2013 Opponent Preview: Michigan State

2013 Opponent Preview: Michigan State

Submitted by Heiko on July 15th, 2013 at 10:36 AM

The season so far in terms of defensive tackle size:

  • Aug. 31: 5-11, 290 lbs (Travonte Boles); 5-11, 284 lbs (Jabari Bothwell)
  • Sept. 7: 6-3, 326 lbs (Louis Nix)
  • Sept. 14: 6-2, 266 lbs (Nico Caponi); 5-11, 293 lbs (Cody Grice)
  • Sept. 21: 6-5, 323 lbs (Shamar Stephen); 6-3, 297 lbs (Angelo Pruitt)
  • Sept. 28: BYE
  • Oct. 5: 6-6, 311 lbs (Rashede Hageman); 6-5, 290 lbs (Cameron Botticelli)
  • Oct. 12: 6-3, 330 lbs (DaQuan Jones); 6-4, 310 lbs (Austin Johnson)
  • Oct. 17: 6-5, 312 lbs (Ralphael Green); 6-2, 300 lbs (Adarius Rayner)
  • Oct. 24: BYE

-------------------------

Michigan STÄE

 

Highly metaphorical plot synopsis of Thor 1

Thor and Loki are brothers. Thor, the elder of the two, has been groomed to ascend to the throne of Asgard, while Loki has lived his life in the back seat. This state of affairs engenders bitterness and jealousy in Loki. To make matters worse Loki discovers he was adopted. He hatches a plot to banish his brother, kill his father, and do all sorts of bad things on his way to power.

Thor eventually figures out what’s going on, overcomes Loki’s plot, and fights Loki in a CGI-tastic battle sequence that may or may not actually be a Skittles commercial. That’s when Loki has a moment of candor: “I never wanted the throne. I only ever wanted to be your equal!” Moments later, he loses the fight and falls into a wormhole.

Whereupon Thor exclaims, “Loki, NOOOOOOO!”

The season of infinite Schadenfreude*

2012 was a great season to watch Michigan State football. Between LeVeon Bell’s disinterest in requiring an offensive line and the receivers’ disinterest in catching footballs, the Spartans offense was a season-long etude in one-man football. Throw in Andrew Maxwell’s live YPA stats and you had a pretty great drinking game.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan State’s defense probably found a lot of personal meaning in the tale of Sisyphus from Greek mythology. I’m totally kidding. Most of them are like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about / I got rid of mine with penicillin.”

Highlights of their season include trailing Eastern Michigan for three quarters, trailing Indiana for three quarters, blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Iowa, and blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Nebraska.

Michigan fans will remember that last part as the day it momentarily stopped being funny.

At season’s end, all fingers pointed to the offense, so offensive coordinator Dan Roushar got fired. I’m not sure if that was warranted. I didn’t watch them that closely, but I don’t think you can fault the OC too much when the offensive line is a lemon and Nike is coating their Pro-Combat receiver gloves with teflon. Add in the QB transition and losing most of their previous playmakers to the NFL … Whatever. A witch was required. They burned her.

This is where it gets hilarious. The results of a diligent coaching search turned up Dave Warner (MSU QB coach) and Jim Bollman (YTJB). Warner got promoted, maybe by mistake, so then Bollman got hired a few weeks later because -- who the hell knows. Synergy. Cross-platform initiatives. Verisimilitude.

The two are still figuring out how to split OC duties, since one guy alone couldn’t handle the neural load of the Spartans offensive Jaeger. They will enter a Drift this fall and become one, which means Warner will emerge at some point from the coordinator box shaking uncontrollably, with blown pupils, a bloody nose, and images of Joe Bauserman seared indelibly into his mind. This is a great and totally convincing premise for plot and character development. Michael Bay Guillermo del Toro is the best. 

*Except for the Nebraska game, where choking away the game to spite Michigan’s chances for a division title was the Spartiest thing ever. I bet the most common cause of diabetes in East Lansing is “UM fan wanted to borrow sugar.”

Offense

 

Nobody deserves a second chance like QB Andrew Maxwell. Poor guy put it on the money more often than not only to see the ball clang off his receivers’ facemasks. Maybe that arm strength thing really is overrated, because clearly Michigan State’s receivers much preferred the softness of Kirk Cousins’s balls.

Of course, after suffering through a season of awful receiving and crappy pass protection, nothing says “thanks for taking things in stride” like a good old-fashioned QB controversy. Maxwell (52.5%, 2606 yards, 5.8 ypa, 13 TD, 9 INT) has to fend off Connor Cook, a dual-threat guy who makes up with size and spunk what he lacks in arm. In the spring game Cook went 10-26 for a little over 200 yards and a score. Yeah, had the receivers not been wearing their Teflon-coated gloves, Cook’s completion rate would have been higher. Had the DBs not borrowed gloves from the receivers, though, his INT rate would also have been higher, too.

I think Maxwell holds onto his job, but it’s not going to be easy. Bollman loves him some noodle-armed scramblers, so it’s likely that Cook will be auditioned as a “change-of-pace” player until Bollman gives up on reincarnating Troy Smith.

On the receiving end, WR Aaron Burbridge is the primary argument for having a QB who can actually throw. A late-emerging star last season, Burbridge is a guy you may remember as the borderline five-star recruit Michigan was after in a bad way until academics became an issue. As a Spartan, he lived up to his billing, making a bunch of highlight-reel catches over a three-game stretch in October. His production waned in November for some reason, but he came back strong in the spring game with five catches for 113 yards. He’s the preseason favorite to be MSU’s offensive MVP.

If Maxwell loses his job, however, Burbridge will probably be relegated to blocking duties, where he will join fellow returning starters Keith Mumphery, Tony Lippett, and Bennie Fowler. Their lead hands will.

Michigan State’s run game will go from firing depleted uranium shells (Bell) from a BB gun (2012 OL) to shooting frozen chickens (whoever the RB is this year) from a cannon (2013 OL). Yeah, I rocked the SAT analogies back when the SAT had analogies. The injured offensive linemen, RT Fou Fonoti and C Travis Jackson, are doing dandy these days, so things are looking good up front. In the backfield, not so much. As of the last time I read about MSU’s running backs, I’m pretty sure the guy getting the most hype was a RS freshman linebacker (Riley Bullough). Nothing has happened since spring ball, so I’m guessing that’s still accurate.

There’s a lot of suck written all over the Spartans offense, which is ironic because all Michigan State is asking from that side of the ball is to not suck. It’s a very reasonable request. Like, don’t go three and out every drive. Find the end zone every once in a while. Try to cross the 50 yard line.

Because if they can improve even a tiny bit, the team will be in good shape. After all, last year they lost five games by a combined 13 points thanks to their murderous

Defense

Spartan Pride -- operationally defined by flexing when you're down 49-7 to Alabama.

Things sure look a lot different over here. Where did all the suck go? Is this a different team?

It definitely deserves to be on a different team, and I bet Pat Narduzzi has been quietly fomenting ideas of secession within his ranks last September. When civil war breaks out, his defense would win easily (Narduzzi vs. Bollman, is there even a question?), and then they could join Northwestern and rule the B1G as a dual hegemony comprised exclusively of two-star recruits, scouting services be damned.

Back to reality, which is clearly not as cool as the alternate one in my head, I think what we’re going to see from Michigan State’s defense is more of the same. Since 2010, Narduzzi has proven his success to be completely sustainable. For Michigan fans, this is all very unfortunate. If he is interested I would be happy to write him a letter of recommendation for whichever head coach position opens up next. Likely Illinois.

The Spartans return everyone on defense except for DE Will Gholston and CB Johnny Adams. I know, right? OMG, 10 starters returning from a top-10 defense! It gets worse. Although Adams was a really good player -- three-time All B1G -- and will probably be missed to an extent, Michigan State has no lack for corners, and the other guy, Darqueze Dennard (52 tackles, 7 PBUs, 3 INTs), was better anyway. Meanwhile Gholston had the pass rush ability of Jordan Kovacs. That almost sounds like a knock on Kovacs. Five bucks says whoever Narduzzi finds as the new WDE will be more productive than Gholston.

Anyway, let’s just get the horrible part of the preview over with. A-gap extraordinaire LB Max Bullough (111 tackles, 12.5 TFLs) will continue to hang out in opponent backfields and make blocking schemes look silly; he is everything we hope Joe Bolden will be someday. Surface-to-Air Missile Denicos Allen (79 tackles, 10 TFLs, 3 sacks) will latch onto anything with a heat signal, which means on any given play he’ll either blow a guy up or run himself out of the play. WLB Taiwan Jones, who won the job from incumbent Chris Norman (38 tackles, 5.5 TFLs) halfway through last season, will be there to mop up the remains.

I’m watching these guys against Wisconsin, and it’s like Wisconsin’s offensive line forgets how to block properly:

The other thing to take away from the Wisconsin video is that the defensive line doesn’t necessarily do a whole lot on its own, but it does a good job of occupying blockers long enough for the linebackers to make plays. I think ever since Jerel Worthy left, the line’s production has lost the snap-jumping edge that made them elite.

They are still pretty good. With the return of strongside end Marcus Rush (38 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks) and tackles James Kittredge (14 tackles, 4.5 TFL) and Tyler Hoover (missed a chunk of 2012 with an injury), holding steady, last year’s production should be the bottom line. Ramping up the pass rush will be the item No. 1 in a short bucket list of things to improve. Otherwise, it ain’t broke. There’s no need to fix anything, not with the linebackers they have and Narduzzi’s penchant for blitzing them until your backfield is broken.

Even if QB pressure doesn’t always hit home, the coverage should hold up. Opposite Dennard will likely be newcomer Trae Waynes, another member of the two-star mafia likely to end up on an all-conference list somewhere just to spite everyone. At safety, Michigan State will feature multi-year starters Isaiah Lewis (80 tackles, 6 PBUs, 2 INTs) and Kurtis Drummond (53 tackles, 4 PBUs, 2 INTs).

Happy little ray of hope: their offense.

This team is kind of like: Sisyphus and his rock.

Vs. Michigan: The game is in East Lansing this year, which is the opposite of ideal for everyone involved except for Dantonio and Narduzzi, who figure a home game is when they can tell their players to do whatever they want, like so:

State had about 56 or 57 yards per game to penalties last year, a [Ed-H: Hey Seth, did you have a stroke?]

Extracurriculars aside, gameplanning against Michigan State’s defense should involve a lot of heavy sighing with regard to the ground game. Running between the tackles will be a lot like buying a lottery ticket the day after someone hits the jackpot: it should be done only to remind ourselves that downs are valuable and we are stupid. I know, I know, “the winner in this rivalry game always has more yards on the ground. Hurr durrr.” Did I mention that MSU’s best tailback is a linebacker?

Where Michigan can succeed is through the air. The OL should be pretty good at keeping the pocket clean, and Devin seems poised to pick apart defenses provided that he’s not scrambling for his life. As good as the Spartans DBs are, I think they’re lacking a touch of athleticism, and they don’t seem to stick to receivers as well as they should.

Defensively, coverage will be key. The passing game has a lot of potential, and as much as the receivers hate catching passes most of the time, I’m pretty sure they caught every single one last year against Michigan. Giving up big plays in road games can be devastating, and in the absence of Kovacs, the Wolverines will have to do everything they can to ensure that Burbridge and co. don’t get the crowd going.

Schedule:

  • Western Michigan
  • South Florida
  • Youngstown State
  • @Notre Dame
  • BYE
  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Purdue
  • @Illinois
  • Michigan
  • BYE
  • @Nebraska
  • @Northwestern
  • Minnesota

Outlook: 9-3 overall, 6-2 B1G

  • Wins: WMU, USF, YSU, Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, @Illinois, Minnesota
  • Losses: @Notre Dame
  • Random Number Generator: Michigan, @Nebraska, @Northwestern

2013 Opponent Preview: Indiana

2013 Opponent Preview: Indiana

Submitted by Heiko on July 5th, 2013 at 6:44 PM

The season so far, if it were a series of movies:

  • Aug. 31: Back to School
  • Sept. 7: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
  • Sept. 14: The Expendables
  • Sept. 21: Chariots of Fire
  • Sept. 28: The Princess Bride
  • Oct. 5: Any Chuck Norris movie
  • Oct. 12: Shaun of the Dead

--------------------------

Indiana

Nie wieder

The last couple times we saw Indiana, unstoppable throw-god Ben Chappell took all the points from Tony Gibson and Bill Lynch took bubble gum out of his mouth. Jordan Kovacs was chasing Darius Willis from behind and everyone else was chasing Denard Robinson.

