Opponent Watch 2017: Preview, Part 2 Comment Count

BiSB August 17th, 2017 at 10:00 AM

As you may have gleaned from the title, this is the second in a two-part series on the opponents facing Michigan this season. This is the part that has most of the good teams, as well as the worst of all the terrible teams. I'm not sure which of those sounds more interesting. 

Penn State


So… how’s things?

Last year: 11-3 (8-1 B1G), B1G Champion, Lost Rose Bowl to USC 52-49

Recap: We did not see that coming. Penn State won their last 8 conference games, beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, and had a 14-point lead in the second half over USC before falling in a wildly entertaining Rose Bowl.

The reason we didn’t see that coming is because Penn State opened 2-2 with a loss to Not-Good-Enough-To-Be-Our-Rival Pitt, a 7-point win over Temple, and a total defenestration at the hands of Michigan. They then squeeked by Minnesota by three points. They then beat Ohio State in a game that Ohio State really, really should have won; Ohio State outplayed them in most respects, but Penn State blocked two kicks, one of which it returned to the house for the winning score. None of this screamed BEST TEAM IN THE BIG TEN, either then or in hindsight. 

So where does that leave us for this year? Man, that’s hard to say. Preseason polls have Penn State as somewhere between a top-5 and top-10 team. Michigan fans remember them as the team that put up slightly less resistance than UCF.

When last we saw them: Ah yes, the defenestration.

Michigan outgained Penn State 6.13 yards per play (Penn State’s worst defensive performance prior to the Rose Bowl) to 3.47 yards per play (Penn State’s worst offensive performance of the year by more than a yard per play, and more than 3 yards per play below their season average). The Wolverines didn’t punt in the first half, and they forced a field goal so sad it made Jim Harbaugh want to apologize to the game of football itself.

This team is as frightening as: Don Flamenco from Punch-Out, but when you face him in a rematch in the World Circuit. Everyone’s like ‘oooooh he’s so good now’ and you’re like ‘but this is the same dude I knocked the eff out like five bouts ago how much better could he be?’ Fear Level = 8

Michigan should worry about: Mike Gesicki, guy who catches things. Trace McSorley, guy who does Rex Grossman things. Penn State’s offensive line when pass blocking. Penn State vs. Not Michigan. Saquon Barkley.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Mike Gesicki, guy who blocks things. Trace McSorley, guy who has to manage games. Penn State’s offensive line when run blocking. Penn State vs. Not Not Michigan.

As for Barkley… nessun dorma, man.

When they play Michigan: Penn State is likely to be 6-0. Can anyone think of the last time Michigan faced a 6-0 Penn State team? Anyone? What if I gave you two extra seconds to think about it? Mario, any thoughts on the subject?

First game: vs. Akron, noon, ABC

[AFTER THE JUMP: Yep, we've reached that point.]


Last year: 2-10 (0-9 B1G), emphatically no bowl


Rutgers reached rock bottom, and burrowed into rock bottom like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff. Rock bottom is now deeper because of Rutgers.


Rutgers was outscored in four conference games (against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State(?!)) by a combined score of 224-0. What would they have had to do to in their other five conference game to not be considered an abject embarrassment? I’d put the over/under at “singlehandedly defeat the German army on the Great War’s western front.” And while getting pounded in the trenches and launching offensives that gain no ground was certainly something Rutgers was well equipped to do, the Scarlet Knights did not in fact accomplish this. Instead, they lost their other five conference games by a combined 50 points.

If you’re looking for a bright side, they beat New Mexico, scored points against Washington, and somehow kept three conference games within one score: Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa. So keep chasing that roadrunner, guys. He seems to have run into that tunnel on the side of the mountain. Go get 'em.

When last we saw them: Some subject matter is so striking, it is literally impossible to find an unimpressive way to break it down. Think of a photographer at the Grand Canyon: some pictures are better than others, but it’s hard to find a shot or an angle that doesn’t make the viewer say “wow, that is majestic.”

You cannot look at the box score of Michigan/Rutgers, or any breakdown of said box score, without uttering some variation of “holy balls” while making this face:

Such a breakdown does not require any special skills on the part of yours truly to make you laugh audibly at your desk. Ready? Here goes.

  • Michigan outgained Rutgers 600-39 despite throwing exactly three passes in the entire second half, two of which were to the fullback.
  • Rutgers completed two passes for 5 yards.
  • Rutgers didn’t pick up a first down until the score was 71-0.
  • Michigan’s fullbacks had more total yards than Rutgers. Their four touchdowns were as many as Rutgers had against Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State, and Maryland combined.
  • Garrett Moores outscored Rutgers.
  • Michigan scored 11 touchdowns. Michigan surrendered 12 touchdowns in its entire nine-game conference slate.

