Hockey pet peeve: "when a teammate tips a puck in on you, which is exactly how my first collegiate goal against happened. Thanks, Copper."
Given the responses to my diary post, it is obvious that the good people of the MGoBlog community would like to have a much more detailed discussion of the strength of our opponents in the trenches, and an overall evaluation of their returning talent levels (a granular evaluation of not just how many starters return, but where the talent lies.)
This topic is going to rely heavily on other teams' fans (i.e. our beloved poster Irish.) So hopefully there are still a few of those rational OSU fans left on the board, as well as insightful Nebraska posters, Chicagoans who bleed purple, and fighting Illini. If you follow a team other than Michigan, with the passion of a crazed fan, give us the lowdown here.
To start on Michigan:
Offense was top 5 last year. Transition will not change Denard's impact on the requirement of opposing D's to change their Safety gameplan, pull back the reigns on overly aggressive LBs, etc. The OL is deep, experienced and talented with an athletic TE to complement. If Molk can maintain his health for most of the year, and Lewan can harness his aggression with discipline, this should be one of the top two OL in the conference. WR corps and RB corps are deep; WR may not have a true vertical threat, but Roundtree is reliable and versatile; RB have a grinder in true-soph Hopkins and several speedy backs. Perhaps rational to expect a step back. But this team was poised to become more than "the most dangerous offense between the 20 yard lines." If Denard can make reads with his receivers stacked in the red-zone, this team will take a step forward in scoring (even if total yards fall a bit.) Anything less than a top 10 offense would be a disappointment.
I'll leave the joy of the D to someone else; and of course, flesh out the offense a bit more.
Mrohblue's MGoBoard question, "How long before Hoke has UM in BCS game??" has prompted me to post some data I previously compiled for personal satisfaction. I hope you will find it just as satisfying.
I am sure Michigan can/should pull off 10 wins this upcoming year, and it's not just because the Wolverines nearly pulled off 7 wins in 2008 while utilizing a 3rd string QB lining up behind one previously starting OL, throwing to one previously starting WR or TE, or handing off to one of 2 previously starting RBs; with depth being drawn from a team of less than 70 scholarship players. (Compare this to the 2011 offensive transition that will feature 4 of 5 OL starters and 4 of their 5 backups, the top 8 WR, top 5 RB, top TE, and the nation's most dangerous QB... all from a top 5 Offense from the year 2010.)
Look to Mr. Rittenberg's list of Big Ten returning starters for 2011 to get a general overview of the Big Ten's experience gap. Our beloved Wolverines are the most experienced group in the Big Ten, returning 20. Of note, the 4 programs on our 2011 schedule who are/will be traditional favorites to finish among the conference's top half include MSU, Iowa, Neb, and OSU. This traditionally difficult block of teams return only 13, 10, 12, and 13 starters, respectively. Also of note, we will have our hands full with ND and NW who return 18 and 17 starters, respectively. (That assumes that Brian Kelly's competitive mean-streak translates to Michael Floyd being magically available for Michigan's first home night-game.)
But when looking at whether a team will be the hammer or the nail, the proverbial hammer's head is the Offensive front 6 (OL and TE) or the Defensive front 7 (DL and LB.) Looking at what Wisconsin's 2010 OL was able to accomplish against a young Michigan DL (especially after they purposefully took Mike Martin out of the game) is a great example of experienced big uglies taking (talented) newbies to task. That Wiscy OL featured 2 Sr, 3 RS-Jr, and a So.
Who will we hammer this year?
|OL / TE||D Front 7||DL||LB|
As you can see, no one has a clear experential advantage over Michigan in the trenches this year. Not only does Michigan return more total starters than any of its foes, 10 of our returning starters are trenchmen perfectly balanced across the O and D.
By the Numbers:
The teams who will give our offensive Front 6 a challenge: Notre Dame, Minnesota, Purdue, the Illini, and Nebraska.
The teams to challenge our defensive Front 7: SDSU, NW and the Illini. Of course, ND, Purdue and OSU all return a respectable 4 out of 6 on the offensive front line.
Note that only ND, Purdue and the Illini are on both of those lists.
WMU, MSU and Iowa will all be overrun by winged helmets on both sides of the ball. That's RBs stuffed, QBs with no time to breathe, and our RBs unleashing an absolute Denarding. EMU will be able to at least rely on its lines to keep the game closer than it should be, and SDSU brings back some real talent on the offensive side of the ball but a very weak-looking defense - posing the threat of a shoot-out. But those 5 games should be our gimmes. We have a heavy advantage on either O or D against Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio State (and are not outgunned on the other side of the ball) = 3 more wins. The Illini return a lot along the lines, but only 3 total starters behind the lines. Win. Our nastiest games will be Notre Dame, NW, and Purdue who each return solid lines in addition to a solid number of skill players behind the lines.
I am only sweating ND, SDSU, NW and the Nebraska/OSU 2-week finale. Four of those are home games. Beat Notre Dame, and we are on our way to a 10-win season. Lose to them, and our second Big Ten game (Northwestern - away) becomes the lynchpin to making a BCS berth. We need 3 out of 5 of these "sweat games." I like our chances.
**Edit: According to Scout.com's listing of WMU's returning starters there are 3 returning along the O-line/TE (including our very-own-former Dan O'Neill)and 7 (!) returning along the D-Front-7. That's a massive difference from ESPN's reporting of 2 and 4. They are one of the more experienced trench-teams we will see this season... I'm going to have to go back through Scout's analyses and see if there are any other examples of ESPN's poor reporting skills.