My goodness, how time flies. Gibson has since run out of points and Lynch has run out of gum. Kovacs stopped having to chase people, although people continued to chase Denard. Sometime at the end of 2010, everything collapsed momentarily and then exploded.

What we have now is a sort of post-apocalyptic situation where the folks in Bloomington are trying to remember how society, civilization, and football are supposed to work. The good news is that nearly everyone from last year is returning, ostensibly in an effort to learn from their mistakes and try to do better. Progress so far has been minimal but sustainable, and the earnest spirit is nice to see. The Hoosiers have learned how to advance themselves from the line of scrimmage, although they are still struggling with the concept of opposing defenses. To make matters worse, they are constantly ravaged by marauding running backs and wideouts.

Head coach Kevin Wilson seems intent on rebuilding the program from the ashes, though, and good on him for trying. Will Indiana finally make the leap in year three? Are they doomed to an endless cycle of promise and disappointment? Would the program be better suited for the MAC? Is this the real life? Are we actually living in the Matrix?

DUN DUN DUN.

Offense

Unstoppable throw-god lies low.

Indiana’s starting QB Tre Roberson broke his leg during the second game of 2012. Naturally, backup Cameron Coffman filled in and posted the Big Ten’s best passing yardage in 2012. Wait, what?

Yeah. These things happen sometimes. Even to Indiana! Which has had one winning season (2007) in the last 20 years!

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that Indiana’s quarterback might be good this year, I should point out the passing competency is a little exaggerated. Coffman completed 60.7% of his passes for 2734 yards at a 6.7 ypa clip. In any other conference that would be unremarkable (Big Ten!). The 15:11 TD:INT ratio is pretty pedestrian, too. The only thing Coffman’s stats tell us is that he threw a lot of passes – like 60 vs. Penn State a lot – not all of which were aimed downfield.

I’m not saying he’s not actually a decent player. The Big Ten just sucks. (Or prefers a nice running game as opposed to wussy throw-ball. However you want to spin that.)

Anyway, as a first-year starter Coffman was pretty streaky. There were plenty of moments of awesomeness (like throwing 3 TDs, 0 INTs against Michigan State) intermingled with general mediocrity. For example, here is awesomeness:

And here is not awesomness:

Over the course of the season he had really great performances against MSU, Ball State, and Iowa, and he tanked against Northwestern, Navy, and Purdue, of all teams.

If he gets the consistency thing down, the Hoosiers passing offense might actually be kind of good. The receivers will certainly be talented enough: Cody Latimer (51 rec, 805 yards, 6 TD), Shane Wynn (68 rec, 660 yards, 6 TD), and Kofi Hughes (43 rec, 639 yard, 3 TD) were first, second, and third on the team in yardage last season, and they all return. At 6-3, Latimer and Hughes are the bigger downfield targets; Wynn is the 5-7 smurf trying to juke guys. I’d expect at least one of them to crack 1,000 yards this season.

If Indiana wants win games, one of them will pretty much have to. That’s because the ground game is pretty stinky. RB Stephen Houston will be a senior this fall, and he has his own consistency issues to work out. Last season he was more cold than hot, although he did manage to end up with 749 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 4.7 ypc average. His 10-ish carries a game as the team’s top rusher suggests that he got his yards mostly by surprising opponents with the ball. As far as ability goes, he’s the type of player that lives and dies by his offensive line, which is bad news for him because his offensive line is crap. Against the competent defenses of MSU, Wisconsin, and Penn State, Houston barely averaged 2.0 ypc.

To put the ground game in perspective, Indiana finished at the bottom of the conference in rushing attempts. That’s a pretty solid vote of no-confidence. But hey, they all return! One year older, one year better, hoorah.

Speaking of guys returning, the whole Coffman-led offense thing could go entirely out the window if Roberson gets his job back.

Defense

This photo would be way cooler if they were playing futbol.

Well this looks pretty GERGian. Indiana gave up 35.3 points per game in 2012, and they’re not even a little bit ashamed because they beat Iowa.

So what’s there to look forward to in 2013? Lots and lots of points.

The Hoosiers defensive coordinator is Doug Mallory. He’s the son of former Indiana head coach Bill Mallory and older brother of current Michigan DB coach Curt Mallory’ older brother. Like Curt, Doug also played DB for Michigan under Bo. At the moment, the data on his ability to DC are incomplete. Mallory inherited Tony Gibson’s negative infinity points (literally, since Gibson actually went to Indiana for a little while [ED: Actually that was Greg Frey and Rod Smith; Gibson went to Pitt. Uh, let's pretend his spirit was at Indiana, though.]) two seasons ago and has probably been popping antidepressants ever since. In his moments of clarity he’s done well enough to improve total defense by two points per game up from the 37.3 they gave up in 2011. And here’s a nice little stat I guess: in 2012 the Hoosiers led the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for loss. That’s progress, and progress is happiness.

While the defense returns 10 starters this season, it loses its two relatively talented players in DT Adam Replogle and DT Larry Black, Jr. Even with those guys, however, Indiana gave up 5.3 ypc, good for 8th worst in all of college football. How will the Hoosiers replace them? I don’t know. I feel bad naming anyone because publicly associating individuals with the Indiana defense has to be a HIPAA violation of some sort.

But I suppose I should. This is why we’re here after all.

So. Senior S Greg Heban will be the main guy trying to chase people down from behind. He had 68 solo tackles last year, so it looks like he was pretty good at catching them at least. Good for him. He also had 7 tackles for loss and a sack, so it looks like he has some blitzing ability. For comparison’s sake let’s call him Hoosier Kovacs.

Hoosier Kovacs will be assisted in running-after-people-and-occasionally-blitzing by fellow safety Mark Murphy (70 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack), and sophomore LB David Cooper (86 tackles, 9 TFLs, 3 sacks). Together those three will serve as the entire defense while others stand around having intense internal struggles about spots and getting to them

This team is kind of like: Northwestern’s dystopian alternate reality.

Vs. Michigan: Michigan’s defense will probably play a nickel the entire game, which means we should see a lot of Dymonte Thomas. Seven games into the season seems like a pretty good time for a true freshman to blow up.

Other than that I think the only other thing to pay attention to in this game is when to do the wave. I always miss the first go-around. 

Anyway, here is some fun stuff from 2010:

Schedule:

  • Aug. 29, Indiana State
  • Sept. 7, Navy
  • Sept. 14, Bowling Green
  • Sept. 21, Missouri
  • Sept. 28, BYE
  • Oct. 5, Penn State
  • Oct. 12, @Michigan State
  • Oct. 19, @Michigan
  • Oct. 26, BYE
  • Nov. 2, Minnesota
  • Nov. 9, Illinois
  • Nov. 16, @Wisconsin
  • Nov. 23, @Ohio State
  • Nov. 30, Purdue

Outlook: 5-7 overall, 2-6 B1G

  • Wins: Indiana State, Bowling Green, Illinois, Purdue
  • Too close to call: Navy, Minnesota
  • Losses: Missouri, Penn State, @Michigan State, @Michigan, @Wisconsin, @Ohio State

2013 Opponent Preview: Penn State

2013 Opponent Preview: Penn State

Submitted by Heiko on June 28th, 2013 at 6:59 PM

The narrative so far:

  • Aug. 31: Moments prior to kickoff, Brian Cook tweets. I predict he uses the words “student” and “section.”
  • Sept. 7: A million years from now, astronomers will observe the sudden appearance of a football in a void. They will have only milliseconds to identify it as the one last seen leaving Tommy Rees’s hands in the year 2013 before it explodes.
  • Sept. 14: I am strongly reminded of my lab work, the part where I rip testicles out of fruit flies.
  • Sept. 21: Michigan’s steady run offense wins the game in the same manner that a steady drip of water wears through rock.
  • Sept. 28: BYE.
  • Oct. 5: Michigan debuts the pistol formation and wastes the surprise on Minnesota.

-----------------------

Penn State

Last year

Raise your hand if you thought Penn State was going to miss their bowl game after starting the 2012 season 0-2, losing to Ohio and Virginia.

Do you see what I did there?

Sorry. Horrible, horrible, I know. For real, though, raise your hand if you thought Penn State was going to recover from those losses and end up 8-4 with an OT victory over Wisconsin. Yeah, that’s nobody. The Nittany Lions’ quick turnaround was pretty impressive considering all the negativity from the Worst Offseason Ever. And they did it the old-fashioned way, by playing smart and efficient football and by developing and motivating players to replace the ones who jumped ship. 

Unfortunately, while a winning season and a degree of recruiting success marked a promising start to the Bill O'Brien era, nothing will change the fact that Winter Is Coming. 

That actually makes Penn State a really intriguing team to follow over the next few years. No major college team has been struck down this heavily by sanctions while still being allowed to play football. What’s the protocol for recruiting, developing players, and game planning when figuratively you’re going to be short a pint of blood at every phase compared with your competition? I’m kind of curious to see whether this kind of stress will force that staff to invent new strategies that could potentially revolutionize how a college football program is run.

Either way, if Bill O’Brien sticks out his tenure in Happy Valley -- not a given, since he interviewed with NFL teams after last season and declined their offers only because he didn’t want to be “one-and-done” kind of guy -- and has decent success, i.e. a winning record in conference games, Penn State will be back by the end of the decade and in much better shape than it was before the “penn state awful thing” tag was ever created.

Offense

O'Brien / Brady. 

If you want to know how much better Penn State’s passing offense was after O’Brien started coaching, you only need to take a look at Matt McGloin’s 2012 stat line:

That’s a former walk-on going ham after his team got scuttled by mass transfers following the NCAA penalties.

Compare that to how Tom Brady did in 2011 when O’Brien was New England’s offensive coordinator:

Great. Given the admittedly short but nonetheless impressive track record of turning a so-so passer into one performing on the level of a three-time Superbowl-winning QB (okay maybe not that dramatic, but still pretty good), I think it’s pretty safe to expect that whoever takes the reins of the Nittany Lions offense this season will do pretty well. Eventually, at least.

That guy will probably be incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg, who was ranked the top pro-style passer in his class above Michigan’s Shane Morris. If he doesn’t win the job immediately, he’ll at least be seeing the field by the end of season and fighting for playing time with JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson, who has gotten only lukewarm reviews so far.

The QB battle will be interesting to watch, but I don't think Michigan needs to worry much. The Mathlete has already reassured us that true freshmen generally suck, and it won’t help that O’Brien’s system is reportedly so complex a caveman couldn’t do it. Ferguson has been on campus for a semester and is still struggling, so I wouldn’t expect either to dazzle anyone until late in the season, if at all.

Let's hope I'm right, because aside from the QB the rest of the offense is pretty loaded. WR Allen Robinson, who led the Big Ten in receiving yards last year (77 rec, 1013 yards, 11 TDs), will be a nice, experienced target to throw to. At 6-3, 200-lbs with decent speed, he’s a guy Borges would want wearing a winged helmet.

And he’s not the only downfield weapon Penn State has in the passing game, nor the most terrifying. While the other wideouts are pretty so-so, the tight ends will be a unit to watch out for, particularly with O’Brien, famous for the two-TE monstrosity he perfected at New England, calling plays. Sophomore TE Jesse James exploded towards the end of his freshman campaign with 15 catches for 276 yards and five touchdowns. The former 19th century train robber is a lot like Devin Funchess, except two inches taller (6-7) and 30 pounds heavier (260 lbs). Okay so he’s nothing like Funchess. Let’s call him “Gronk.”

