Reading the Tea Leaves

Submitted by Eye of the Tiger on May 6th, 2011 at 1:59 AM

 

As most of you undoubtedly have, I’ve been struggling to figure out my expectations for the 2011-12 football season. On the defensive side of the ball, things are looking up. On offense, however, there are signs of inclement weather, which may pose problems come September.

Galactic Punter II aside, special teams remains the foul abode of ancient demons and Boschian nightmares. On the other hand, it's still very, very early. So I tried to work through the most plausible scenarios rationally, to assess their relative likelihood based upon what we know now, and where things may be headed. No fancy statistics or charts here, just old-fashioned logic and informed speculation. Take that with a grain of salt, and please tell me what I’ve got right and what I’ve got wrong. 

The Scenarios

1. Roses-Tinted Glasses

Scenario: Basically everything goes right. Mattison’s schemes and emphasis on fundamentals produce not improvement, but a seismic shift in our defensive performance. We tackle, we swarm and we don’t lose contain. The young, middling recruits of yesteryear turn into MEN who play MANBALL. Over on offense, Borges shows his utilitarian side, keeping plays and formations that were effective last year, but also introducing new schemes that dramatically improve our scoring efficiency and flexibility against stout defenses. A running back or two establish themselves as go-to guys, putting less pressure on Denard’s feet and keeping him healthy. Denard does still dazzle us with his running ability, but he also looks comfortable in the pocket and shows maturity as a passer. Hagerup ensures we dominate the battle for field position, and thanks to Matt Wile, we can actually kick field goals!

Record: 10-2, or a really good 9-3 in a parity-filled year, a chance to play for the inaugural Big 10 Championship game and a possible trip to Pasadena. 

Odds: 9/1. Given our recent luck with injuries, a big and uncertain transition on offense and the gauntlet-style conference schedule we face, I’d rate this as possible, but highly unlikely. Too many things would have to come together: too many gaping holes on defense filled with underwhelming sophomores and rusty seniors, too many apparent problems in our execution of the West Coast offense wrapped up quickly and emphatically, too much pressure on a true freshman kicker and too many depth issues at key positions all over the field solved with fairy dust and magic wands.* Of course, surprise performances do happen from time to time. How about PennStatein 2008-9? That was a team that had been decent but kind of “meh” the year before, and had a host of pre-season issues making a championship campaign unlikely. Another example closer to home would be our 2006 team—lots of returning starters but some uncertainty based on staff changes. Still, those were teams that could consistently win with defense. We’re just not there yet. And besides, if there’s one thing we’ve come to expect in 4 of the past 5 years, it’s the ruthless smashing of dreams by Angry Michigan-Hating Gods. Don’t get your hopes up.

*An 11-1 scenario would also likely require some help, in the form of criminal charges beyond the pale of re-instatement in East Lansing, Apocalypse Tressel in Columbus and locust plagues just about everywhere else in the conference.

2. Remember the Alamo…er…Outback Bowl!

Scenario: Mattison’s coaching and more experience on the DL and in the secondary produce immediate dividends on defense. We upgrade from “historically bad” to “somewhere in the middle.” Teams just can’t score on us like they used to, we hold steady on 3rd down with some regularity and tackling is as tackling does. We adjust to life in the West Coast offense pretty well, do better in the field position battle than last year and manage to kick some field goals here and there. However, we do suffer from some transitional pains on offense, and, despite improvement, are still not great on defense.

Record: 9-3 or 8-4, with a signature win over “Little Brother” or “Ohio.”