This team is as frightening as: #FenceTheGarden. Fear Level = 1.7

Michigan should worry about: [NOTE TO SELF: Find some of that hilarious stuff from NJ.com about Rutgers being a tiger poised to take down the biggest dolphin in the herd because of the way Chris Ash eats his breakfast cereal or something. But make it sound plausible.]

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Go re-read the bullet points above.

When they play Michigan: Oh my god we have to do this again?

First game: vs. Washington, 8:00 Friday, FS1


Last year: 9-4 (5-4 B1G), beat Washington State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, 17-12

Recap: Can Gophers row boats? I mean, Broncos could apparently row boats, which seems unlikely from a dexterity standpoint, but at least they had limbs capable of that kind of motion. Gophers weigh between 0.5 and 2 pounds. A standard oar, even made of lightweight modern materials, is going to outweigh a gopher by between 2 and 10 times its bodyweight. That just seems implausible.


Google Image Search: still undefeated

Anyway, Minnesota played some uninteresting football last year, but they weren’t altogether bad. In fact, they won nine games for the first time since 2003... and promptly fired head coach Tracy Claeys. Of course, the firing had more to do with a player boycott over sexual assault investigation-related player suspensions, and the way Claeys handled the whole situation.

Enter: PJ Fleck.

Fleck is coming off a Cotton Bowl appearance with Western Michigan which, was WMU’s… /shuffles through papers… first ever Cotton Bowl. Under Fleck, WMU also won their first MAC title of the century, went to three straight bowl games (they had never even made back-to-back bowl games before Fleck arrived) and won 29 games in 3 years, surpassing the previous WMU record of 23 wins.

The only question is whether PJ Fleck can replicate this kind of success with a less talented squad than he had in Kalamazoo.

When last we saw them: Low. Man. Wins.

This team is as frightening as: Noooooooooo clue. Take a team that wasn’t that great but won 9 games but fired their coach but hired a coach everyone thinks is pretty good but that coach may tear the thing down to the studs before rebuilding it… your guess is as good as mine. Fear Level = Maritime Gopher.

Michigan should worry about: Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for over 1800 yards, albeit at under 4.8 yards per carry. Both are really good backs who, if Minnesota’s passing game can back the defense off, could both have really solid seasons.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: The odds of that passing game busting out are, to put it mildly, low. Mitch Leidner is gone, and Minnesota’s quarterback situation is a mess. Someone from the pile of walk-on Conor Rhoda, sophomore Demry Croft, or freshmen Seth Green (NTSG), Neil McLaurin, or Tanner Morgan will start. This bodes ill.

When they play Michigan: PJ Fleck and Jim Harbaugh shake hands before the game. Their eyes meet. Each refuses to let go. The handshake intensifies. A breakdance fight breaks out.

First game: vs. Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. Thursday, BTN


Last year: 6-7 (3-6 B1G), lost St. Petersburg Bowl to Boston College, 36-30

Recap: Maryland made a bowl game despite without beating a single top-50 team. Their best win was over 3-9 Michigan State. They were the lowest-rated Power 5 team to make a bowl game (as measured by S&P+), edging out Boston College… to whom Maryland lost in their bowl game.

But still, they made a bowl, which was a significant accomplishment for first-year head coach DJ Durkin. The problem is that Maryland’s schedule in 2017 probably won’t allow them to return to the Yes This Is A Real Bowl Bowl with a similar level of play. They open at Texas, and they have cross-division games with Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Minnesota. Bill Connelly has them at between 4 and 5 wins, which feels right.

When last we saw them: It wasn’t quite a Rutgers-level throttling, but Michigan pulled away to a reasonably comfortable 59-3 win. Wilton Speight put up the best statistical passing first half in Michigan history, going 13 of 16 for 292 yards (18.25 YPA) and 2 TDs. Michigan averaged 7.0 yards per carry on the day. It was comprehensive. It was ho-hum. It featured just enough Jabrill Peppers. It was, all in all, a pleasant November afternoon.

This team is as frightening as: Raphael. Potentially dangerous, but still among the most overrated of turtles. Fear Level = 4

Michigan should worry about: Like Minnesota, Maryland has a dynamic pair of running backs in Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson; Johnson hit 1000 yards at over 9 yards per carry, and Harrison averaged 7.2 yards per carry and was more productive than Johnson against good defenses (including Michigan).