To complement him, the Lions have a slightly smaller guy in Junior TE Kyle “Aaron Hernandez minus the murder” Carter, who was the team’s second-leading pass catcher with 36 receptions for 453 yards and 2 TDs before missing the last four games of the season with a wrist injury.

I’m a scurred, but not because the guy I compared you to has been killing dudes, allegedly.

The passing game has a lot of potential, but realizing it will depend on how quickly the QB can learn the system. That guy will probably have plenty of time to take chances, get messy, and make mistakes without too much detriment, though, because hey, look, a running game.

If you ignore the shuffling, the offensive line basically returns everyone except for center. They weren’t great last year (not that I watched them a whole lot, but there were grumblings about their run blocking ability), but continuity is never a bad thing.

So we can probably expect a lot of production from their running backs. Junior Zach Zwinak was a nice surprise after the Silas Redd transfer -- he averaged 4.9 yards a carry and broke 1000 yards, ain’t no thang -- and makes me wonder why Michigan can’t have nice things when teams that shouldn’t be able to have nice things have them. At 6-1, 240 pounds, Zwinak makes Brady Hoke wonder the same thing.

As a bigger dude, Zwinak is fairly similar to Iowa’s Mark Weisman, who converted from fullback, was really hard to bring down -- just ask James Ross -- and had surprising speed. Unlike Iowa, however, Penn State also has a couple smaller, shiftier backs that may see signifcant playing time this year. No, they are not like Danny Woodhead. 

Defense

Outrunning Penn State linebackers is probably the better way to go.

Coaching-wise, I don’t know. John Butler was promoted to defensive coordinator over the offseason after Ted Roof left for Georgia Tech. Previously he coached DBs, and before that he was doing a lot of special teams all over the place.

Butler doesn't have many laurels to rest on, so consider this season to be somewhat of an extended job interview for him. It won’t help that all the stars from last year are gone: LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, and DT Jordan Hill. They led the team emotionally and in tackles. Hill in particular was instrumental (12 tackles, 2 sacks) in their OT win against Wisconsin to end the season.

That’s not to say the cupboard is bare, though. Plenty of starters return, and the recruiting implosion from the sanctions is only just beginning to nip at the Lions' depth. If Butler can coach, the Penn State defense shouldn’t backslide too dramatically. If he can’t … kerplunk.

The guy who will anchor the defensive effort and be a huge pain in the backfield will probably be LB Glenn Carson. At 6-3, 235 lbs, he played SAM next to Mauti and Hodges last year. This year he’ll probably slide inside. He was an active presence (85 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack) last year and is relatively unknown only because he was overshadowed by his more decorated cohorts.

At the WILL, the Nittany Lions will probably go with 6-0, 225-lb Mike Hull (58 tackles, 5 TFLs, 4 sacks), who got a lot playing time back up Mauti and getting some starts after Mauti’s injury. A redshirt freshman and a sophomore, both undersized, will probably duke it out for SAM. I’m guessing that’s going to be a soft spot for Linebacker U.

The defensive line will be comprised mostly new starters, and none that you’ll recognize unless you’ve been actively following Penn State football, in which case good for you. Wait -- here’s a name you might recognize, and not in the good way: Anthony Zettel. Remember him? Well, he’s not starting, but he’ll be backing up fellow sophomore DE Deion Barnes, who for all intents and purposes has that spot locked down with a 2012 stat line of 25 tackles, 10 TFLs, and 6 sacks. Zettel collected 15 tackles and 4 sacks of his own last season as a situational guy, but is on the outside looking in and probably will stay that way unless he switches positions. Penn Shtaaate.

On the interior, The Nittany Lions have converted DaQuan Jones, a 6-3, 330-lb former offensive lineman, to play tackle (probably nose) and Austin Johnson, a 6-4 310-lb former offensive lineman, to play the other tackle position. Sweet. C.J. Olaniyan (15 tackles, 1 sack) is the other defensive end. Nothing to see here. Move along.

The secondary returns three starters. They were okay last year and look to continue to be okay this year. Behind them are a bunch of guys that decommitted and went to Ohio State or Michigan instead. Secondarymaggedon, man. Never forget.

This team is kind of like: A blinking fuel light 100 miles from the nearest gas station.

Vs. Michigan: Well. A lot of things can happen between now and Oct. 12. I know that’s a stupid thing to say, but here’s what I mean: both teams are evenly matched now, but it’s a very unstable equilibrium.

While both teams meet at roughly the same place in terms of overall talent and depth, Michigan is on the upswing from its own tumultuous coaching changes. Penn State is dropping. Michigan has a lot more potential to develop in its young, inexperienced players. We’re waiting to see if any of the rookies or players returning from injury can exceed expectations: Derrick Green, the sophomore receivers, the interior O-line, Blake Countess, Jake Ryan’s replacement, Jake Ryan when he returns … Penn State needs to milk every last ounce of production from its veterans because Winter Is Coming and won’t be bringing in a whole lot of warm bodies. My feeling is that they aren’t waiting for guys to blow up so much as just praying that they’re viable.

Yes, that’s just a circuitous way to say I’m going to punt on any sort of prediction.

Due to conflicting allegiances, I don't know how to feel about this photo.

What will be exciting about this game is the O’Brien vs. Mattison matchup. As you may know, O’Brien was hired by the Patriots around the same time Mattison went to Baltimore. While O’Brien wasn’t officially New England’s offensive coordinator until 2011, after Mattison came to Michigan, he was Tom Brady’s QB coach as well as official “play-caller,” whatever that means.

Over the three year stretch that both were at their respective NFL teams, the Patriots and Ravens split pretty evenly in the win-loss category. Interestingly, the box scores suggest that the New England O vs. Baltimore D battle usually ended in Baltimore’s favor. Specifically, the Pats were nowhere near as prolific as they were against other teams and often struggled horrifically on third down.

I’m sure that’s usually what happens when Ray Lewis is on your team, but it’s a promising sign.

Schedule:

  • Aug. 31, Syracuse
  • Sept. 7, EMU
  • Sept. 14, UCF
  • Sept. 21, Kent State
  • Sept. 28, BYE
  • Oct. 5, @ Indiana
  • Oct. 12, Michigan
  • Oct. 19, BYE
  • Oct. 26, @OSU
  • Nov. 2, Illinois
  • Nov. 9, @Minnesota
  • Nov. 16, Purdue
  • Nov. 23, Nebraska
  • Nov. 30, @Wisconsin

Outlook: 9-3

Wins: Syracuse, EMU, UCF, Kent State, @Indiana, Illinois, @Minnesota, Purdue

Losses: @OSU

Flip of a biased coin: Michigan, Nebraska, @Wisconsin

2013 Opponent Preview: Minnesota

2013 Opponent Preview: Minnesota

Submitted by Heiko on June 24th, 2013 at 3:56 PM

The narrative so far:

  • Aug. 31: Devin Gardner is still really good! High five.
  • Sept. 7: If Michigan wins, I would be totally okay with listening to Pop Evil.
  • Sept. 14: Oh hey, DeAnthony Hardison. What’s up.
  • Sept. 21: Still predicting 14-6. U mad, bros?
  • Sept. 28: Bye.

----------------------------------

Minnesota

Nobody puts Jerry Kill in a corner.

Last season

Minnesota went 6-7 overall and won just two games in the B1G. For a team that inspired GopherQuest: Worst Big Ten Team Ever the year previous, that was pretty good. Even the way they lost was much better. You saw glimpses of promise -- like maybe in three years they’ll be a Purdue when Purdue was decent or a Northwestern. They fell to Texas Tech 33-31 in the Texas Bowl, which was still a pretty impressive overachievement, if only for the fact that they made it to a bowl game in the first place.

Offense 

Please be complete please be complete

Minnesota has clarity and reason for optimism at nearly every position on offense except for maybe quarterback. There is a lot of potential, though, and as rebuilding processes go, that’s a pretty good place to be. Kill and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover have a golden opportunity to build some momentum for the program if they can take the offense to the proverbial next level. It might be worth keeping an eye on the Gophers; this season will probably determine whether they become the next Northwestern or if their shadows force them back into hidey holes for 6 more weeks of Winter. However that analogy is supposed to work.

Sophomore QB Philip Nelson will be the guy under the microscope. He’s coming off a true freshman campaign in which he beat out MarQueis Gray midseason for the starting job. While his stats through seven games aren’t that shiny (49%, 873 yards, 8 TDs, 8 INTs), he performed well enough to beat Purdue and Illinois and clinch bowl eligibility. That’s something, I guess, and there’s not a lot of shame in playing poorly against Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

So we’ll see if he makes the sophomore leap. Nelson has a nice veteran supporting cast around him, so chances are he will. I mean, he gets all five offensive linemen back. From left to right: Ed Olson, Tommy Olson (Ed’s brother), Zac Epping, Caleb Bak, and Josh Campion. In more useful terms: 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, 6-5, all 300+ lbs. #B1G! Ed, the elder Olson, is the only senior in this group, which means their O-line continuity will span another season. Plus the fact that O-line seems to be Limegrover’s thing … Be afraid, B1G West Division. Be very afraid.

The running game should be much improved with RB Donnell Kirkwood returning. The 5-10, 230-lb bowling ball almost eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing last year with a 4.2 ypc average. Smart money says he breaks the barrier this season. RB Rodrick Williams, another bowling-ball sized object (5-11, 230 lbs), will be a solid backup. He didn’t get too many carries last season, but he made them count, averaging 4.6 ypc on 51 carries.

Of note to Michigan fans, Braylon’s little brother Berkley joins the Gophers roster as a freshman and will be pushing to be their version of Dennis Norfleet, excepted more utilized.

As far as receiver goes, well. This appears to be a touchy subject. Late last season the team’s No. 1 wideout A. J. Barker called it quits and blasted the coaching staff via the internet on his way out. That was not ideal, I guess. And Jerry Kill seems like such a nice guy.

Whether Minnesota’s passing game truly took a hit after that, no one knows because no one was really paying attention. But more to the point, playing Nebraska and Michigan State to close out the season can make any passing offense look bad. The Gophers didn’t have the best day through the air against Texas Tech, either -- not that they needed to with their running game that gained over 200 yards -- but it looked like there was a lot of reason for optimism. Well, there was one reason for optimism: Senior wideout Derrick Engel had himself a 4 catch, 108 yard day. He's now a bona fide deep threat. 

Regardless, the wideouts should be just fine in 2013. Veteran contributor Isaac Freuchte (19 rec, 256 yards, 2 TDs) saw his production fall over the course of the season but is still an able body with a sweet name. The rest of the bunch has a lot of size, speed, and potential -- their development should be on the upswing with a more experienced, non-Freshman quarterback.

Defense

Let's block this guy next time.

They have one! Kind of? Sort of. They have Ra’Shede Hageman, and he’s probably the only name to know. Hageman is a 6-6, 310 lb nose tackle who came up with 6 sacks and 7.5 TFLs last season. Hageman probably should be playing either 3-tech or 5-tech, but when you’re Minnesota I guess you can’t afford to be so particular. Anyway, he’s very active and very good, not just by Gophers standards.

DT Cameron Botticelli returns on the interior next to Hageman. You won’t recognize his name (or anyone else’s) because he doesn’t do a whole lot other than exist. Having 21 tackles as a starting defensive tackle without any for a loss usually means that opposing running backs ran into him 21 times by accident.

The defensive ends will be dudes who have taken occasional snaps here and there, but unless one of them blows up at the beginning of the season, they’re not really worth keeping an eye on. I mean, really, the strategy here is clear: successfully block Hageman, earn $$$.

Minnesota can probably get by with a one-man show on the D-line if the linebackers are competent. That’s hard to predict at this point. The only returning linebacker is senior OLB Aaron Hill (74 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 INTs). They’ve got a converted running back and a pair of JUCO transfers competing for the interior spots. Word on the internet is that the JUCOs are good.