Odds: 6/5. As I see it, this is the most likely scenario. We win a couple we’re supposed to lose, but lose at least one we’re supposed to win. Iowa and MSU, in particular, look ripe for the pickin’. Perhaps we even beat the boys from Tatville! That said, we should probably splash ourselves with the cold water of reality: our schedule is still brutal.* Going 5-3 or 4-4 against ND, SDSU, MSU, Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and OSU seems like a plausible outcome for a team with a still-explosive-but-somewhat-slowed offense, a still-questionable-but-fast-improving defense and an extra year of experience and conditioning for our pantheon of returning starters. Beyond that lie clouds, fantastic things to stare at and imagine as corporeal, but are in actuality little more than concentrations of moisture in random shapes. This is where we appear to be headed, or perhaps more accurately, this is where we should be headed. So wax nostalgic about the Lloyd Carr years, friends, for they may be back

*ALLBig 10 Schedules are brutal, every year. This one is not as bad as the one we get in 2012, which has the added pain of Alabamaand Air Force, but it still poses major challenges for an ascending lower-middle-of-the-pack team like us.

3. Gator Vu All Over Again…

Scenario: Our defense may get better, but it’s still not up to snuff against proper competition. Our offense, on the other hand, has a rockier-than-hoped-for transition to Borges’ West Coast scheme. The combination of these two factors doom us to a different kind of the same mediocrity we experienced in 2010. Or, things do go according to plan, but injuries rear their ugly head and things fall apart during the toughest part of the season. Either way, at times we put it all together, and at others, nothing seems to work.

Record: 7-5 or 6-6, and a rematch with the SEC midrange. 

Odds: 9/5. Sadly, this is another plausible scenario, and an obstacle to our return to Big 10 relevancy. Basically, start with all the factors outlined in the Outback scenario, and then add a few drops of cyanide. Said cyanide can take multiple forms. Take, for example, the home-and-away factor in the pivotal 8 games mentioned above: ND, SDSU, Nebraskaand OSU are at home, and MSU, Northwestern, Iowa, and Illinoisaway. Location held constant, all those away games are winnable; playing them away makes them less so. The home games, by contrast, include the two we’re least likely to win no matter where they are played. Despite everything I said in the last entry, this is a problem. Another one is depth, and what a few unlucky injuries could mean to the best-laid plans of mice and men. Can you imagine us going 3-5 or even 2-6 across that stretch? I can. Of course, our roster doesn't appear as frighteningly thin as it was last year,* and all that experience will count for something. Hopefully it will. If not, 2011 could look a whole lot like 2010. 

*It didn't look quite that bad in May 2010 either.

4. A Moonwalk to Oblivion

Scenario: In this final scenario, everything that can go wrong does. Mattison’s coaching can’t turn this ragtag bunch into anything even approaching competence, and Borges goes all square-peg-meets-round-hole on our offensive personnel. Our RBs continue to sputter, and our WRs, it turns out, really aren’t suited to a West Coast offense. Denard gets injured, or regresses into an interception machine. We still can’t kick a damned field goal. 

Record: 5-7 or worse. No postseason and another hard sell on the recruiting path. 

Odds: 9/1. We can sleep relatively well tonight, because this isn’t too likely. But it does happen sometimes. In 2009, Charlie Weis took a Notre Dame team stacked with upperclassmen and promptly went 6-6. Though our expectations aren’t as high or as delusionary, our schedule is likely tougher. We’ve also had a string of bad luck and poor coaching decisions the past few years, which contributed to our historically bad defenses and—in 2008 and 2009—our sputtering offenses. If this string of luck and poor decisions continues (albeit in different form), it would severely complicate the transition currently under way. As I see it, this would take another injury-and-attrition apocalypse like the one that produced our Decimated Defense in 2010 combined with another “shock-therapy” transition on offense like we had in 2008. To be frank, I don’t think it’s too likely for lightning to strike twice in two years, and a return to 2008 production is unlikely, given differences in personnel.* All that said, our vat of returning starters, apparent upgrade in defensive coaching and reassuring noises from Borges about using shotgun sets and QB keepers make this is about as likely as going to the Rose Bowl. In other words, not very.

*But the consequences would also be more painful, given what we expect from Denard n’ Co.

