The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
Like the other list, except with sad fugee faces.
5. Vince Helmuth and Mark Moundros. Maybe? Though the spread offense seems a wasteland for fullbacks and fellow lumberers, Owen Schmitt's "runaway beer truck" touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl was one more carry than Michigan fullbacks had last year, and Schmitt actually got to, like, carry the ball 46 other times. The Rodriguez system does have a place for a crushing lead blocker who can occasionally accept a dive handoff as part of the triple option, but does either fullback have that sort of ability?
Helmuth might. His final year at Saline he was the Dissolved Salts' main offensive threat, a pounding straight-ahead sort in the vein of Schmitt, and as Rivals #1 incoming fullback that year he has the sort of guru approval you'd like to see. And the offense last year was freakin' nuts for tight ends instead of fullbacks.
You know what? Scratch this. Fullbacks are probably going to be okay.
5. Brandon Graham, Terrance Taylor, Jason Kates, all other defensive lineman and so forth and such and such and so on. OH GOD MAKE IT STOP MAKE THE RUNNING STOP I'M THE SIZE OF A REFRIGERATOR AND MY LIGAMENTS ARE MORE STRETCHED THAN JOAN RIVERS' FACE ZING THAT'S MY ZINGER OH THE PAIN RESUMES NOOOOOOOOOOO
4. Darryl Stonum. Stonum liked Michigan for a lot of reasons, including its inherent Michigan-ness and the presence of high school teammates Troy Woolfolk and Brandon Herron, but high amongst the list of reasons was probably the Michigan tradition of heavily featuring one bionic deathbot wide receiver who goes on to a long and fruitful NFL career.
West Virginia has not so much had this tradition. Their number one target in the White-Slaton era has been diminutive Darius Reynaud, who is on track to be a sixth-round selection in this year's draft and will have to return punts like a mother to not get cut two years into his career. Stonum, no doubt, has higher hopes.
There is a precedent for a larger, more traditional sort of receiver making waves in the Rodriguez offense: Chris Henry. Though most know him as one of the two legendary asshats (Pacman Jones, of course, the other) guaranteed to be referenced by rival fans in their grasping attempts to paint Rodriguez as Mengele in a track jacket, Henry was also one bad mother on the field. As a redshirt freshman, Henry caught 41 balls for 1006 yards and ten touchdowns, a whopping 24.5 yards per catch. His sophomore season was marred by intermittent suspension and behavior-related reductions in playing time (he only started seven games, though I believe he played in all except maybe Pitt) but still saw him catch 52 passes for 872 yards. Henry was booted after that year, and despite his obvious character issues he was still drafted in the third round. If he could stay out of jail he'd be on his way to a productive NFL career. Presumably the affable Stonum will not have those issues.
So It's not like Stonum is going to see 20 balls a year until he flips out and transfers to Texas Tech. Rodriguez will adjust to talent, and since the quarterback this year is probably going to be water-buffalo-era relic Steven Threet, Michigan isn't going to run 71% of the time. But the projected starting quarterback transferred and Michigan is down to one, maybe one in a half bullets in a sort of anti-Russian roulette game in which you really, really need the gun to go "bang" or you end up at the Insight Bowl surrounded by confused bowl officials asking you if you know where Purdue is, where's Purdue, are you sure you guys aren't supposed to be Purdue?
3. Mike Massey. Whereas Carson Butler has a chance to start over with a coach who he doesn't have a combative relationship with, Mike Massey no longer has the Massey family guardian angel guiding his steps.
Massey hasn't done much other than almost make big catches so far in his Michigan career, and though he's a better blocker than Carson Butler (as there are six-year-old girls who are better blockers than Carson Butler this should be interpreted as faint praise), blocking defensive ends and blitzers has just acquired a significantly lower priority.
But the main reason Massey's hurt by the coaching switch is less complicated: the number of TE snaps just got halved. The short-lived Debord zone scheme was mad for tight ends, always deploying at least one (even on four-wide plays, one of the "wideouts" was a split TE) and frequently (say, half the time) two. Under Rodriguez the only time you'll see more than one TE is short yardage and there will be a hefty quantity of plays with four actual wide receivers on the field; many of the snaps that do have TEs will feature them split out in the slot, where they'll be blocking linebackers or even defensive backs. This heavily favors Butler and sophomore Martell Webb over old-school slow guys like Massey and (probably) Steve Watson.
2. Brandon Minor. Late in Minor's freshman year he looked like Mike Hart's heir apparent, though that was on the backs of a couple long runs that obscured his tendency to pick up three yards at all other times. Minor's talent cleared up his sophomore year, when Mike Hart was out; Minor and Brown split carries in several different games.