The secondary should theoretically be able to hold their coverage long enough for Hageman to do something. There’s plenty of experience. CB Derrick Wells (74 tackles, 10 PBUs, 2 INTs) will move from safety to replace departed star CB Troy Stoudermire. CB Martez Shabazz (6 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 INT) was a backup last year but made clearly made some nice plays with limited opportunities. Brock Vereen (64 tackles, 9 PBUs, 2 INTs), and Cedric Thompson (43 tackles, 2 INTs) will form a nice safety blanket. The secondary overall was pretty good at limiting big plays against crappy Big Ten quarterbacks, so it’s reasonable to expect them to maintain status quo.

You know, Minnesota could actually field a pretty decent defensive unit. Player development will be key as always, but already the Gophers are in much better shape than the other B1G bottom feeders.

durrrrrr

This team is kind of like: Remember the girl you never noticed in high school? Her name is Minnesota, and she drives a Kia.

Vs. Michigan: Over the last two years, Michigan has had a habit of destroying opponents in their B1G opener. Minnesota fell victim in 2011, and it's hard not to see that being the case again. Not that I’m predicting a 58-0 blow-out, but anything less than a multiple touchdown win margin would be kind of disappointing.

This is primarily because of that quarterback issue: the Gophers can grind it out all they want with the running game, but it’s going to be a tall order for their offense to try to keep up with what an experienced Devin Gardner is going to do against their defense. A mediocre non-mobile sophomore QB probably won’t cut it against Mattison’s defense in Ann Arbor.

Unless Philip Nelson plays out of his mind. We’ll have an idea of whether he has that ability when Minnesota plays Iowa the week before; not that Iowa is any good these days, but it’ll be their first competitive game all season (Way to go scheduling the Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks.) We’ll also get a good look at their receivers when they play Iowa. There’s a lot of unproven talent in that group, and they may given Michigan’s secondary some trouble with their size. 

Either way, the Wolverines should have a field day on offense. Minnesota doesn’t have the athleticism to match up well against Michigan’s skill players, and questionable defensive line play will not last 60 minutes against two of the best tackles in the conference. The interior line just needs to keep Hageman blocked, and we’ll have a good idea of whether they can do that after the Notre Dame game.

Outlook: 6-6 overall, 2-6 B1G.

  • Wins: Entire non-conference schedule, Iowa, Indiana.
  • Losses: Michigan, Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State.

2013 Opponent Preview: UConn

2013 Opponent Preview: UConn

Submitted by Heiko on June 14th, 2013 at 6:44 PM

The narrative so far:

  • Week 1 - Michigan plays an easy breezy beautiful home opener against Central Michigan. We find out whether Shane Morris will lose his redshirt. Prediction: he does.
  • Week 2 - Notre Dame comes to town, chaos ensues under the lights, we awake Sunday morning in a stranger's backyard and discover that we are missing a shoe.
  • Week 3 - Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green each rush for 100+ yards.

UConn

#occupied

Last year

Since this is part 2 of a home-and-home, I think we should go back a few years to get the proper context.

Michigan and UConn agreed to play a short series with each other in 2009. At the time the matchup was intriguing because of three things: Rich Rod’s ties to the Big East (and undefeated record against Randy Edsall), UConn’s apparent emergence in being okay at football (8-5 in 2008), and the basketball team’s own series with the Huskies. In addition to the fact that the 2010 game would be a home opener in a freshly renovated Big House, the anticipation for part 1 of the home-and-home was significant because none of us really thought the Wolverines, still smarting from a 5-7 season, would do all that well.

That was until Brock Mealer, Denard, and 60 minutes of domination happened.  You can relive the best moments here:

The pure awesomeness on display (and the awesomeness the following week) is the sort of thing that makes you think Michigan would play in the Rose Bowl, Denard would win the Heisman, and Rich Rod would be our coach forever and ever.

By the time we realized none of those things would come true, UConn and 2013 seemed a million years away. When your fandom devolves into stalking Dave Brandon while listening to songs by the Smiths on repeat, you’re not in a place to properly consider other people, or the future.

Did you know that the Huskies actually went on to win the Big East that year?

They did (or at least a share of it) and had a better resume than anyone else in that conference, so they got the auto-bid to the Fiesta Bowl, where they were summarily executed by No. 9 Oklahoma. Edsall bolted for Maryland pretty much the next day, and he has since been spending a lot of time there designing uniformz and losing. See you next year I guess.

So UConn hired Paul Pasqualoni, a former Syracuse head coach who lost his edge in the early ‘00s, left Syracuse, and floated around the NFL for a couple years. After taking over the Huskies, he's led them to back-to-back 5-7 seasons. Rebuilding, yes, but the outlook does not appear to be bright.

Had Edsall stayed in Storrs, the rematch with Michigan would have been a lot more intriguing, and the game would probably be a lot more competitive. Now it's just kind of sad. 

Last year

Okay, the real recap part. Let’s keep this brief: last season the Huskies were an unpredictable outfit that beat Maryland, Louisville, and Pittsburg, but lost to nearly everyone else, including Western Michigan. Defensively they were okay, limiting opponents to under 20 ppg. Offensively they were horrible, scoring 17.8 ppg. If the Big East were the Big Ten, UConn would be Michigan State.

Offense

Being horrible on offense is what usually happens when you break in a new quarterback. Whether he’s sufficiently broken in or just broken, he’s likely to be the guy Michigan will see on Sept. 21.

A/S/L: Chandler Whitmer, junior QB. Not much of a runner, not much of a passer. Last season he completed 57.6% of his passes for 2664 yards, 9 TDs, and 16 INTs. This year he’ll have back his leading receiver, junior Geremy Davis (44 rec, 613 yards, 1 TD). Junior Deshon Foxx is another name to be on the lookout for. Reports from their spring game say that he caught a bunch of 70-yard bombs and was the only player to score in a 6-0 affair.

The run game was also pretty disappointing last season. Lyle McCombs, the team’s top running back, will return as a junior and try to make things better. McCombs is a durable but limited guy. He’s small -- listed at 5-8, 169 lbs -- and not all that quick or speedy, which kind of defeats the point of being small. Regardless, he's got good enough vision and takes the bulk of the handoffs, which has earned him the "workhorse" monikor. In fact, he's one of a small collection of FBS players to combine for more than 500 carries over the last two years. Last season he got 243 carries for 860 yards, which comes out to about 3.5 yards a carry. Not bad but not great, considering he broke the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman.

The offense will probably improve. Most of the line is returning, and UConn picked up a new offensive coordinator in T.J. Weist from Cincinnati. Weist had been with the Bearcats since 2010, and his pass-happy offense there led the conference in a bunch of categories. I doubt they’ll find their rhythm by the time Michigan rolls into town, however. Either way it'll be interesting to see what Mattison thinks of Weist's offense. 

Defense

Free hugs.

The narrative here is kind of opposite that of the offense: really good last season but not returning a whole lot of guys. Of UConn’s top 10 tacklers in 2012, more than half of them were seniors.

At least the top tackler is coming back. The name to know here is Yawin Smallwood, a 6-3, 244-lb middle linebacker who was named the Defensive Scout Player of the Week as a redshirting freshman right before the 2010 Michigan game. Smallwood had 120 tackles, 15 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks last year. He’s pretty high up on draft boards, so his production is likely not just a byproduct of “plays in the Big East.”

The Huskies’ defensive line is fairly experienced in the interior, less so on the outside. DT Shamar Stephen was a solid contributor last year with 26 tackles, 2 for loss, and Angelo Pruitt looks like he’ll probably slide inside (he played end last year). For what it’s worth, these guys aren’t small. Stephen is 6-5, 320 lbs, and Pruitt is 6-3, 300. That could be a problem for Jack Miller and whoever the two new guards are. At end, UConn is getting a sixth-year rush end back from injury, and they have another guy on the strongside who is 6-5, 301. Again, not small. At least their athleticism won’t be nearly as terrifying like Notre Dame’s line is, so Lewan and Schofield should be able to handle them without too much trouble.

Things are a little fuzzier in the secondary. From what I can tell it looks like UConn is set at safety, at least. They bring back three guys with varying degrees of experience and a hefty collection of career tackles. The cornerback situation is not good though (when is it ever? I mean, seriously). I think at this point they still have no idea who's going to start, so they're move their most experienced safety, junior Byron Jones (87 tackles, 1 INT), to corner while the other guys figure themselves out. Best 11, I say.

The Huskies’ defense will probably be pretty competent even with six new starters, but they'll be imminently beatable. In 2012 they put five of their guys on the all-conference roster, and when a defense produces multiple honorees that usually means the coaching staff is doing something right. Will they simply reload in 2013, or must they rebuild? I guess we’ll find out!

This team is kind of like: A rock.

Is it too early to bring out the rock? Maybe, but I glanced at Michigan’s B1G schedule and no one else fits the bill.

Vs. Michigan: Michigan’s non-conference slate is awfully reminiscent of the one they played in 2011. If so, UConn is this year’s version of San Diego State, with major differences being only that the game is away and Hoke didn’t coach any of these guys.

The Wolverines shouldn’t have much trouble stopping the Huskies offense. Whitmer, if coached properly, will probably top out around where Ryan Lindley ended up. That kind of development takes a while though. When Michigan visits he’ll probably struggle with Mattison’s nefarious schemes, and once the Wolverines pass rushers break through it’ll be game over. The Heininger Certainty Principle says that Frank Clark and/or Taco Charlton will have a good game.

Offensively Michigan will probably struggle with Smallwood. Hoke and Borges seem to prefer a safe, run-heavy approach on the road, and against that defensive line I can’t see any of the Wolverines interior offensive linemen getting to the second level on a consistent basis. If Michigan’s defense plays well, it won’t matter. Borges can keep running his new toys up the middle until the game ends at 14-6.

2013 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame

2013 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame

Submitted by Heiko on June 7th, 2013 at 4:23 PM

The time has come for the annual offseason series in which I provide a semi-analytical preview of Michigan’s opponents. Because of the relatively late start, I don’t think I’ll get around to writing up every team. So for those of you interested in Central Michigan and Akron, here is a super condensed version:

Central Michigan

  • 2012: 7-6 overall, 4-4 MAC; beat Iowa.
  • Offense: QB-by-committee as of spring; senior tailback is 1,000-yard rusher; top wideout averages 20 yards per, which is Hemingway-like. O-line lost primo tackle Eric Fisher to the draft.
  • Defense: Injured d-line, solid linebackers, meh secondary.
  • Kind of like: A stiff punching bag.
  • vs. Michigan: Would be a good opportunity for M to practice running power with new RBs. If the coaches anticipate needing Shane Morris this season (hint: they probably do), his redshirt should be burned here.

Akron

  • 2012: 1-11 overall, 0-8 MAC; saved UMass from winless season.
  • Offense: Crap.
  • Defense: Crap.
  • Kind of like: Crap.
  • vs. Michigan: Assuming Morris loses his redshirt against CMU, this should be treated like a second spring game, i.e. give the starters a series or two, then bring in the backups.

--------------------

Notre Dame

My tears are real. You're not.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking you’ve probably done something wrong if you’re coming off a 12-1 season and the only things people talk about are fake girlfriends, "poor academic judgement," and flighty defensive tackles. Not to mention those rumors about your head coach possibly ditching you to be with someone else at some point.

Well. Let me assure you that it’s not you. You’ve done nothing wrong. It’s not your fault love letters are most effective when written in 140 characters or less. It’s not your fault you’re not allowed to “retweet” someone else’s homework. It’s not your fault Eddie Vanderdoes thinks @BruinBoobs is a way better follow than @NotreDameBoobs.

And speculation about Brian Kelly’s imminent departure to the NFL is just hurtful gossip perpetuated by rumormongers who think that anything they say on the internet can be deleted before they get in trouble.

You see, a pattern emerges: Twitter is sabotaging your way of life en route to bringing down Western society.

Damn it all to hell.

Overview

Wooosahhh.

Notre Dame’s 12-1 season was made possible by luck, good defense, a positive turnover margin, and absurdly bad refereeing. They lost to Alabama at the end of the season because, incidentally, they didn’t have any of those things.

Conventional wisdom says that Notre Dame can’t replicate that level of success this year because the things within their control won't be any better, and the things outside of their control will most likely be worse.