Parting Notes

Inevitably, some readers will draw connections to our recent coaching change and the on-going feud between the Rich Rod loyalists and the Hoke brigade. I do have my opinions on this topic, but I’d rather not go there. Suffice to say, Rich tried his best to put something special together here, and it just didn’t turn out the way he hoped. Dave Brandon made a decision to change things because he didn’t see a roadmap to sustained success, and felt the Michiganbrand was suffering as a result. Only time will give us a concrete idea as to whether Brandonmade a good or bad decision. I’m not trying to comment on the wisdom of that decision, or lack thereof. 

Comments

Bluestreak

May 6th, 2011 at 3:08 AM ^

Not sure if the 'signature' win will come though. Just get the feeling that we are still 'raw' to win against the elite of the big 10 this year.

Zone Left

May 6th, 2011 at 4:40 PM ^

Wisconsin is going to have problems this year, and I think Nebraska may be a paper tiger. MSU should have a solid shot at #2 in the conference behind OSU, IMO.

andrewG

May 6th, 2011 at 7:40 AM ^

i want to be irate that you would call a win over sparty "signature", but reality prevents me from doing so at this point in time.  this is not ok.

Logan88

May 6th, 2011 at 8:03 AM ^

If UM loses to San Diego State, Hoke should be fired immediately. They will NOT be as good as they were last year (and they were only 1 game better than UM in the regular season while playing in a non-BCS conference). They are going through a coaching change just like UM, have far less talent on their roster and their new HC has no track record of success. I am not the least bit concerned about SDSU.

I am less intimidated by Nebraska than many UM fans seem to be (and I was a few months ago before I looked at their 2010 schedule). Nebraska has benefited from playing in the woefully inept Big 12 North. 6 of Nebraska's 10 wins last year were against non-bowl teams and of the 4 wins against bowl teams, 2 were against Kansas St. (who also plays in the Big 12 North and had only ONE win over a bowl team) and Washington who both finished 7-6. I firmly believe that UM can/should beat Nebraska this season, especially if Martinez plays like he did in the second half of 2010.

I think Scenario 2 if by far the most likely for UM in 2011. I would put it at 3/1. UM will have little trouble beating WMU, EMU, SDSU, Purdue and Minnesota. I expect them to win 2 of 4 on the road and win at least one against ND, Nebraska and OSU.

Eye of the Tiger

May 6th, 2011 at 8:38 AM ^

I put them in there, though, because of their 2010 record, and because they're a decent enough opponent that plays us early.  The past few years we've been stronger early on than down the stretch, but this time I think it will go in the opposite direction--we'll have kinks to iron out early on, and get more consistent as the season goes on.  I doubt we'll lose that one, though.  

As you can tell, I also think scenario #2 is the most likely, and perhaps you're right about Nebraska being paper tigers.  But that still leaves tough home games against ND and OSU, and tough away games against MSU, Northwestern, Iowa and Illinois.  That's six "losable" games, given a few injuries or bad performances.  I'd be very surprised, and disappointed, if we lost all six--or even if we only won five of them.  MSU has lost Greg Jones and most of their OL; Iowa has lost Stanzi, Robinson, Clayborn and both OGs.  Plus we played them tight enough in both 2009 and 2010.  Even though away, I think these are big opportunities.  Actually, I'd say ND scares me more than MSU this year, and illinois more than Iowa.  Northwestern is a bit of a wildcard.  If it isn't dismantled by the NCAA, OSU is a probable loss, but it should still be more in play than at any time since 2006. 

If you're right about Nebraska, I'd guess we're looking at 9-3.  I'll take that.  

 

Logan88

May 6th, 2011 at 10:01 AM ^

I think Iowa is the most likely win of the road games. They only have 9 returning starters on Offense/Defense combined. UM's losses the last two seasons were mostly due to having a   -4 TO margin in both games. Iowa will finish no higher than 4th in the Legends division this year IMO.

Illinois will be the next easiest road game IMO and I think UM will win that game. They lost several key guys from their defense and while I think Scheelhaase (however you spell that crazy name) will be improved, I still think UM will be able to get out of Champaign with the W.

