was still better than listening to my relatives talk and watching the Lions play.
Eternal Michigan Optimist
Well, the family has been fed and is out the door and things are starting to get quiet, so I thought I'd start thinking about Michigan Football - 2009.
Just like heading into this season of uncertainty, there seems like there is a wide chasm of opinions regarding what can be expected from the Wolverines gridders next season. I don't think anyone expects them to be in the national championship game, but I also don't think they will be the 10th best team in the Big 10 next year, despite what Eric Lacy predicted in the DetNews this week.
Most observers that I've read feel that 6-6 is reasonable progress next year. However, as one poster aptly stated, when you've got Eastern, Western, and likely the Little Sister's of the Poor filling out your non-conference schedule, will 6 wins really be that much progress?
That's why I would think that 6-6 would be the worst Michigan fans should expect next year. The team returns every offensive starter. Although, as those funny (ha) newspaper previews usually point out with poor teams, is that a good thing? Absolutely it is. I think all Michigan fans can agree that the offense stunk this year, but I also think it did improve as the year went along. The offensive line was a sieve at the beginning of the year, but actually started opening up some holes by the end of the season. Brandon Minor became a beast this season and I'm excited to have him back next year.
We all know the quarterback play this season was absolutely atrocious. So, it can only get better, right? If Steven Threet, who now would have a full year in the system is the starter, you figure it would have to be incrementally better. And if one of the freshmen can come in and beat Threet out, then you'd have to think that it could be even better than that.
As others have pointed out, there may be 2 new offensive line starters (Omameh and Barnum seem to be the names most mentioned). All the skill guys are back, plus T-Rob and Junior Hemingway, who were waylayed by injuries.
Will the offense make us forget about Henne, Hart and Company? No, but I don't see why the offense can't improve dramatically - more times where they played like the 2nd half against Wisconsin and 1st half against Illinois and less times like they played in the 1st half against Wisconsin and all game versus Toledo.
The defense is a different story. They were supposed to keep us in games this year while the offense meshed. Needless to say, that theory didn't quite work out. There were lots of theories - including being on the field too much, too much inexperience at key spots (safety and linebacker being the main two), overrated talent, and just plain bad coaching. The defense ended up being, statistically, one of the worst (if not the worst) in Michigan history. I don't think anyone expected that. And even with the loss of 3 very good senior linemen, I don't see why this unit can't be much improved next year.
Let's flash back to 1997 - the defense was coming off a meh 1996 season, but it had an excellent pass rusher (Glen Steele) and an excellent corner (what was his name, #2, I think) coming back and that defense ended up being pretty good. Assuming that Brandon Graham returns (may be a big assumption, but all I've read seems to indicate he's leaning on coming back) and that Donovan Warren plays like he did late in the season rather than early in the season, we have 2 pretty nice building blocks for next year's defense. I don't want to compare them to the 1997 defense (oh wait, I think I already did), but this defense should be better. Warren and Cissoko at the corners; Mike Martin, Brandon Graham, Van Bergen, and maybe big Will Campbell up front; Obi and Mouton at linebacker, with maybe JB Fitzgerald. The position of concern continues to be safety. I liked Mike Williams when he played this year, and I'm praying that Brandon Smith is a beast - assuming he beats out Stevie Brown.
As mentioned, assuming that Bill Martin schedules some directional school for our last open non-conference date (rather than say, Boise State or BYU), we'd have all four non-conference games at home with a slate of WMU, EMU, Other Directional School and Notre Dame. No offense to WMU, who is a very good MAC team and will have their solid QB back, but Michigan has a realistic shot to be 4-0 in those non-conference games, at worst, 3-1. ND will be better, but hey, they weren't very good this year and I think most Michigan fans thought that we played pretty well against them this year, if it wasn't for all of them dang turnovers.
The conference schedule has Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Ohio State at home. I don't think it's crazy to think that they beat Indiana and Purdue. They could lose to both Penn State and Ohio State, but hey, those teams lose quite a bit of talent. PSU loses 3 off of it's O-line and some defensive stalwarts. If C. Wells leaves the Bucks for less money in the NFL, that really hurts them. Their offense really revolves around him and would put a lot more pressure on Pryor without Wells back there. Their defense loses 2 good linebackers and their best corner. Clearly they'll still have more talent back than Michigan, but is the gap as wide as it was say when MSU was beating us in basketball by 50? I don't think so. Let's say 2-2 is realistic for the home conference schedule, and 3-1 is possible.
The road conference schedule includes Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. This could be brutal. Iowa was better than anticipated this season. You know their D always plays hard, but they found a serviceable QB in Stanzi and a very good runner in Greene. I think both return. I think that may be the most difficult of the road contests. Illinois is Illinois. They are a meh team, but hey, they blew us out this season and Juice is back. If we can contain him, we can win. If we can't, well, we won't (pretty simple eh - if we score more points than them, we can win....). Wisconsin will be who they always are - and they'll be wanting to give us payback. They are a team I like playing because their style usually keeps opponents in the game. It's certainly a toss up. Lastly, the Sparties. They should be pretty good next year, but they will be breaking in a new QB and a new RB. Ringer was that offense this year, and I'm not sure they have anyone on their current roster who can replace him. That means likely a freshman RB (Baker?) and an inexperienced QB. Hmmm. The road record could be anywhere from 0-4 to 3-1. I think we lose to Iowa for sure, but the other 3 are toss ups. They are all on the road, so 1-3 is very possible, but 2-2 is not unrealistic.
Thus, in my "worst case" scenario, I think we'd be 3-1 non-conference, 2-2 home conference and 1-3 road conference. That's 6-6 (hell, we lost to Toledo this year, so worst case could be 0-12!). Best case: 4-0; 3-1; 2-2. That's 9-3.
So, I've done nothing here, other than waste space and come up with a range that everyone else basically has. Very good. Nice job. Thanks for reading. Sorry you can't get this time in your life back to do something more productive.
Well, time to focus on hockey and basketball now. Will the baseball team be any good this year? What about softball? I need something positive to root for this season. GO BLUE!
Wait ... the Lions played? I saw the Titans out there, but I didn't see the Lions.
did you REALLY just say this defense should be better than the97 defense...the national championshoip, hesiman trophy winning 97 defense?
Drew, come on, you know that the '97 defense sucked. Only you, in all your infinite negativity could rationalize that.
That hole team blew....They only SPLIT the national championship
Fo sho, as a lifelong Michigan fan, that team disgraces me.
Tha pic with Woodson and the rose in his mouth makes me want to vomit
i hated being at the rose bowl that year. I knew ryan leaf was terrible, was going to flop in the nfl and have to resign as an assistant to a D-II school so I didn't think a M win was very impressive and they should have given it to Nebraska who was very good and kicking up broken up passes to be caught as game winning TD's.
You must be kidding, our defense last year was WAYYYYY better than 97. Are you even comparing the two? Charles Woodson was only the fourth overall pick in his year. Stevie Brown will easily pass that and give us the distinction of having 2 Number 1 overall picks in 3 years....
"if wells leaves osu for less money in the nfl"
I've been harping on this for a few weeks but I'm going to keep it up all off-season so here goes:
First 4 games, all played at Michigan Stadium:
Western, Notre Dame, Eastern, Indiana
I think that's the correct order. I believe we'll be 4-0 heading into October. That's my biggest reason for being optimistic.
On another note, I was reading DJ Gallo's NCAA basketball preview, and he wrote regarding North Carolina: 'They bring back their top 5 scorers. They are also bringing back their 5 worst defenders.' For some reason this made me think of our offensive line next year.