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Like Minnesota, Maryland’s quarterback situation is unsettlingly unsettled. Perry Hills is gone, and will be replaced by either Tyrrell “Piggy” Pigrome, Max “Kermit*” Bortenschlager, and UNC transfer Caleb “Harry and the*” Henderson.

*Citation needed

When they play Michigan: Look, there’s a chance Michigan is looking past Maryland to the nasty tail end of the schedule. And Maryland, riding high off of a likely win over Rutgers, may come out swinging. So they may – MAY – keep the margin within 55 points this year.

First game: at Texas, noon, FS1




Last year: 11-3 (7-2 B1G), B1G West Champions, Beat Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, 24-16

Recap: 2016 was supposed to be the year Wisconsin finally took it on the chin. Every year they seemed to coast by with a middle-school level non-conference slate and a disproportionately Rutgersish-and-Marylandesque type of conference schedule. But not last year. Last year they opened against LSU, and then played back-to-back-to-back-to-back games at Michigan State, at Michigan, against Ohio State, and at Iowa.

Somehow, Wisconsin emerged from those games (and two body bag games against Akron and Georgia State) at 5-2, and won out to win the West. They then had a 28-7 lead over Penn State with the ball late in the first half, and somehow managed to blow it. The Universe giveth, and the Universe taketh.

When last we saw them: Jourdan Lewis decided he wanted George Rushing’s milkshake.

The game was close on the scoreboard, but Michigan dominated it statistically: 349 yards to 159 yards, 21 first downs to 8, 6.8 yards per pass to 3.5. Michigan missed three field goals (from 31 yards, 43 yards, and 40 yards) kept Wisconsin in it, but ultimately the Badgers couldn’t sustain anything on offense. They didn’t have a drive over 40 yards all game, and only 3 drives gained more than 20 yards.

This team is as frightening as: The same Wisconsin who has been Wisconsining since the dawn of Wisconsin. Fear Level = 7.5

Michigan should worry about: Wisconsin is talented and deep at every level of the defense, and returns a number of playmakers from a top-10 defense.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Wisconsin lost some key pieces from the back seven, with TJ Watt, Vince Biegel, Leo Musso, and Sojourn Shelton all departing, and Jack Cichy falling to a torn ACL in fall camp.

When they play Michigan: White guys smashing into eeeeeeeeeeeverything

First game: vs. Utah State, 9:00 p.m. Friday, ESPN

Ohio State

Last year: 11-2 (8-1 B1G), lost Peach Bowl/CFB Semifinal to Clemson 31-0

Recap: Ohio State gets graded on a different curve than everyone else around here, for two reasons. First, they are the nemesis. They are Hans Gruber to our John McClain. The Tonya Harding to our Nancy Kerrigan. The Spy to our Spy. The Ohio State to our Michigan. Second, they’ve been damn good since Urban Meyer arrived.

So, by those standards, Ohio State had a relatively mediocre season. They lost two games, which is a lot for them. True, one of the losses was a complete blind-ass fluke (see the Penn State section above). But at the same time, they also won two games that Bill Connelly’s numbers had as a 17% win likelihood: a 17-16 win over Michigan State (which… wait, what?) and the double-overtime Football Armageddon Redux victory over Michigan at home. And their loss to Clemson in the playoff was not competitive from the opening kick.

The good news for a program so clearly in need of good news is that they return pretty much everyone, they have been recruiting at an unbelievable pace, and they are still 61-6 with Urban Meyer at the helm.

Screw those guys.

When last we saw them: I don’t really want to talk about it yet.

This team is as frightening as: 1/Rutgers. Fear Level = 9

Michigan should worry about: Well, let’s see… Ohio State has won 12 of 13 games against Michigan, and has a better record against Michigan in that stretch than Michigan has had over any Big Ten team that isn’t Indiana.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Spot or no, Michigan outplayed Ohio State last year, and did so at Ohio Stadium.

When they play Michigan: Please don’t make me start thinking about this yet.

First game: at Indiana, 8:00 p.m. Thursday, ESPN



August 17th, 2017 at 11:16 AM ^

But 1/Rutgers is some kind of universe-sized singularity that has all the mass and energy of all existence, the Big Bang itself.  OSU is. . . not that.  Like Michigan State two years ago, Michigan is already the better team, just some flukes and terrible officiating gave the wrong outcome last time.

I mean, it's far from a gimme, but I'm not scared of OSU.  I AM scared of the B1G refs messing with the game again, and our young squad may or may not be ready for them, but I don't see our program looking up at OSU anymore.


August 17th, 2017 at 12:24 PM ^

"PJ Fleck and Jim Harbaugh shake hands before the game. Their eyes meet. Each refuses to let go. The handshake intensifies. A breakdance fight breaks out."