My perception of the likelihood of wins for UM in 2011 (from most likely to least likely):

  1. EMU
  2. WMU
  3. Minnesota
  4. SDSU
  5. Purdue
  6. Iowa
  7. Illinois
  8. Northwestern
  9. Nebraska
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Michigan State
  12. Ohio State

I think UM will win 7 of the first eight and 1 or 2 of the bottom four. 8 or 9 wins in the regular season and a trip to the Outback bowl sounds about right.

Needs

May 6th, 2011 at 8:31 AM ^

I don't see this schedule as 'brutal.' In fact, it's the easiest schedule that we can possibly have in the new BiG. ND, Nebr, and OSU in AA, crossovers against Illinois and Purdue, and no additional BCS program in the non-conference slate. 'Brutal' is 2012.

chally

May 6th, 2011 at 8:39 AM ^

Scenario 3 looks the most realistic to me.  The offense will have flashes of explosiveness, but it is unlikely to be a smooth transition.  Denard is fantastic, but is still likely to throw some ill-advised balls that lead to interceptions.  He is also less likely to get as many opportunities for wide-open 50+ yard touchdown passes without the constant threat of the Incredibly Surprising QB Iso.  The defense, while hopefully improved, is still lacking the kind of top-end talent that will get us over the hump against teams like Ohio.

The early schedule looks promising otherwise, but Notre Dame is a coinflip given that we'll still be adapting to the new offense and some new personnel.  Later in the season, I would expect us to be underdogs in four games: @MSU, @Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio.

I think a 5-loss season looks as likely as a 3-loss season at this point.

ironman4579

May 6th, 2011 at 9:00 AM ^

I'm probably the most uncertain about this year as any year in recent history.  Even in 2008 I was pretty sure of a two game range for our final record (I was very wrong, but I was still pretty sure).  I feel like this team could lose 7 games if things go very wrong, or win double digits if everything goes right.  

That said, some other teams have or could have factors working against them that could help us this year.  MSU loses 11 starters.  Iowa loses a bunch of starters.  OSU could be in real trouble by the time we play them.

bluebyyou

May 6th, 2011 at 9:55 AM ^

From my perspective, it is all about Denard.  Can he learn the new offense and will he stay healthy? If the answers are no to either question, we have big problems.  With no 12 game starter as the reserve QB, the offensive load falls even more upon Denard.  Devin seems to have the skill set but has almost no on-field time.

As far as the D and special teams go, they can only improve and they will.  Older players, more experience and far better coaching.  I still have concerns about Woolfolk's playing - his injury was very serious and while I hope he is 100 percent recovered, I don't think we will know that until September. 

I still see us as being competitive with ND, little brother and possibly Nebraska.  Unlike last year, where I saw virtually no improvement on D as the season progresses, we should see improvement as  Mattison's coaching is learned over the season.  We should also progress on O over time.  It is a big advantage to play so many big games at home. We will win some we shouldn't and lose some we shouldn't.

9-3.

Marc 71

May 6th, 2011 at 10:23 AM ^

that Denard made last summer foreshadows the progress he will make this summer.  His dedication and talent will enable him to teach himself more of the new offense than we currently think and he will drag his roommate Devin along with him.  This will be enough to get us to 8-4 minimum if the team just stays relatively healthy.  Just the new attitude from the coaching change on defense will be worth some points.

Tater

May 6th, 2011 at 10:28 AM ^

8-4 looks right to me.  I think they will lose to ND, pull off a nice streak, and lose to Iowa and Nebraska.  I think TSIO will struggle this year under "interim" coach Luke Fickell after Tressel is fired just before he was supposed to come back from his suspension.  Whether they struggle enough that Michigan can beat them is yet to be seen.  I expect Michigan to either sustain an "upset" or lose to TSIO.  The "upset" would be more palatable.

