With everyone searching for a silver lining or a comparable success story, the most optimistic comparison for Michigan's current situation would have to be Oklahoma's 2007 team and the 2006 Texas team. Both teams started Red-shirt Freshmen Quarterbacks (Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford) in spread offenses. Both teams had young, but outstanding skill positions and defenses that were suppose to support their young struggling quarterbacks. However, both quarterbacks ended up putting up cartoonish numbers as first year starters. Bradford threw for 3,121 yards with a 69.5% completion percentage and a ridiculous 36 touchdowns against only 8 interceptions. Meanwhile, Colt McCoy threw for a less but still stellar total of 2,570 yards with a 68.2% completion percentage and a 29-7 touchdown to interception ratio.
This is far and away the most optimistic outlook, but it is also the most comparable. The pre-season build up and quarterback spotlight was exactly the same for both teams. Texas had to replace the great Vince Young (no offense to Chad Henne, but a much more daunting task) and Oklahoma was left with a “bare cupboard” after the dismissal of former 5 star Rhett “I thought everyone at the car dealership got paid $1000 an hour” Bomar (similar to the departure of 5 star quarterback Ryan Mallet). The running back situation at Texas was also very comparable, as Texas implemented a running back-by-committee approach with Jamal Charles and Selvin Young splitting nearly the identical amount of carries (156 to 137) over the course of the season. Neither eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark and both had 7 touchdowns. Behind Charles and Young was a host of younger running backs whose carries ranged from 12-45. This is most likely to be the same case for Michigan this year, with Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor splitting a bulk of the carries while Mcguffie, Grady, Horn, and Shaw will likley receive carries somewhere between the 12-45 range. Texas’ top returning receiver, Limas Sweed, only had 36 receptions the year before (compared to Greg Matthews who had 39 receptions this past year). As you can see, the differences between Michigan’s team and Texas’ 2006 team are minimal if not completely non-existent. Oklahoma on the other hand had did have a returning running back, but also implemented a running back-by-committee approach with three running backs (Allen Patrick, Demarco Murray, and Chris Brown) getting over 100 carries. Oklahoma also brought back its two top receivers, but Juaquin Iglesias 2006 numbers were nearly the same as Matthews 2007 totals making both of them a wash comparably. Therefore Michigan’s only real difference with Oklahoma’s 2007 squad is a less talented but more experienced running back and one more returning receiver (you can put as much weight as you want into how significant an impact this could have played).
In terms of different offensive philosophies, you could argue that both Texas and Oklahoma implement more pass-heavy spreads, with Oklahoma also employing a jumbo pro-set with double tight ends. However, I totally believe Rich Rodriguez will adapt the schemes to the personnel. Who doesn’t? Even Jim Tressel (who we all criticized for winning the ugliest football games on earth) opened up his offense when he had Ted Ginn and Troy Smith. So why does everyone assume Rodriguez will attempt to stymie teams with a run heavy attack? He wasn’t considered an offensive genius because his spread ran 80% of the time; he was considered an offensive genius because he invented a system that allowed for his athletes to best excel in space. Therefore, you won’t see Threet pounding it up the middle 50 times this year. You’ll instead (hopefully) see an offensive style similar to Texas and Oklahoma’s offense. And you can’t argue that we don’t have the personnel to run a spread. Sure, ideally a more natural athlete at quarterback would be optimal, but we showed in the Capital One Bowl that we do recruit the personnel to run a successful spread. Rodriguez has also stated that he would like to get multiple tight ends on the field at the same time. It may not be in a similar Oklahoma pro-style jumbo set, but it shows his willingness to adapt to his personnel. In terms of talent, Threet was a 4 star quarterback (the #9 best quarterback in his class) while McCoy and Bradford were only a 3 star quarterbacks (the 15th and 12th best quarterbacks their years respectively).
I realize that this argument is more a collaboration of jumbled thoughts and I’m also not saying we will have the same 10 win success of Texas’ 06 team or Oklahoma’s 07 team. But I will dismiss people’s concern that we will lose our longstanding consecutive bowl streak. There is a precedent of teams with red-shirt freshmen quarterbacks leading their teams to respectable seasons. I believe we will surprise a lot of people, but not myself. Keep the faith.