Also the Wile E. Coyote metaphor: "Rock bottom is now deeper because of Rutgers"


Opponent Watch is the best!


August 17th, 2017 at 11:29 AM ^

Yes, they have produced a lot of NFL LBs, but I somewhat wonder how much of that is the system. When you only use your D Line to eat up blockers, your LBs are going to rack up stats. Whether they are great, good, or average.


August 17th, 2017 at 11:46 AM ^

IF your LBs are primarily there to clean up a space-eating DL, a downhill thumping unit is presumably vulnerable to spread attacks and slants behind them.  Wisconsin's linebackers are complete linebackers.  They hit hard at the line, they can pursue sideline to sideline, and their zone coverage isn't a weakness either.  There's a reason why their defenses have been so good.

And to flip it around, when you have LBs like that, using the DL to eat space is a smart way to use your talent.  The scheme is there because the linebackers are the strength, not to inflate their stats.


August 17th, 2017 at 10:26 AM ^

Harbaugh was pretty incredulous after the Penn State FG, but Drevno is just plain baffled by it. I almost like his reaction better.


Edit: What happened to the gif tournament this year?


August 17th, 2017 at 10:25 AM ^

No matter how I look at it, Penn State to me, is still just an 8-4 team at best this season. I am not a believer in Trace McSorely, and don't see how he could repeat last season. I know the game is going to be extremely difficult regardless of how good they are this year, because, night games at happy valley. 


August 17th, 2017 at 11:37 AM ^

How do you see Penn State losing 4 games, especially if you suggest they might beat us? Which 4-6 losses do you see on their schedule?

They're very likely not going to lose to any of Kent State, Georgia State, Rutgers, Indiana, Maryland or MSU. That's six wins.  

Also, Nebraska and Pittsburgh are both fairly mediocre teams that have to travel to Happy Valley this year in a rivalry game and senior day environment, respectively; both are likely wins. 


That's 8 wins right there, without even accounting for their home night game against us; additionally, @Iowa could be tricky, but the Hawkeyes lose a lot and PSU has owned them lately (won 3 in a row, none of which were within a single score). PSU beat them last season by 27 points. My Iowa friends think that's their surest loss on the schedule. 


Although I don't see PSU repeating as Big Ten Champs, it seems a bit crazy to suggest that a team that went 10-2 and won the Big Ten, which also returns far more production than the average Big Ten team, is likely to regress by two games despite having an easier non-conference schedule. 

I see PSU losing in Columbus and losing one, maybe two, of three to @Northwestern, vs. Michigan and @Iowa. Yes, PSU could go 8-4, but that seems like absolute worst case rather than a "at best". 


August 17th, 2017 at 12:45 PM ^

"At best" was probably the wrong choice in wording there seeing as I don't think in anyone's wildest dreams they could do worse than 8-4. That being said, I think that they will lose to both Michigan and Ohio State this year. To me, the defensive fronts for both teams are too much for Penn State to handle. I think that they will drop either Northwestern or Iowa games this year with both being on the road and I wouldn't even rule out a strange loss to a team like Maryland or Michigan State. 

So to edit my original post, 10-2 at best 8-4 at worst. 




August 17th, 2017 at 11:55 AM ^

I hate defending PSU at all, but look at their schedule. As far as I can tell, there are only three plausible losses there: @ Iowa, vs. Michigan, and @ OSU. And as much as we like to make fun of McSorely relying on the "hail mary at every opportunity" offense, at least he connected with his deep passes regularly, unlike Speight. Our new DBs better grow up quick, or that game could get out of hand in a bad way.


August 17th, 2017 at 12:18 PM ^

We can laugh all we want, but statiscally, he was far and away the best passing QB in the Big 10 last season. His WRs were good, but they weren't Jerry Rice/Calvin Johnson good.


3614 yards, 9.3 YPA!, 29:8 TD:INT ratio. 156.9 QB rating. I'll take that any day, especially on Saturdays.


August 17th, 2017 at 3:06 PM ^

Seriously, even with all the good QBs and WRs to come through Michigan, I'm fairly sure that stat line is better than any Michigan QB ever had. Considering he was a first year starter, and the OL was not the friendliest to play behind, what he did was seriously impressive. I just don't see the whole "regression to the mean" that's supposedly going to kill PSU's offense. Godwin is the only major loss, Gesicki is a joke at blocking but a fantastic receiving TE, Barkley is probably the best RB in the country right now, the OL is getting better, and they've got some promising young WRs. I just don't understand people discounting the PSU offense but have no worries about replacing Butt/Darboh/Chesson/Smith.