The defense will be great once again, but when you were No. 2 in the nation in points allowed there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement. Offensively, the Irish under Kelly have never been anything special. With question marks at nearly every position -- including QB now that Golson has been suspended -- it’s hard to see them doing much better in terms of yardage, and it’s even harder to see them hang on to that low turnover rate. 

The schedule is relatively similar to the one they had last year. They host Michigan State, USC, and Oklahoma, and significant road opponents include Michigan, Pitt, and Stanford. As college schedules go, that's pretty rough, and they don't get any real body-bag games to take a breather. 

Their defense will keep them in every game they play. Their offense will need a lot of luck, however, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like they used up the entirety of their five-year allowance last season.

Offense

This potato is really hot.

Golson is out. That leaves Rees, Hendrix, and incoming freshman Malik Zaire to jockey for the starting spot. Reports indicate that Rees has won the job already, which makes sense, but a lot can happen between now and September.

Rees, in case you've forgotten (how dare you!), is the prolific passer who started two years ago in Under the Lights. In fact he was so prolific he outshined Denard in the “throwing to the other team” category. I guess it's kind of his thing -- his first career pass against Michigan was a flea flicker interception to Jonas Mouton.

On the other hand, he scored the only touchdown of last year’s game against the Wolverines on a QB run, of all things.

If Rees starts, Michigan’s secondary will get a stiff but manageable early season test. Stiff because all things considered Rees is pretty decent. Manageable because the matchup nightmares that Notre Dame usually seems to have -- Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert -- are no more. Davaris Daniels (31 rec, 490 yards, 15.8 ypc) is the only potential weapon they have. We don’t know much about him because he wasn’t given too many opportunities last year. That’ll change with Rees at QB, and then we’ll see whether he’ll blow up like Jeremy Gallon or get beaned in the helmet like any Michigan State receiver not named Aaron Burbridge.

Formationally we’ll probably see a lot of shotgun and one-back with receivers spread all over the field. When Rees started in 2011, the run-pass split was slightly in favor of pass (33:36 attempts per game), but that was with guys like Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray. Expect that ratio to be biased more towards pass this year; I don’t think they can afford otherwise.

That's because the Irish run game will be thin. The starting O-line is solid, returning both tackles and a guard, but their depth beyond that is as dire as last year’s Michigan line. Any injury could spell the end of positive yardage on the ground, especially considering that there is really only one experienced running back on the roster, George Atkinson III (51 carries, 361 yards, 7.1 ypc, 5 TDs). No one seems to know whether he’s durable enough to last more than 10-15 carries a game. He could be 2011 Toussaint, or he could be a 2012 Toussaint. Either way, he's their only guy as of now.

At least having a competent and somewhat experienced pocket passer plays to Kelly’s strengths as a playcaller, so Notre Dame should be fun to watch regardless. Drives will end quickly and spectacularly, and Kelly will have plenty of opportunity to practice his Grimace impersonation.

Defense

  

Irish D-line

What would an Irish defense be without Tragic Hero/Victim Manti Te’O? A lot less annoying/entertaining to hear about, and still very good. Expect to see them hanging out in opponent backfields on a regular basis.

Notre Dame defensive cordinator Bob Diaco runs a 3-4, which looks a lot like Greg Mattison’s 4-3 under but with slightly different names and concepts. The nose tackle in the 3-4 lines up directly over the center and is a monument to the law of inertia. The defensive ends are a lot like Michigan’s 5-tech and 3-tech; OLBs are like SAM and WDE; ILBs are like Morgan and Ross.

Responsibilities are interchangeable between a lot of positions because the front seven is built for a variety of zone blitzes. The secondary is the same.

So who should we worry about? All of the defensive linemen, to start. There’s DE Stephon Tuitt -- you know, shredder facemask -- who is a 6-6, 300-lb monster who had 12 sacks last season. There’s 6-3, 340 lb DT Louis Nix who has orbiting satellites. And there’s DE Sheldon Day who is kind of like Brandon Graham. Five offensive linemen are probably not enough to block these guys.

Then you kind of have to deal with the linebackers, a unit that returns everyone but Te’O. OLB Prince Shembo (51 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks) is the guy to watch out for, but no one is really a slouch. Most of them are seniors. Most of them are very good. This is depressing to write about.

The secondary is really the only group with exploitable potential. Last year they were a freshman, a converted running back, and a converted receiver; this year they will be a sophomore, a converted running back, and a converted receiver. They held up just fine in 2012, however -- few opposing QBs had much time to do much of anything before eating turf -- and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to shore up the coverage thing should the front seven fail to generate pressure, if ever.

This team is kind of like: Roger Federer after a strenuous biceps work-out. Wimpy forehand, wicked backhand.

Vs. Michigan: One thing Michigan failed to do last year was sufficiently test the fragile Irish secondary. The Wolverines are much better equipped to do that this year, with the only problem being that secondary will probably be a lot less fragile. Still, it’s probably better than running into 300-pound defensive ends, am I right?

The way the two teams match up against each other gives every indication that this will be a very low scoring game, but crazy things tend to happen under the lights.

Outlook: 9-3.

  • Wins: Temple, @Purdue, Arizona State, @Air Force, Navy, @Pittsburgh, BYU
  • Tossups: @Michigan, Michigan State, USC, Oklahoma, @Stanford

2012 Potential Opponent Preview: The Rest of the B1G

2012 Potential Opponent Preview: The Rest of the B1G

Submitted by Heiko on July 19th, 2012 at 5:14 PM

Wisconsin

Wisconsin is the origin of Leinenkugel’s, cows, and the directional state motto (forward). The school over there has a football team that is favored to win the Woody Division. This means that should Michigan beat out Sparty and Big Red for Bo, Michigan fans should expect the other half of the Lucas Oil be jumping around sometime at the end of the third quarter of the title game.

The conditions for the Badgers to reach Indianapolis in 2012 are favorable, but that doesn’t mean they’re a compelling contender. They lose key pieces of their offense, including their quarterback, top receiver, and half of their offensive line. They also lose a significant chunk of a defense that ranked a disappointing 60th in the nation against the run last year. While the acquisition of former Maryland QB Danny O’Brien and the return of star RB Montee Ball will be a significant boon, it’s easy to see Wisconsin being, at best, slightly worse this season than they were in 2011. That they are favored to win their division is less a compliment to them than it is an indictment of their division.

Schedule

  • Sept. 1, Northern Iowa
  • Sept. 8, @ Oregon State
  • Sept. 15, Utah State
  • Sept. 22, UTEP
  • Sept. 29, @ Nebraska
  • Oct. 6, Illinois
  • Oct. 13, @ Purdue
  • Oct. 20, Minnesota
  • Oct. 27, Michigan State
  • Nov. 3, WIFEDAY
  • Nov. 10, @ Indiana
  • Nov. 17, Ohio State
  • Nov. 24, @ Penn State

Wisconsin’s consumption of nonconference cupcakes continues, although the 2012 batch has a little more substance than in years past. Northern Iowa and Utah State, for instance, both had winning records. A visit to Oregon State is a nice gesture, except Oregon State went 3-9 last season. Regardless, Corvallis is a great destination. I used to live there.

The B1G schedule is the B1G schedule. Wisconsin misses Michigan (yeah she’s married now) but plays Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State, two of them on the road. Keep an eye on the Nov. 17 game. The brawl in Madison should take the edge off a Buckeyes team gearing up for their season finale against the Wolverines.

This schedule is as favorable as: Watching a horror movie. You'll probably make it -- it'll just be somewhat unpleasant.

----------------------

Offense

Your uniform makes rest of us vomit into our mouths, too.

Style: MANBALL

Leaving: QB Russell Wilson (72.8%, 3,175 yards, 33 TD, 4 INT), WR Nick Toon (64 rec, 926 yards), RG Kevin Zeitler, C Peter Konz

Returning: RB Montee Ball (1,923 yards, 6.3 ypc, 33 TD), RB James White (713 yards, 5.1 ypc, 6 TD), TE Jacob Pederson (30 rec, 356 yards, 8 TD), LT Ricky Wagner.

I take some of that back: losing half of their NFL-caliber linemen may not be that big of a deal. There is plenty of protein, grain, and beer available in Madison to turn their next crop of linemen into run-blocking pâté.

Losing Russell Wilson, however, IS a big deal. He ran the Badgers offense with remarkable efficiency as a transfer. That kind of ability is rare. O’Brien is a lot less talented than Wilson and has already shown that he isn’t great with transitions. In light of the loss of their one elite receiver, I predict O’Brien will be a slightly worse version of former Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien.

Player you’ll probably see on Sportscenter: Montee Ball

Doing what? Loitering in the end zone. Like a bawss.

This offense is as frightening as: “The Ring” -- with the lights on. Fear level = 7.5.

--------------------------

Defense

His smile makes me believe this was from a pre-game presser.

Style: 4-3 over, coverage not guaranteed if the game is on the line.

Leaving: DT Patrick Butrym (55 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4 sacks), CB Antonio Fenelus (42 tackles, 4 INT, 9 PBU), S Aaron Henry (55.5 tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 INT, 7 PBU)

Returning: MLB Chris Borland (103.5 tackles, 19 TFL, 2.5 sacks), WLB Mike Taylor (105 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 sacks), CB Marcus Cromartie (34 tackles, 3 PBU)

Linebacking should be fine. The secondary will take a hit. The defensive line needs some work.

Also, really gotta do something about this:

And this:

Player you’ll probably see on the BTN: Chris Borland.

Doing what? Getting called a “throwback.”

This defense is as frightening as: “House on Haunted Hill” 1999 remake. Has its moments; I have no idea what's going on during the last two minutes. Fear level = 4.

---------------------------

Predictions

Overall: 9-3, 5-3 B1G

Their chances of making it to Indianapolis are as good as: Making it through a double feature of “The Ring” and “House on Haunted Hill.” You are with your grandpa, your neighbor’s little brother, your stepsister, and a bunch of their middle school friends. Your uncle was there but got caught bringing in outside food and got kicked out of the theater.

-----BIG SECTION BREEEAAAAAAKKKK-----

Penn State

Bold prediction: This statue stays.

Let's not talk about the elephant. Let's talk footbawwww, and in terms of footbaw Penn State should be okay for the season. New head coach Bill O'Brien is going to install his superinnovative Patriots offensive scheme, and it's going to be great. No more field goal fests against Iowa. Enough guys are coming back that the Nittany Lions won't feel the effects of their abysmal 2012 recruiting class for another year at least. If it weren't for all the Penn State Awful Thing stuff going on, there might actually be some sense of optimism. It's like the football version of finally getting crisp, clean sheets after years of bedridden awfulness.

Unfortunatelly, Penn State Awful Thing.

Schedule

  • Sept. 1, Ohio (Bobcats)
  • Sept. 8, @ Virginia
  • Sept. 15, Navy
  • Sept. 22, Temple
  • Sept. 29, @ Illinois
  • Oct. 6, Northwestern
  • Oct. 13, WIFEDAY
  • Oct. 20, @ Iowa
  • Oct. 27, Ohio (Buckeyes)
  • Nov. 3, @ Purdue
  • Nov. 10, @ Nebraska
  • Nov. 17, Indiana
  • Nov. 24, Wisconsin

Penn State has a relatively soft nonconference schedule and doesn’t face either of the Michigans. They get division primary foes Wisconsin and Ohio State at home. If they had either an offense or, you know, program stability, they’d be slightly favored over Wisconsin. We’ll see if O’Brien can work on the former, but there’s nothing to be done about the latter. Regardless, the Nittany Lions come in close second to the Badgers in the preseason division rankings. You never know. With a few lucky bounces they might just end up in Indianapolis.

This schedule is as favorable as: A sturdy lifeboat in the middle of a hurricane.

----------------------------------

Offense

Sure. Why not.