In those games Minor had some nice runs, but didn't display any wiggle. His 4.3 YPC was nice, but Carlos Brown's 5.1 exceeded it by almost a yard. (For those skeptical that Brown's meaningless 85-yard sprint against Minnesota distorts those statistics, if you chop those 85 yards down to 46 -- equivalent to Minor's season long -- Brown still has a half-yard on Minor.) He did spectacularly truck a Notre Dame safety towards the end of FBDII, but that pretty much summed up his attitude vis a vis defenders: "maybe I can run through this guy." Sometimes he can. Sometimes you're aiming straight for the SS Concussion.*
Minor was apparently passed by Carlos Brown last year, and that was before Michigan imported a speed freak who likes his running backs short, shifty, and blazing. Brandon Minor is none of those things.
*(hell yes, I'm just waiting for Michigan to finally have one of those guided missile safeties who don't even look for the ball when they've got a 50-50 shot at shoving a helmet through the torso of a defenseless wide receiver so I can call him "the SS Concussion." Although I might call Carson Butler that for his blocking "skills.")
1. Ryan "Whoops" Mallett. Obvs.
Lists are one of the hackiest forms of writing anything, but I, too, succumb to the occasional bout of offseason glazomania. The following five players are the people on the team who should be happiest about the start of the Rodriguez era.
Included in these evaluations are recruits who picked Michigan before the changeover; those who signed up afterwards knew what they were getting into and are thus disqualified.
5. Corey Zirbel. You wouldn't know it from the deep insecurity emanating from any Michigan fan considering the 2008 offensive line, but M has a top-100 tackle entering his fourth year in the program ready to step into Jake Long's oversized shoes. The problem is that top-100 tackle is Corey Zirbel.
Zirbel, reportedly frustrated by his inability to move up on the depth chart, believed that the existing Michigan coaches had already decided he was not going to contribute; his effort thus flagged. Now he's starting with a fresh slate in a new offense and there's a big vacancy at left tackle (and, if Steve Schilling's pass protection doesn't improve, maybe right tackle*). It's now or never for him.
*(implication is that Schilling starts at RG, not loses his starting spot entirely.)
4. Avery Horn. The word on Horn from fall practices was "fast as hell, tiny, has no idea what he's doing." The redshirt that followed would normally be a red flag for a program bound and determined to see anyone with a chance of contributing blow a year of eligibility on special teams. Add in Michigan's historical inability to make use of tiny fast guys and Horn's middling guru rankings and you have a recipe for a mediocre career of about 50 carries and a brief stint as a returner ended by a single fumble.
Enter Rodriguez, who hears "fast as hell" and falls into a reverie that makes the buts inaudible. Though Horn has a lot of competition with three juniors in front of him and the McGuffie-Shaw-Cox class behind him, his career prognosis got a lot better when Rodriguez was hired.
3. Marcus Witherspoon. Witherspoon is something of an OLB/DE tweener, a high school defensive end who most project to OLB in college because of his size. Usually this would entail a year or two of learning just WTF "coverage" is and maybe some discussion of "angles" and "not being Chris Graham", and that was likely to be the case with Witherspoon. But when Michigan landed Stanford's Scott Shafer they picked up what looks to be one of the nation's most blitz-happy defensive coordinators. Marcus Witherspoon had 27 sacks as a senior. Marcus Witherspoon likes rushing the passer. Marcus Witherspoon should be happy.
2. Slocum, Kates, Taylor, Jamison, Graham... basically any DL who survive. Though Michigan defensive line finally started moving away from its 90s paradigm of blue-collar white guys who the NFL wouldn't draft in a hundred years, motivation and weight issues still plagued them. Not that this is unusual: you show me a program without at least one 350-pound waddler whose idea of exercise is picking up three Big Macs at once and I'll show you a school with a direction in its name and maybe a "State," too.
But Michigan's program seemed especially content with rolls of blubber around their linemen's midsection. Anyone who had the misfortune to tune into one of many, many Brent Musberger segments on former defensive tackle and moonwalking expert Pat Massey's rigorous weight-gain program knows this. According to Musberger, Massey was told to eat a whole pizza every night in an effort to keep his weight above 285. Pizza? This is the diabolical plan of secret master Mike Gittleson? Argh! Last year even purported speed rusher Tim Jamsion looked pregnant, gut hanging over his belt.
I don't know how much impact Mike "Satan" Barwis is actually going to have, but I am sure that the canary in this particular coalmine will be the composition and performance of the defensive line, and that Mike Barwis eats your soul if you think midnight pizza is a workout regimen.
1. Sam McGuffie. This blog has already chronicled the division of opinion on Mr. McGuffie, which is wide as the sea. The one thing everyone did agree on: get this guy and space and let him spin like a top, and you've probably got something. Skeptical Rivals analysts openly questioned why McGuffie wasn't heading to some place like Texas Tech, where he could become the next Wes Welker. (Welker -- surprise! -- is also white.)
And, you know, they kind of had a point. On the face of it, McGuffie heading to the Michigan zone game, where he would almost never be the target of a a pass (in the last two years, screen attempts by Michigan have collapsed) or be directed to get out to the corner, didn't make a whole lot of sense. Though he's got some nasty cuts, McGuffie is no Mike Hart. When someone hits him, McGuffie just goes down. The thing that struck me when I watched the video from his final playoff victory: "jesus, that guy's tiny." And so he is. Also tiny: Noel Devine.