August 17th, 2017 at 2:58 PM ^

That's funny because I believe there first loss will be at Northwestern. Either way they will not be undefeated when they play us and they will not be favored. There defense was not good last year and will be worse this year after losing their best d-lineman. If they have any key injuries they will nose dive with a quickness as they have zero depth. I look for two teams to beat them easily. Guess which two!. Michigan will be a much tougher out this year because I believe are offense will be much more explosive and will attack you in every conceivable way. From two TE's to five wide. I don't know if I am in the minority but I truly believe if Michigan has one loss before the osu game that they failed somewhere. Michigan has way more talent than any team until osu and should control most offenses quite easily I feel.


August 17th, 2017 at 3:49 PM ^

First off, NW without Carr is not going to be threatening too many people. PSU is basically returning everyone but Godwin on offense, and lit every defense they played on fire except Michigan and OSU (and, weirdly, Minnesota). Northwestern's D isn't nearly good enough to keep PSU in check for an entire game.

Second, let's take the maize and blue glasses off for a minute. The only team in the country returning less production on defense than Michigan is Air Force. 22% of our production returns, but we're just going to reload and carry on like nothing changed? I'd love for that to happen, but it's not likely; plus, depth isn't exactly our strong suit either. PSU may not have had a great D last year, but it was not awful (#14 S&P, #48 FEI) and returns 68% of their production. And yeah, they lost their best DL, but we lost our 3 best. Oh, and also the whole starting secondary. And two starting LBs.

As to offense, our total returning production is 46% (70-761-6 receiving and 300-1672-26 rushing). For PSU, it's 79% (167-2668-18 receiving and 522-2499-34 rushing). But we're supposed to be the explosive offense?

Seriously, stop making me defend these guys.


August 18th, 2017 at 7:41 AM ^

I'm not saying there's no way our new guys can't be productive. There's plenty of correlation out there that says returning production is pretty important to future success - check out the work Bill Connelly does. Sure, OSU lost a bunch of guys after 2013 and then won a title with tons of new starters, and Alabama reloads seemingly every year. I just don't see us at that level yet. I'd love to be proven wrong.


August 18th, 2017 at 7:33 AM ^

Absolutely Iowa was a plausible loss. Road game at night in Kinnick? What about that made anyone comfortable?

Yes, upsets happen. That's why they play the games. I'm just trying to figure out why so many people are acting as if Penn State is going to be a cakewalk despite all the evidence to the contrary. Sure, we beat their brains in last year, but you can't tell me with a straight face that the PSU team that played in the Rose Bowl was at all the same team that we saw in Ann Arbor.

Blue Carcajou

August 17th, 2017 at 3:17 PM ^

This is the closest, actually, but swap 3 and 4.

*puts on nerd glasses*...

In terms of which one is pound for pound the best fighter, Michaelango is (even in Master Splinter's eyes) the one with the most all-around potential (despite the fact that his jovial nature prevents him from realizing it); as the team leader and oldest brother, Leonardo is second (though often considered the most skilled combatant); Raphael's tenacity and 'tude makes him third (he will rarely, if ever, win a one-on-one fight with Leo); and Donny, who's much more of an ask questions first, fight last kind of guy, would be the fourth fiercest.


August 17th, 2017 at 3:43 PM ^

no one said to rank them as best fighter. Pretty sure everyone else did by favorite.

There are so many different source materials to choose from and your description does not apply to all.

Out of the 3 source materials I am familiar with never does Michelangelo appear to be or is told that he is the greatest fighter. That is laughable in my mind.

Raphael at his best is better than Leonardo at his best. Leo gets the upperhand more because he is consistent. Raph has more ups and downs which is why he is the best and most interesting turtle.

Everyone is a winner in Ninja Turtle debates.


Blue Carcajou

August 17th, 2017 at 5:48 PM ^

Underestimate Michaelango at your own peril...

"According to Splinter, Michelangelo has the most raw talent of the four, but because of his incredibly limited attention span, it's very unlikely he will ever meet his true potential..."

Source: http://turtlepedia.wikia.com/wiki/Michelangelo_(2003_TV_series)

This is one most recent adaptations, and certainly one of the more faithful ones.

Reading comprehension isn't your strong suit; I said POTENTIAL. Michaelango is far more than a slap-stick throwaway character. He was the Battle Nexus Champion after all and outlasted all three of this brothers in the tournament.

And Raph better than Leo? Ha! He usually overcompensated with his anger and tends to get in his own way. Leonardo on the other hand has "all the intangibles".

I do whole heartedly agree with your last statement, though.