Style: New England

Leaving: WR Derek Moye (40 rec, 654 yards, 3 TD)

Returning: QB Matt McGloin (54.1%, 1571 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT), RB Silas Redd (1241 yards, 5.1 ypc, 7 TD), WR Justin Brown (35 rec, 517 yards, 2 TD), C Matt Stankiewitch

Penn State has some issues at quarterback again with ginger walk-on extraordinaire McGloin, perennially unfinished attic Rob Bolden, and founding father (John) Paul Jones, but McGloin seems to be in best position to lead the charge. The tradeoff of having a low ceiling is the fact that he maybe kinda understands how plays work. Redd's return to the backfield will be helpful regardless of who starts.

Whether O'Brien's massive overhaul of the offense will be effective is unknown. The Nittany Lions were awful last year, and not enough of the personnel has changed to suggest that they won't be again. Playcalling was probably a weakness in 2011, but playcalling is usually dictated by talent and execution. Unless you're Jim Bollman.

Player you’ll probably see in a flashback nightmare: Matt McGloin.

Doing what? Victimizing J.T. Floyd.

This offense is as terrifying as: An Xbox made with disassembled Atari components. Fear level = 3.

----------------------------------

Defense

No. 42 LB Michael Mauti

Style: 4-3 under

Leaving: DT Devon Still (42 tackles, 17 TFL, 4.5 sacks), DE Jack Crawford (29 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks), LB Nate Stupar (59.5 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT), CB Chaz Powell (35 tackles, 2 PBU, 2 INT), S Nick Sukay (48 tackles, 8 PBU, 3 INT)

Returning: DT Jordan Hill (37.5 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks), LB Michael Mauti (injured for most of 2011), LB Gerald Hodges (76 tackles, 10 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT), S Malcolm Willis (25 tackles, 1 INT)

Player you’ll probably see on ESPN: Gerald Hodges.

Doing what? Getting drafted, wishing he’d left a year earlier.

This defense is as terrifying as: A refurbished Xbox made with Xbox components. Fear level = 8.

----------------------------

Predictions

Overall: 9-3, 5-3 B1G

Their chances of reaching Indianapolis are as good as: Getting a LAN game to work with aforementioned Xboxes.

-----BIG SECTION BREEAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKKK-----

Indiana

It's contagious!

I have only one word for Indiana’s outlook for 2012: Hoosierquest.

Schedule.

  • Sept. 1, Indiana State
  • Sept. 8, @ UMass
  • Sept. 15, Ball State
  • Sept. 22, WIFEDAY
  • Sept. 29, @ Northwestern
  • Oct. 6, Michigan State
  • Oct. 13, Ohio State
  • Oct. 20, @ Navy
  • Oct. 27, @ Illinois
  • Nov. 3, Iowa
  • Nov. 10, Wisconsin
  • Nov. 17, @ Penn State
  • Nov. 24, @ Purdue

Playing UMass on the road is so Indiana.

This schedule is as favorable as: The Ann Arbor Art Fair is to traffic.

----------------------------

Offense

Style: 4-out, 1-in Motion.

Leaving: Some dudes.

Returning: PG Tre Roberson (57%, 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT), SF Kofi Hughes (35 rec, 536 yards, 3 TD), PF Ted Bolser (14 rec, 165 yards, 1 TD)

Indiana is still figuring out why the term “basketball on grass” isn’t more literal. They are currently adjusting to the oblong shape of the ball and learning that traveling is okay.

Player you’ll probably see during a live update: Tre Roberson.

Doing what? Getting pwned.

This offense is as frightening as: Modern art; Why is your running back facing backward? What is the symbolism of having just four guys on your offensive line? The abstract shape of your I-formation evokes the image of a bowl of red jello about to get thrown against a window. How uncompromisingly postmodern. Fear level = 1.

---------------------------

Defense

Replogle, left; Black, right

Style: Optional.

Leaving: LB Jeff Thomas (57.5 tackles, 1 sack), LB Leon Beckum (42.5 tackles, 2 sacks)

Returning: DT Larry Black (48 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), DT Adam Replogle (38.5 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 sacks)

Yes, Larry is Jibreel’s older brother. He is decent (massive Indiana caveats abound), so maybe Jibreel will be too.

Player you’ll probably see on Sportscenter: Adam Replogle.

Doing what? Getting dragged into the end zone by Montee Ball.

This defense is as frightening as: Pottery exhibits; they take up space, but are liable to fall over and break on contact. Fear level = 2.

---------------------------

Predictions

Overall: 1-11, 0-8 B1G

Their chances of making it to Indianapolis are as good as: Finding an item at the Art Fair that is both aesthetically pleasing and reasonably priced.

2012 Opponent Preview: Ohio State

2012 Opponent Preview: Ohio State

Submitted by Heiko on July 13th, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College

Domestic violence is very bad, mmk. Ohio State's backup middle linebacker Storm Klein was arrested a week ago after his ex-girlfriend, who is the mother of his child, said that Klein "violently and purposely grabbed" her and slammed her into their front door during an argument. She sustained a minor scrape and swelling on her forehead and abrasions on both forearms. He was charged with domestic violence and assault.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who is fighting a reputation for being soft on his players' legal problems, dismissed Klein from the team shortly thereafter. Meyer released a statement saying the charges "violate the core values of the Ohio State Football Program ... it has been made very clear that this type of charge will result in dismissal." It was consistent with his actions earlier in the year when he dismissed DBs Dominic Clarke and DerJaun Gambrell for run-ins with the law. Gambrell, incidentally, was charged with assault.

In the same statement, however, Meyer said he would "re-evaluate" Klein's status with the team pending the status of his charges, leaving the door open for reinstatement. As of earlier this week, Klein's lawyer (who was Terrelle Pryor's defense attorney a year ago) was optimistic about Klein's future with the team (parenthetical punctuation mine): 

"I believe when this is said and done. this will be resolved in Storm's favor, with an exclamation (!) mark."

Uh huh. 

So after opening with a strong gesture by dismissing Klein, Meyer is now deferring to the legal system. Perhaps he is remorseful for what happened with Clarke and Gambrell, as neither of them received the benefit of reconsideration after trial. But their fair and speedy banishment opened up a scholarship for Armani Reeves, so it was a net positive.

Perhaps Meyer feels unfit to judge the truth. Unfortunately domestic violence is notoriously difficult to tackle in court, however, and charges frequently get reduced or dropped because victims have a hard time prosecuting their own family members, signficant others, or in this case, their baby's daddy. The verdict rarely reflects what actually transpired, so relying on it to determine whether Klein did something to violate Ohio State's "core values" is a bit disingenuous.

Or ... perhaps that depth chart at middle linebacker is looking awfully thin, and it would be a shame if months later an "innocent" Klein weren't available on the two-deep to fill in for Curtis Grant after Taylor Martinez breaks his ankles. 

I'm not saying Klein should be kicked off the team without the benefit of due process. For the arrest and initial charges -- "violating team rules" -- Ohio State should hand out a suspension but leave room for additional consequences pending the result in court. But I believe in being consistent. Suspension until further notice would have been acceptable for Klein had Meyer afforded it to Clarke and Gambrell in January. But alas, Armani Reeves. To make matters worse, Klein has a previous arrest record, so it's hard to imagine that external pressure will allow Meyer to relent, especially given the precedent. There's no way he can reinstate Klein without suffering significant backlash.

The Klein saga isn't over yet, so I'll withhold judgment of how Meyer ultimately handles it until then. But if Klein is in a Buckeyes uniform ever again, the chance that Meyer and Ohio State actually have any "core values" of their own approaches zero.

---------------------------

The Actual Preview Part

Jim Davison / the-Ozone.net

1000-foot view. Ohio State is banned from the 2012 postseason, but that isn't going to stop them from trying to go all USC on everyone. The installation of Urban Meyer's fearsome spread offense and the renewal of their defense under former head coach/co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and DC Everett Withers has caused all of the analysts to project them to sweep the majority of their schedule. 

Can they? Probably. The Buckeyes benefit from returning a whole bunch of starters and maintaining a roster stacked with four-star talent. Moreover, Meyer has declared himself an Ohio State man, which has made it easy for the players, staff, and fanbase to buy into his program. Yes, this is in direct contrast with the Rich Rod transition. 

I believe there are two factors -- one tangible, one not so much -- that will determine whether they can reach their full potential this season. The first is whether QB Braxton Miller can stay healthy. In Meyer's spread, the magnifying glass over the quarterback position is a lot bigger. Whether Miller holds up over the course of a season will be critical to their success. With him in a game, the Buckeyes have a shot to beat any team on their schedule. Without him, not so much.

The second factor will be how the current roster adapts to an up tempo spread. Under previous offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, fans have been treated to some of the most boring offenses even by Big Ten standards. While there were some spread elements in that offense, hence the recruitment of dual threat quarterbacks like Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, and Miller, the bigger element in those offenses was a running back oriented ground game that wore defenses down slowly over the course of a game. "Zippy" or "Jack-rabbity" were not words often used to describe Ohio State players. What's Meyer going to do with a bunch of 230 lb. running backs? While the talent in Columbus is there, how it molds to Meyer's system and how the system molds to them will be something to keep an eye on. 

Schedule.

  • Sept. 1, Miami (OH)
  • Sept. 8, UCF
  • Sept. 15, Cal
  • Sept. 22, UAB
  • Sept. 29, @ Michigan State
  • Oct 6, Nebraska
  • Oct. 13, @ Indiana
  • Oct. 20, Purdue
  • Oct. 27, @ Penn State
  • Nov. 3, Illinois
  • Nov. 10, WIFEDAY
  • Nov. 17, @ Wisconsin
  • Nov. 24, Michigan

Ohio State has a decent number of tough-ish games as well as some easily winnable ones. While there are just four road games, three of them will be tough. Their bye comes rather late in the schedule on Nov. 10.

It's hard to predict how the Buckeyes will play this season against opponents who are also experiencing significant changes. Michigan State, Penn State, Illinois, and Wisconsin are all debuting new quarterbacks or head coaches. Ohio State isn't necessarily a lock to beat all four, but with the defense they return this season, they should have enough firepower to keep that possibility open.

The game to watch other than vs. Michigan is the one vs. Purdue. The Boilermakers have given Ohio State some trouble in the past, but only within the confines of West Lafayette. This year could be different because they may field one of the more complete teams in their division. Not that winning the division will matter all that much the Buckeyes, but Purdue will certainly be looking to legitimize their candidacy for the Woody Division crown, and beating Ohio State will go far in making a statement.

------------------------------------

X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes

Offense

QB Braxton Miller: "I paid for this!"

Style: Spread

Key losses: RB Dan Herron (675 yards, 5.0 ypc, 3 TD), WR DeVier Posey (12 rec, 162 yards, 2 TD), C Mike Brewster, LT Mike Adams, RT J.B. Shugarts

Top returners: QB Braxton Miller (54.1%, 1159 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT), RB Jordan Hall (405 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TD), RB Carlos Hyde (566 yards, 5.3 ypc, 6 TD), FB Zach Boren (1 twitter hissy fit), WR Corey Brown (14 rec, 205 yards, 1 TD), TE Jake Stoneburner (14 rec, 193 yards, 7 TD), LT Jack Mewhort

So the biggest development since I previewed Ohio State for HTTV was Jordan Hall stepping on some glass and severing a tendon in his foot. He'll likely miss a couple games and won't be able to practice up until then. This is a blow to their run game, especially since Meyer was planning to use him the way he used Percy Harvin back in the day. 

In other news, Jack Mewhort and Jake Stoneburner peed in public, ran from some cops, and then got suspended "indefinitely." They won't miss a snap.

Anyway, the skinny on the Buckeyes offense is that Braxton Miller returns to commandeer an offense much more suited to his strengths. Their spring game put that system on display rather well, and a few playmakers emerged, most notably WR Michael Thomas, who had like 12 catches for a bazillion yards during that game. How this offense does against anyone else remains to be seen. They were rather turnover prone as all the quarterbacks threw interceptions during their spring game.

The run game would have been find had Hall stayed healthy, but with him gone, all that's left is a bunch of burly 230-pounders who are probably thinking longingly about all the other college offers they had and wondering why they didn't commit to a school where being a little hefty was a good thing. (Looking at you, Brionte Dunn.) Yes, yes, I'm sure Meyer will find a way to use his bigger running backs. Warming the bench in November is a start.

