high turnover rate, and
2. added size in the trenches -- on the OL and especially DL to stop the run.
I still think those two areas will be greatly improved from last year. As for turnovers, UM finally has a experienced QB and offensive line. That should help a lot Think of the turnovers that stick out from last year (Purdue, Iowa, MSU in OT, OSU all game, etc...)
As for the size on the DL, we have added A LOT of good weight. Plus, our yound DL has added experience. The 90th run defense should be quite a bit better.
Even if the DB play is as bad as last year (it was looking improved, but see above), which is as bad as possible, I think the team wins at least 2-3 more games based on the factors above.
Someone called me one of the most depressing users on this board on the other thread, so maybe some of you will think this is coming from an unlikely source. But yeah, I can get down with optimism, here it goes:
1. Denard might be Percy Harvin with an arm!
There are so many reasons to be optimistic about Denard that I feel like I could do a top 5 list just about that, but I won't. As good as Tate was last year, Denard has the tools to take this offense from good to mindblowingly awesome. Last year, Denard was extremely limited in what he was allowed to run. Mostly the coaches just had him run straight at the line, or roll out to hit bubble screens. There was no deception in how he was deployed. Denard wasn't even allowed to run the zone read, this offense's base play and a play call that, at least physically, plays to his strengths.
Fortunately Denard seems to have made progress at a breakneck pace. In the spring game (insert caveat here) wasn't just running the zone read, he was completing passes over the middle and sometimes even sitting in the pocket and letting the play develop. Whereas last year every throw of his seemed to fly out at 100 mph, in the spring game he showed a fair amount of touch on the ball. If Denard can be half as poised throwing in the season as he was in the spring game, this offense will open up and hit on all cylinders. Denard and co will dance around the opposition and light up the scoreboard like we've never seen at Michigan. Even better, if he continues to improve at this pace, in a few years we'll be comparing him favorably to Pat White.
2. Improved O line play!
All we lost were an adequate tackle and an adequate guard. We've got an extremely talented pool of youngsters fighting for their spots, led by Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh, both of whom have the potential to be four year starters. Others will push returning starters. Everyone has had an extra year to improve and this should be a very good and very deep group.
3. GERG is coaching all linebackers!
3 cheers for Jay Hopson being gone! Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton might be this year's Stevie Brown(s). All three were starters since at least their sophomore years who showed tremendous physical skills, but seemed unable to put it together mentally. For Brown, this was until his senior year, when he switched to an outside linebacker (kind of nickel corner) role from his safety position. GERG proceeded to turn him from mgowhippingboy to easily our best linebacker and an NFL draft pick. If Mouton and Ezeh make half the improvement Brown did our linebacking play will have gone from bad to fairly decent.
4. Molk is back!
David Molk proved his worth with his absence last year. When he got injured the offense took a major step back which they never recovered from. Hopefully with improved depth, any injuries will be weathered better this year, but Molk is good enough and important enough to this offense that his return should provide a shot of life either way.
5. (Relative) Continuity on defense!
So we're kind of switching to a 3-3-5, but at least we have the same coordinator for the first time since '07. That continuity extends at least to the coordinator's personal familiarity with the players and vice versa and that's gotta be worth something even if the scheme has changed amirite?
Bonus: 6. Turnovers!
We've had one of the worst turnover margins in the country in each of the last two years. If turnovers are as random as I'd like to think (and a lot of research shows) that has to change sooner or later.