Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense, Five Questions: Defense.
The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
Michigan's one year bounce was followed by a ruthless reversion to Rodriguez-era norms as Michigan's fumble recovery rate dropped to human levels and Denard threw a bunch of interceptions. Actually, Russell Bellomy made quite a contribution himself with four interceptions on just 21 throws. Vincent Smith also tossed one on his only attempt. That's quite an interception haul from 22 attempts.
Gardner's INT rate (3.9%) was not great, but it was a significant improvement on Denard and especially the random throws. If he'd taken all of Michigan's 318 throws he would have thrown 13 interceptions (actually 12.6), and one of his picks was a third-and-long chuck that became a virtual punt. Even if Gardner doesn't improve that INT rate Michigan can expect to drop a lot of interceptions.
Fumbles lost should stay at low levels as Taylor Lewan protects Gardner from blindside hits and low-fumble Fitz Toussaint gets the bulk of the carries. Robinson was a consistent source of fumbles, too.
That should get Michigan to about even, and then you'd hope increased pressure on the quarterback and a defensive backfield more oriented towards MAKING PLAYS would increase Michigan's crappy takeaway rate.
I'd guess Michigan is in a range from turnover-neutral to +0.25, but as always with turnovers they can do wacky things.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
WDE Brennen Beyer moves to SAM to cover for the Ryan injury. Fret level: none. Minor move and Beyer is competing with Cam Gordon to start until Ryan gets back for the meat of the schedule.
WLB Desmond Morgan moves to MLB so Ross can start. Fret level: negative? Morgan's more natural at MLB and the differences are minimal.
LT Ben Braden moves to guard and back, which leaves Michigan in a bit of a spot on the interior. Fret level: moderate. Michigan could use another bullet or two on the interior and obviously wanted Braden to grab the job.
CB Courtney Avery moves to safety, apparently to start. Fret level: severe.
This is actually a low level of motion, which is good.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Worst Case If Devin Gardner Is Healthy
The offensive line remains in shambles, though Kalis does bring a nastiness Michigan did not have previously. Any gains in the run game are offset by the loss of Robinson. Clark is JAG again, Ryan does not come back as Jake Ryan, and the pass rush remains stagnant as the secondary gets leaky. Gardner pulls out a couple of tough games; Michigan loses their other four and ends up 8-4.
Worst Case If Devin Gardner Gets Injured
Michigan isn't quite there. If Gardner is all that and if the offensive line is okay, they still don't get enough pass rush and safety play in one particular game that blows up a potentially undefeated season. 11-1.
Gardner's the man, Toussaint recaptures his glory, the offensive line is middling in the middle and great on the edges, Gallon blows up.
On defense, the line is a sold B+, the linebackers are good to start and great at the end of the season once Ryan gets his feet back under him. The secondary is solid but prone to giving up big plays.
Special teams is a hidden asset as some of the blocking issues get resolved, Michigan flirts with spread punting, and Norfleet brings some pizzazz to the return jobs.
Brady Hoke wins a game by going for it.
||@ Penn State
||Lean to win
||@ Michigan State
||Lean to win
Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue
Six games should be in the bag already, and road games against Penn State (freshman quarterback) and Michigan State (lost entire offense in the person of LeVeon Bell, four way QB duel) feature what should be immensely struggling offenses and solid defenses. Notre Dame, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Ohio State are where the season will be made or lost. Only one of those is on the road, that a quasi-road game against Northwestern in the Little Big House. It looks like 10-2. 9-3 is more likely than 11-1.
[Last year I predicted 9-3, which was a game off. I claim Nebraska as an unforeseeable event, though.]