Their group of receivers will be okay if they learn to run their routes correctly. None of them seem to be elite space players, but sometimes just catching the ball is enough.

And of course, their offensive line has been subject to a lot of debate. They're big since Tressel recruited them for hulking running backs to run into. I imagine that they will spend the offseason dieting so that they at least pass the eye test for what a lithe spread offensive line looks like.

------------------------------------

Defense

DE John Simon: "I did this one myself."

Style: 4-3 under, some kind of nickel package.

Key losses: LB Andrew Sweat (missed most of the season due to injury), DE Solomon Thomas (basically nothing. These guys are not really key losses at all. Just here to fill some space.)

Top returners: All of the defense!

I'm gonna block quote myself. Blockquotesturbation!

Fickell will run the same 4-3 Under Michigan uses, and which Jim Heacock deployed in Co- lumbus for years, switching to a 4-2-5 over (i.e. nickel) against spread offenses. The last game of 2011 (Michigan) and this year’s spring game saw them come out in a lot of cover 4 (quarters) coverage, very much like what Virginia Tech used to good effect in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

Wow, sounds smart! What can you tell me about their players?

Their secret is talent, having recruited more 4- and 5-star defensive players than any team but Alabama (30—tied with FSU and Texas) in the last five classes. The Ohio State defensive line, the strength of their 2011 defense, will again be the strength in 2012. Massive nose guard Johnathan Hankins (6’3, 325 lbs) and tackle Garrett Goebel (6’3, 290 lbs) will anchor the interior line. While Hankins was overshadowed by any number of Big Ten tackles during his sophomore season, he is the type of plugger who can hold his own against double teams and make a few athletic plays here and there. If Hankins continues to develop, he could be a persistent nuisance for teams that like to run straight up the middle and vie for All-Conference honors. Strongside defensive end Adam Bellamy and weakside end John Simon will bookend the line. Simon, who earned First Team All-Big Ten honors last season, gave Ohio State fans a pleasant surprise when he chose to stay in Columbus for his senior season; he is probably the best player on their roster.  

You are a really good analyst. That defensive line sounds scary. How do you feel about their linebackers, though?

The linebackers, on the other hand, will require some work if they are to live up to their potential this year. MLB Curtis Grant was a highly touted recruit who became an exciting fresh- man, and seemed to lock down the starting job this spring before a ding kept him out of their spring game. Also sitting out was his main competition, awesomely named Storm Klein, who started for a time last year. 

Hahaha. Storm Klein. He's a funny guy. I remember they had a really good linebacker named... um ... Razor? Shazor?

Shazier.

Shazier! That's the one. 

WLB Ryan Shazier erupted late last season as a true freshman—Penn State fans and Michigan fans might remember him being all over the field doing his best impression of NFL second- round draft pick Lavonte David from Nebraska. The problem with being liable to show up anywhere—and this is true of the entire linebacking corps in general—is he just as likely to apparate in completely the wrong place. Michigan fans will remember SLB Etienne Sabino quickly dropping into four-deep coverage on a 3rd and 11 (very good), carrying Hemingway too far to open up Odoms (not good), and turning around to put a perfect block on strong safety C.J. Barnett as Odoms gratefully walked into the end zone (explode!). Given the proper coaching, this could become a dominant group, but as it stands they are an unruly troupe of goblins, equally capable of nuking an opponent as each other. 

That sounded an awful lot like Seth's writing.

Speaking of Barnett et al., the Buckeyes secondary was a solid but unremarkable group last year, and they should again be solid; ask again later for remarkability. Barnett is a budding star at safety, and linebacker-ish 5th year senior Orhian Johnson—you saw a lot of him versus Michigan—will keep the other safety spot a plus. Junior Christian Bryant will play the “star,”—Ohio State’s word for the nickel back—who will rotate in for Sabino on passing downs and against spread teams. Michigan fans who remember 2005-’08 S/CB Brandon Harrison will recognize Bryant’s role. At cornerback it gets a little thin. Travis Howard returns for his fifth year opposite redshirt sophomore Bradley Roby, but behind the starters are three “meh” sophomores before falling off into the pool of true freshmen. Meyer has acknowledged this lack of depth by stepping up his defensive back recruiting, but it may be several seasons before the reinforcements truly pan out on the field. Repeating a theme, elite talent is extant--Roby, Howard, Barnett, and Johnson are future NFL draft picks-- but whether it can come together to form an elite secondary depends on whether they can learn to complement each other and stay healthy. 

That was definitely Seth, since you have no idea who Brandon Harrison is. You didn't write this preview! I call shenanigans.

------------------------------------

Special Teams

This image never gets old.

They have a kicker on the Lou Groza Award watch list. Name's Drew Basil. Cool.

------------------------------------

Predictions

Overall: The way this preview started is very different from the way it ended. Huh. Not sure what happened.

2012 Opponent Preview: Iowa

2012 Opponent Preview: Iowa

Submitted by Heiko on July 9th, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Previously: PurdueIllinoisMichigan StateNebraskaMinnesota, Northwestern

Iowa

Iowa fans: tweet your penitence to @AIRBHG.

Our God is an angry God / He rains destruction on running backs from heaven above. In case you missed it, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God struck four times over the offseason:

  • Marcus Coker, Iowa's starting tailback in 2011, is suspended for the Insight Bowl; transfers to Stony Brook in January.
  • Backup Mika'il McCall endures a season in which he breaks an ankle, fumbles on his second carry back from injury, gets benched, and then gets suspended; transfers to Southern Illinois in January.
  • Backup Jordan Canzeri suffers a torn ACL during spring practice; will likely miss the entirety of 2012.
  • Incoming four-star recruit Greg Garmon is booked for weed possession after getting pulled over for an expired registration; status is up in the air, but the outlook is grim.

Iowa's tailback roster is currently decimated to the point where incoming three-star recruit Barkley Hill might get the starting nod on Sept. 1. If he's wise, he'll have asked to switch to linebacker by then.

So yeah, this sounds an awful lot like Michigan's secondary circa 2010, but the wrath of AIRBHG predates AMSHG by almost a decade. A Hawkeyenation.com post chronicles the smitten, beginning with Ladell Betts in 2001. AIRBHG's appetite for sacrifice is insatiable. By my count, no fewer than 27 Hawkeyes running backs come to judgment in the time since. Only Fred Russell made it through "unscathed" by leaving early for the NFL in 2003. He went undrafted.

-------------------------------

The actual preview part

1000-foot view.

Ricky Stanzi approved this message.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz is in his 14th year at Iowa and has led his team to nine winning seasons, two shared B1G championships, and two BCS bowls. Since the miraculous 2009 season in which the Hawkeyes went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl, however, Iowa has been cruising back to average. There's a real potential for the Hawkeyes to be below average this season.

Ferentz's $3.65 million contract goes through 2020. At the age of 56 (57 on Aug. 1 for those of you into sending e-cards), Ferentz will probably see his contract through before kicking the coaching bucket. But there's a chance he might not make it to then. No one wants a lame duck coach, and if Iowa doesn't start trending up within the next season or two it would be hard for him to avoid that label.

2012 might not save him. The schedule is on the favorable side and Iowa returns a quarterback who's had a year's worth of starting experience, but with a roster that returns just 11 starters (6 offense, 5 defense, 96th nationally) from units that were both pretty mediocre last year, along with the running back issues as mentioned above and a transition at both coordinator positions, it's hard to see the Hawkeyes being consistent enough to do much more than break even.

Still, nobody predicted Michigan to do as well as it did last season. If Ferentz is truly the coach he's reputed to be and his coaching hires prove to be the hires the program has needed, there may be some fight left in Iowa yet.

Schedule.

  • Sept. 1, Northern Illinois
  • Sept. 8, Iowa State
  • Sept. 15, Northern Iowa
  • Sept. 22, Central Michigan
  • Sept. 29, Minnesota
  • Oct. 6, WIFEDAY
  • Oct. 13, @ Michigan State
  • Oct. 20, Penn State
  • Oct. 27, @ Northwestern
  • Nov. 3, @ Indiana
  • Nov. 10, Purdue
  • Nov. 17, @ Michigan
  • Nov. 23, Nebraska

At first look this schedule is relatively soft. Eight home games, no marquee non-conference opponents, just two tough road games, and no Wisconsin or Ohio State. Upon closer examination it's littered with trap games and underestimated obstacles.

Iowa opens at home against Northern Illinois, a MAC team that went 11-3 last season. Definitely not a gimme. Iowa State visits next, i.e. Steele Jantz returns to repeat his demolition of Iowa's defense. Northern Iowa is another team that finished at the top of a lesser conference (MVC) so again not a guaranteed win. Central Michigan is perhaps the only team that Iowa should comfortably beat at this point.

As far as B1G goes, Indiana is the only team that doesn't have a real shot at taking down the Hawkeyes. Minnesota beat them last year (A fluke? Maybe.) and should be better this year. Northwestern has made a habit of beating teams strongly associated with corn in recent years and has an offense that Iowa has a hard time dealing with. So does Purdue to a lesser extent, and Purdue should have a much better defense than many give them credit for.

Iowa might be able to squeeze a win or two out of the heavyweights, but it's not looking likely at this point.

This schedule is as favorable as: Vanilla paste. 

-------------------------------

X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes

Offense

 

I wonder if Adam Jacobi still thinks this is a thing. #ALLLOOKTHESAME

Style: MANBALL (with some no-huddle stuff that doesn't work very well) and PUNTOSAUR (except against Michigan).

Key losses: RB Marcus Coker (1384 yards, 4.9 ypc, 15 TD), RB Jordan Canzeri (114 yards, 3.7 ypc), WR Marvin McNutt (82 rec, 1315 yards, 12 TD), LT Riley Reiff, RG Adam Gettis

Top returners: QB James Vandenberg (58.7%, 3022 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT), WR Keenan Davis (50 rec, 713 yards, 4 TD), TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (16 rec, 167 yards, 3 TD), C James Ferentz

The biggest news for Iowa's offense not related to AIRBHG was the hire of Greg Davis from Texas to replace Ken O'Keefe, who left to coach wide receivers for the Miami Dolphins. Davis served as OC for the Longhorns during the Vince Young and Colt McCoy eras, but he is generally regarded as having as much to do with their success as Jim Bollman had to do with Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor's success.

Yes, Iowa has hired Jim Bollman, basically. 

 

#ALLLOOKTHESAME

This development doesn't contrast that much with what Iowa already had going on, so we'll pretend nothing has changed. Vanilla Hawkeyes offense is vanilla.

Iowa's passing game shouldn't suffer too much this season despite losing about half of its receiver production from 2011. James Vandenberg returns a year wiser and a year more ready to deal with having no time to throw because his offensive line has occasionally forgets how to pass protect. Vandenberg was incredibly efficient last season as a first year starter, and there's no reason to believe he won't follow it up with at least a similar performance.

Except for one thing: the biggest weakness in this offense is at the running back position, as already discussed at length. The Hawkeyes run the offense Brady Hoke talks about fondly whenever Denard's not in the room, and having a bruising tailback to run between the tackles is critical for their success. Not having one is a problem. If Iowa can't threaten the run, Vandenberg might get into a lot of trouble when his receivers get locked down in coverage on every down.

Something tells me however that Ferentz will find a way to get production out of whatever guy is in the backfield. Coaching the offensive line is his thing, and they've paved the way for guys like Adam Robinson (transferred to Minnesota-Duluth after 2010), a two star out of high school, to become All-Conference performers very early in their careers. 

One more thing -- there's been a lot of buzz about C.J. Fiedorowicz lately, a.k.a. the "next great Iowa tight end." Maybe he is, maybe he isn't, but he is worth keeping an eye on. 

Fear level = 4.

-------------------------------

Defense

Hands go above the waist.

Style: 4-3, Cover 2. Always.