 The addition of Nebraska to the mix might make bowl matchups easier, or it might not.  I am hoping it does, and that Michigan doesn't have to play a team as good as Mississippi State was last season.  I think they get yet another bad matchup and end the season 8-5.  

This will allow everyone to pound the pulpit about the team being "headed in the right direction," and lead to a strong finish to the recruiting year.

 

Pasadena_Blue

May 6th, 2011 at 10:29 AM ^

I am with Scenario 2 as well.  Not having Wisky on the schedule is always a plus, and getting Minnesota and Northwestern (although that's not as guaranteed as it used to be) back on the schedule will help.  Marc beat me to it, but Denard will get better over the summer, his athleticism and overall work ethic will allow him to again improve.  Should be a very solid season.

MGoNukeE

May 6th, 2011 at 1:30 PM ^

1) I don't think 10-2 would necessarily mean Michigan gets a chance to play in the Big Ten Championship. For 10-2 to get Michigan to the BTC game, they'd need to go either 7-1 Big Ten with a loss to Notre Dame or 6-2 Big Ten would need to be good enough. 7-1 Big Ten is probably good enough to make it assuming their loss doesn't come to a team like Nebraska that also has only 1 in-conference loss, but 6-2 would have to hold up against Nebraska and a potential darkhorse candidate like Northwestern.

2) I disagree that MSU is a signature win but Notre Dame is either not a signature win or a guaranteed signature loss. If Michigan beats MSU but loses to Notre Dame and OSU, that's only better than last year if the overall record is better than last year... and the schedule is easier this year than last year, and with the number of returning starters the record is expected to improve by at least one game.

Overall, not a whole lot of new information and is a borderline board topic. I think your record ranges sound about right, though weighted a little strongly on the pessimistic side IME. I like more blind optimism about how Michigan will go at least 13-1 and the NCAA find out that OSU and MSU were knowingly playing ineligible players during all of their wins against Michigan this past decade.

Eye of the Tiger

May 6th, 2011 at 10:58 PM ^

Let me respond to each:

1. Yes, of course that's true.  But we get into the game by being at the top of our respective half of the conference, in terms of conference wins/losses only, and I think this is going to be a  year marked by parity.  Were it not for Tatgate, OSU would be runaway favorites to go to the Big 10 Championship.  As it stands, they have to play MSU without 5 players or coach, and it's highly likely more hammers will fall.  MSU and Iowa have lost a lot of guys.  Nebraska might make an impact, but as another person pointed out above, they weren't really as impressive last year as a lot of people thought.  While that doesn't automatically say "Michigan," it does suggest to me that the team that ends up going to the Big 10 Championship will be a 2-loss team.  

2. Notre Dame is by no means a "guaranteed signature loss."  We're at home, after all, and returning most of the team that beat them last year.  On the other hand, they showed real improvement at the end of last year and we're likely to have some transitional kinks early in the season.  It was a coinflip/down-to-the-wire game in 2009 and 2010, and I imagine it will be in 2011 too.    

The fact is, any of ND, MSU or OSU are signature wins in any year.  But given that we haven't beaten MSU since 2007, a win would be immediate and tangible evidence that some of the things driving us to depression and alcoholism have changed.  Subjectively speaking, we've gotten used to beating Notre Dame, but have not and will never get used to the humiliation of losing to Little Brother in consecutive years.  If we lost multiple times to ND, and went back to beating MSU every year, this would change.  For now, though, beating MSU, Dantonio and their little booster brigade at the Freep would be immensely satisfying, and a big boost to morale.  

3. Though you didn't number the last one, I'll respond anyways.  Sorry it feels more like a board topic to you, but it is a bit long for one, no?  I tried to put a lot of time and effort into parsing out the plausible scenarios and assessing their likelihood, and writing it in a way that would be fun as well as discussion-stimulating.  Hopefully it worked in those regards.  But if you have a dataset handy I can do some regressions for you next time. ;) Needless to say, I hope it would provide tangible proof for blind optimism and a 13-1 or even 14-0 season, as that would be AWESOME.  

M-Wolverine

May 8th, 2011 at 12:33 AM ^

But still 3 paragraphs on it, eh?
<br>
<br>I'd say if you believe that a team like Nebraska is beatable (I'm not positive, but a number here do) then 6-2 can win the division. The 2 losses could come vs. ND and Ohio State. Or even whoever in our division who is pretty good but not good enough to have a 2 loss Big Ten season. Because Nebraska's not going to be a 1 loss team with their "Welcome to the Big Ten, Fuck You" schedule. Getting their division, cross rival PSU and OSU and Wisky is brutal. Both go 6-2 and you beat them. B10 title game.

Promote RichRod

May 6th, 2011 at 10:52 AM ^

This is what you call a brutal schedule?

Holy crap.

I have to let that sink in for a moment.  This is the easiest schedule imaginable.  Let me count the ways:

  1. ND at home in a night game.
  2. 2 directional Michigan schools and an overrated SDSU team with a new coach.
  3. Trade Penn State for Northwesterm.
  4. Trade Wisconsin for Minnesota.
  5. Nebraska at home.
  6. OSU at home and reeling from sanctions, suspensions, etc.
  7. Not to mention that the Big Ten lost a TON of key talent this year and Michigan is scheduled to bring just about eveyone back from last year.

How could it possibly get any easier?  This is as good as it gets as a Big Ten team locked into playing ND in the OOC schedule.

Sextus Empiricus

May 6th, 2011 at 3:43 PM ^

this team will have to find other ways to lose than putting any blame on this schedule if winning is what they decide to do.  I do think this team could be good.  

So much depends on how the O develops.  I don't want to put the burden of expectation on GMAT - but here it goes...I expect the D to be average.

clarkiefromcanada

May 6th, 2011 at 1:58 PM ^

I'll take 8 and 4 in a transition year with a new HC, new offensive scheme and new defensive coordinator (although new and competent could be a real bonus.). I am most interested to see what happens with actual defense being played, schematically, and how that impacts...Denard not needing to put up 40 per win would be a good thing.

Re OP...

Wolverine 73

May 6th, 2011 at 2:10 PM ^

about the record than about how we play.  Does the defense look more like the defenses of the mid-90s?  Do they tackle better?  Are people in position?  Does the offense appear to be adapting to the new system?  Can we run the ball consistently with the RBs?  Are the games almost always competitive?  I'm not sure we have the talent to compete against the best teams, and the new systems will be a challenge.  But if we seem to know what we are doing and improve over the year, that portends good things going forward.  That said, 9-3 sure would be nice.

MileHighWolverine

May 6th, 2011 at 2:56 PM ^

RRod would have gotten if he stayed: 9-3.  He has everyone coming back from a loaded Offense and a Defense that could only do better - impossible to do worse.  On top of that he has an easier schedule and OSU under durress.  

Failure to get to 9-3 should be immediate cause for concern and if he can't get to 8-4 by next year then he should be fired. 

 

Sextus Empiricus

May 6th, 2011 at 3:56 PM ^

and your talking about firing.  Where is that going to take us in the living rooms and High Schools of the class of 2013 and beyond. 

Firing talk doesn't help this team or Michigan regardless of how the team does this year.  The O and D are brand new.  We are razor thin at positions that matter...Offensive tackle by headcount and 1 and 3 tech D lineman by experience and talent.