Key losses: DT Mike Daniels (49.5 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9 sacks), DE Broderick Binns (46.0 tackles, 12 TFL, 5 sacks), OLB Tyler Nielsen (53.5 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack), CB Shaun Prater (42 tackles, 3 PBU, 1 INT)

Top returners: MLB James Morris (81 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT), OLB Christian Kirksey (86 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT), CB Micah Hyde (60.5 tackles, 8 PBU, 3 INT), S Tanner Miller (64 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 PBU)

Coordinator change -- Norm Parker retired and got replaced by Phil Parker (no relation), who was defensive backs coach for the former Parker at Iowa. It's a significant loss, since Parker had been around for forever, but hiring someone internally means the philosophy won't change much, if at all. We'll see whether the level playcalling takes a hit.

On the player side of things, the Hawkeyes lose all of its significant production from its defensive line (sound familiar?), which bodes poorly for 2011's 62nd-ranked rush defense. Micah Hyde returns as the lone star in the secondary, and he'll certainly have his work cut out for him if Iowa hopes to improve from what their 58th-ranked pass defense from a year ago. 

I don't have much else to say about the Hawkeye defense. They play cover-2 a lot. They don't often blitz (except against Michigan). They like taking two-star guys and milking every last drop of talent from them.

Yeah. Vanilla Iowa defense is vanilla. 

Fear level = 4.

-------------------------------

Special Teams

K Mike Meyer (14/20 FG) returns. Woo. I don't know why I still have this section. I think Iowa is replacing last year's punter with a dude from Australia, and I could not be bothered to look up who either of them are right now.

-------------------------------

Predictions

Vanirra Past-o.

Record: Here's how it breaks down, I think.

  • Likely wins: Central Michigan, Indiana;
  • Close, but cigar: Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Minnesota;
  • Close, but no cigar: Iowa State, Northwestern, Purdue;
  • Likely losses: Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska

That comes out to about 6-6 overall, 3-5 B1G.

Against Michigan: Michigan's offense had an ill-advised game plan for Iowa last year and executed it horribly during Midwest Windstorm Part II. Things will be better offensively this year, as it will be in the Big House and Al Borges has resigned himself to zone running from shotgun at least for the time being. Michigan will have to be disciplined in the trenches on both sides of the ball as Iowa won a majority of those battles last year, and Michigan's front seven will have to get pressure on Vandenberg early. If Michigan gets to him their entire offensive plan is kaputt, but if Vandenberg gets in a rhythm, he and his receivers have the potential to take over the game. 

I say Michigan ends its three-year drought against the Hawkeyes and wins 35-14.

Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: KYRU... I BERIEVE IN YOUUUUU.

Opponent Preview: Northwestern

Opponent Preview: Northwestern

Submitted by Heiko on June 28th, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Previously: PurdueIllinoisMichigan StateNebraska, Minnesota

Northwestern

Allison Hall, home to yours truly for three weeks in 2000 and three weeks again in 2001. It was good times.

Downfield threat. Former USC player Kyle Prater, who was the best receiver from the 2010 recruiting class, made a lot of noise in January when he left the Trojans for Northwestern. Prater struggled with injuries and redshirted as a freshman. He emerged in 2011 only to see his spot taken by classmate Robert Woods and rookie dynamo Marqise Lee. Prater called it quits at the end of the season after amassing a singular reception for 6 yards during the OT loss to Stanford.

Currently the Wildcats are currently waiting on an NCAA waiver to allow Prater to play immediately in 2012. That decision should come sometime next month. If the ruling on Michigan State transferee DeAnthony Arnett is any precedent, Michigan fans should expect to see Prater in the Big House on Nov. 10. [Ed-myself: The family hardship thing makes Arnett's situation technically different. Not sure if Prater has as strong of a case as Arnett did, but you never know. Homesickness/buriedonthedepthchartness sounds pretty extenuating to me.]

What does Prater bring to the table? He's listed at 6-5 and around 215 lbs. While he's not reputed to have terrifying speed, that's about the only knock on him. Rivals has all of his other attributes tabbed as "blue chip" and compares him to former college standouts like Michael Floyd and Julio Jones.

For Michigan this should be somewhat of a problem. Brady Hoke is addressing the shortcomings of the Wolverines defensive backfield by recruiting corners like Gareon Conley and Channing Stribling, but that won't help the fact that J.T. Floyd (6-0, 185 lbs) will be Michigan's only starting corner taller than me this season.

The threat level can be tempered, however, by Floyd's admirable track record against opposing No. 1 receivers and simple logic saying that Prater is, at best, slightly worse Marqise Lee (1143 yards, 11 TDs) or Robert Woods (1292 yards, 15 TDs). 

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The Actual Preview Part

1000-foot view.

Exeunt.

Northwestern's bid to become relevant ended when Heiman hopeful QB Dan Persa tore his Achilles against Iowa two years ago and was never quite the same after that. The Wildcats spent 2011 searching for the magic that once existed, but you could see in her eyes only unwaking embers where a warm light used to dance.

Persa's departure won't be such a huge blow. Northwestern has a great contigency plan on offense and should continue to put up points. If it's going to compete for prominence in the league, however, it'll need to address some issues on defense, although a lot of issues may be talent-related and won't be solved overnight. 

In the meantime the Wildcats can continue to push the upper boundaries of so-so and lose bowl games to undermatched opponents. 

Schedule.

  • Sept 1, @ Syracuse
  • Sept 8, Vanderbilt
  • Sept 15, Boston College
  • Sept 22, South Dakota
  • Sept 29, Indiana
  • Oct 6, @ Penn State
  • Oct 13, @ Minnesota
  • Oct 20, Nebraska
  • Oct 27, Iowa
  • Nov 3, WIFEDAY
  • Nov 10, @ Michigan
  • Nov 17, @ Michigan State
  • Nov 24, Illinois

Northwestern opens on the road at Syracuse, who has another B1G matchup with Minnesota three weeks later. For the Wildcats it's actually sort of a solid nonconference schedule, what with three technically BCS (what a quaint and outdated system, makes me laugh) teams. If nothing goes horrendously wrong, I can see Northwestern winning three of those games, with a loss to the Orange the most likely.

The B1G schedule is neither great nor terrible. It's backloaded, but the Wildcats benefit from a bye on Nov. 3 to regroup before taking on the state of Michigan. And then they have perennial rival Illinois to close, but who knows how good the Illini will be.

A 4-4 B1G record would be an optimistic prognosis, but not too much so. A couple of the bottom feeder teams (Minnesota and the smoldering wreck that Illinois became) might be better than expected, but so might Northwestern, especially if Prater gets cleared. Conversely, some of the heavier hitters (Penn State, Iowa) might end up weaker than expected.

If the 6-win bowl game requirement stands, expect Northwestern to go bowling this season. 

This schedule is as favorable as: A hot dog eating contest to the casual hotdog enthusiast.

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X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes

Offense

No. 2 QB Kain Colter vs. Nebraska

Style: Spa-ready-cat (cat cat cat cat cat)

Key losses: QB Dan Persa (passing: 73.4%, 2376 yards, 17 TD, 7 INT, rushing: 32 yards, 0.4 ypc, 1 TD), WR Jeremy Ebert (75 rec, 1060 yards, 11 TD), TE Drake Dunsmore (45 rec, 522 yards, 6 TD), LT Al Netter, C/G Ben Burkett

Top returners: QB Kain Colter (passing: 67.1%, 673 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT, rushing: 654 yards, 4.8 ypc, 9 TD, receiving: 43 rec, 466 yards, 3 TD), RB Mike Trumpy (182 yards, 5.2 ypc, 1 TD, tore ACL on Oct. 1 vs Illinois), WR Demetrius Fields (32 rec, 382 yards, 3 TD), LG Brian Mulroe, C Brandon Vitabile

Yes, Northwestern's top returning rusher and receiver are ... its quarterback. The Ultimate Triple Threat (c) FTW!* 

Anyway, the point is the Wildcats should be just fine at the skill positions. Colter took a backseat to Persa at quarterback for most of the B1G schedule last season but was employed often as a receiver and a rusher from the wildcat (although is it really a wildcat if the guy is technically a QB?). When he did come on the field as a full-fledged QB, he beat Nebraska. He'll be all right.

Running back was a little iffy for Northwestern last season after Trumpy's injury. With a year to recover, though, he'll be able to work his way back into the rotation. Whether he can shoulder all the responsibilities of being a feature back may not matter -- the Wildcats seem to favor the passing game a little more, anyway, and they have a dangerous runner already in Colter.

The receiver situation is currently in limbo, as mentioned above, but assuming that Prater gets his waiver, Northwestern should have one of the better units in the B1G. 

The real question is on the offensive line. They lose a stud offensive lineman in Ben Burkett, who spent most of his career at center and was even named to the Rimington watch list twice before sliding to guard last season. They also have to replace Outland Trophy candidate LT Al Netter.

The bad news for the Wildcats is that even with these two guys last season, their offensive line wasn't very good. BTN.com's Tom Dienhart ranks their 2012 unit a pitiful 10th in the conference. 

*Now Nissan has to give me royalties for their new ad campaign. 

This offense is as terrifying as: A slightly burnt hot dog bun. The outside and edges may burn you (and/or cause cancer), but middle is still nice and fluffy. Fear level = 6.

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Defense. 

No. 24 S Ibraheim Campbell loses jumpball to Junior Hemingway.

Style: 4-3-Gibson

Key losses: DT Jack Dinardo (34 tackles, 3 sacks), CB Jordan Mabin (62 tackles, 1 INT), S Brian Peters (91 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INT)

Top returners: DE Tyler Scott (31 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), LB David Nwabuisi (84 tackles, 1 sack), S Ibraheim Campbell (100 tackles, 2 INT)

Northwestern stands to benefit most from improving its defense, as it finished 80th overall (407.1 ypg) in total defense and 66th (27.7 ppg) in scoring defense. Those numbers aren't awful, but a slightly better defense, particularly in the secondary, would have been the difference between their 6-7 record in 2011 and 8-5.

It would seem that the Wildcats would have to stretch the limits of their abilities in order to get better, however. Lack of elite talent is a problem. Moreover, Fitzgerald was an All-American linebacker back in his day and subsequently coached defense before becoming head coach at Northwestern, so it's not like he's one of those darned "non-defensive-minded coaches" that we don't take kindly to in these parts.

Aside from getting a new defensive backs coach (which is unlikely since Jerry Brown is Northwestern's version of Fred Jackson (but less good)), there's not much they can do about it but wait for a light to come on.

To be fair, they did do an outstanding job defending against Michigan for the better part of three quarters last season, particularly in the run game. They used a series of run blitzes that limited Toussaint to 14 carries for 25 yards and made Denard pay for every inch of his 117 yards on 25 carries, eventually knocking him out of the game. You have to think that with the lack of quarterbacks on their 2012 schedule able to take advantage of overaggressive defenses, they're going to adopt this strategy more often. 

This defense is as frightening as: An undersized, overtoasted hot dog bun. If your hot dog is long enough, there's no way it can cover all of it. ...

...

Fear level = 4

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Special Teams

KR/PR Venric Mark (yellow) poised for a big return behind his blockers (black) vs. Minnesota. / via Sippinonpurple.com

Northwestern is bad at kicking field goals (6/10).

But good at returning punts (11.4 ypr, 1st in B1G)!

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Predictions

Pat Fitzgerald demonstrates proper hot dog eating technique.

Record: 7-5 overall, 4-4 B1G

Against Michigan: If Michigan can limit Kyle Prater this shouldn't even be close. Michigan demonstrated that it was capable of defending against Northwestern's ground game with its various options and whatnot, so keeping a lid on their passing game (and bubble screens) will be a big priority. On offense Michigan might have trouble getting a steady ground game going if Northwestern stacks the box like they did last year, but if Denard's understanding of the offense and passing mechanics have truly improved over the offseason, I'd expect to see him recap his 2011 second-half eruption against them. 42-17 Michigan

Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: A casual hot dog enthusiast trying to win a hot dog eating contest where all the hot dogs are footlongs and all the buns are burnt. The name plate on the next seat over reads "Kobayashi."