That's a mighty high horse you're riding bringing firing talk to a guy who has landed great verbals to this point in the off season.    Hoke is not going to get fired post this or next season regardless of record.  I don't care if he loses every game (assuming an act of god prior to the EMU game.)  Hiring a new coach is too high a hurdle to leap that soon.

jv

May 6th, 2011 at 4:12 PM ^

Given the changes in offensive and defensive schemes, I expect to see UM in the 6-6 to 8-4 range.  It's going to take a year or so for everyone to learn where they are supposed to be and work as a unit.  I think UM will look better at the end of the season than they do at the beginning.  I believe UM will struggle to put away teams that on paper they are much better than through the first half of the season.  It wouldn't surprise me to see SDSU or WMU hang around a lot longer than they should.  MSU and ND are the most likely losses in the first seven games, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them drop one or two that they shouldn't.  Changing schemes on both sides of the ball isn't an overnight process and I expect that there will be a clunker or two from one side of the ball or the other.  By the eighth game they should be starting to show signs that they know what they are doing and looking a little more cohesive.  I think UM will roll over Purdue, Iowa and Illinois before losing the last two in close games.  I'll go 7-5 with a bowl win and momentum towards 2012.

swamyblue

May 6th, 2011 at 5:43 PM ^

from an Irish fan. FWIW, I agree with you.

My radar is on four areas (non-specific order) for the coming season:

-Injuries (of course right...can we get a break for Christ sake!)
-Freshman Contribution (compete, compete, compete, and more compete)
-Running Back Contribution (committee, feature, whatever...just get it done)
-Deep Safety Coverage (Mallory may have to blow his gasket a few times before the secondary gets turned around - teams are gonna try the deep ball on us...you can see it coming from a mile away)

If we're fairly competent with the above it's happy trails to 8-4. 9-3 if we pile on tSIO!

Eye of the Tiger

May 6th, 2011 at 11:21 PM ^

Given how bad our defense was last year, a worst-case-scenario is "not a lot of improvement." But taking into account the fact that we're moving to a simpler scheme and will have much more experience in the secondary (and a mean DL), it's hard to imagine the defensive coaching change won't produce immediate and tangible improvements.  

Offense is a bit worrying, though.  The scenario you outline is basically the ND 2010 one, where it took the team a bit of time to adjust to Brian Kelly's scheme. I think this is very plausible.   However, ND was also dealing with personnel issues at the QB position, and we've got Denard, so I don't think WMU or SDSU are actually in play.  The ND game is scary, though.  

It all comes down to how flexible Al Borges is going to be on offense.  We have some stuff that worked really, really well last year.  If he's smart, he keeps it in the playbook.  On the other hand, we also weren't very good at other things.  Against most good defenses, we sputtered.  If he's smart, he integrates the old and the new, which he's indicated he will.  However, if he tries to run the offense like it's USC 2004-5...yeah, we're going to have some problems.  

Irish

May 6th, 2011 at 5:23 PM ^

after that spring game 9-3, 8-4 is the most likely scenario?  6-6 7-5 sounds much more likely.  UM should play better as the season goes on but the final 7 games include 4 away games and 2 home games against top 25 teams.  

Irish

May 8th, 2011 at 11:56 AM ^

Solid, there were no penalties, or guys getting blown off the line.  The tackling was like night and day from the season before, I remember being really happy about that.  The weirdest thing I remember was seeing floyd line up in the slot on offense almost exclusively.   Also the run game looked like it would be at least competent, which was a dramatic improvement. In the end it wasn't flashy or ugly but it was very obvious the team was taking a step in the right direction.  

uminks

May 6th, 2011 at 5:45 PM ^

My expectations are to see an improvement in our defense through the season. We had one of the weakest defenses in the conference last year(not all due to talent). I think a realistic goal this season would be  to see the defense improve to the middle of the pack within the B1G.

The offense may struggle early on this season. The key will be finding that go to back and allowing DROB to run some. I don't want to see DROB running as much as last year, since I don't want to see him injured. I think the offense will start out slow but improve as DROB becomes more comfortable executing the new offense.

My prediction is a 7-5 record (though if the offense clicks this record could be much better!) and at least one upset against NE or MSU, and may be one bad loss. As with RR, I'm willing to give Hoke some slack during his first year even if injuries plaque the team and we finish under .500.  Next year we will see improvement as talent and depth improves, but with the tougher schedule we may see another 7-5  to 8-4 record. 

Eye of the Tiger

May 6th, 2011 at 11:23 PM ^

I have read the criticisms of this statement and taken them to heart, especially the one pointing out that 2012 is worse than 2011.  However, let me be clear: my intention was not to say that our 2011 schedule was relatively brutal compared to 2010 or 2012, but simply that a Big 10 schedule is brutal for a team like ours, which is NOT elite but attempting to get back up there.  I have edited the diary to include a direct statement to that effect.  

In relative terms, it's true that 2012 will be more difficult than 2011.  I think 2011 poses some difficulties over 2010, though.  ND is home this year, which is better, and CT was probably a more vexing opponent (to plan for pre-season) than SDSU will be this year.  But in conference, we have to play very beatable MSU and Iowa away, and play the not-so-good-but-pretty-damned-good-against-us Illinois away as well.  I'd be confident of wins in those games if they were at home.  As they are away, I have less confidence.  On the other hand, perhaps a home game against a possibly floundering OSU is a golden opportunity to put an end to our miserable streak of consecutive losses?

Either way, I hope people won't fixate on one, very small aspect of the diary, and look instead at the plausible scenarios and their likelihood.

I'm curious to hear from more people about our offensive transition and how it will affect our chances.  What are the potential upsides and how likely are the feared transitional pains?

BlueHills

May 7th, 2011 at 1:36 PM ^

Aside from Denard's spectacular play, the offense was hardly perfect last year, and they will have another year of play under their belts; they won't get worse. The defense will be on an upward trajectory from game to game, and we will see them develop cohesion and confidence as the season goes on. Special teams will improve to competent.

We will see an improved Michigan squad. This improvement should translate to better games and better outcomes.

Sparty played over his head last year, but will come back to earth. It should be a good, winnable game. Ohio will suffer from significant distraction, and that game could be Michigan's for the taking if our running game and defense improve even a little bit. Nebraska was far from perfect last year; they showed inconsistency against good teams. They should improve, but they're a team still somewhat in transition, like Michigan, and are vulnerable.

I see ND being the toughest game, simply because it's so early in the year. Since the Irish are further along in their coaching transition, and showed some improvement as the season wore on, I could see our squad struggling since they'll still be learning their roles.

I'm going to predict 10-2 for the regular season. We lose to Notre Dame, and beat either Nebraska or Ohio, but not both. Sparty goes down.

aiglick

May 7th, 2011 at 8:20 PM ^

I'm hoping for at least 7-5 because we are returning essentially our entire team. Coaching change will probably lead to some transitional issues. There are so many unknown variables. In the end, if all of the games are competitive where we are not favored I'll be happy.

M-Wolverine

May 8th, 2011 at 12:49 AM ^

I like the eye test. I think it tells more than squeezing numbers into the wrong sized holes. I'm not sure I've come to a conclusion between 2 and 3. I can tell it's going to take some getting used to at calculating Title game chances, and then whether that'll be a win or a loss if we get there when predicting records. Brave New World.

magonus

May 8th, 2011 at 9:29 AM ^

I really don't see how we don't get at least 9 wins. Besides ND, the first 8 games are gimmes and we should be able to take ND at home. That means we needs to win just one of our November games to get to 9 and splitting gets us to double digits which is very doable. 

Hail-Storm

May 10th, 2011 at 12:00 PM ^

I'm thinking the Big Ten is a solid conference with no real contenders.  This means that there are no real unwinnable games. Also, as others have pointed out, this is as easy as it gets schedule wise.  I'm looking at our returning starters on offense, and think that they will be just fine.  Maybe a reduced production in some aspects, but perhaps a more sustainable offense over the season (i'm looking at you injuries). Also, the defense will be imporved based on the fact that we will not be playing 5 freshman, we will be more aggressive up front (I've never seen rushing 3 ever work out), our alignment is probably more familiar for most of the kids playing it.

In the long run, the pessimist may be right, but the optimist has the better journey.