- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Michigan Wolverines:
2013 overall record: 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten)
Instant impact newcomer: True freshman Jabrill Peppers, the No. 2-rated prospect in the Class of 2014, has drawn comparisons to Charles Woodson. First, Peppers must work his way into the starting lineup. He’ll get a look this month at nickel cornerback and perhaps safety. Eventually, he figures to fit as a defensive playmaker on the edge, matched against the opposition’s best receiver.
Offense: QB: Devin Gardner, Sr., 6-foot-3, 216 pounds; RB: Derrick Green, So., 5-11, 220; WR: Freddy Canteen, Fr., 6-1, 176; WR: Devin Funchess, Jr., 6-5, 230; WR: Dennis Norfleet, Jr., 5-7, 169; TE: A.J. Williams, Jr., 6-6, 260; RT: Ben Braden, So., 6-6, 322; RG: Kyle Kalis, So., 6-5, 298; C: Jack Miller, Jr., 6-4, 299; LG: Kyle Bosch, So., 6-5, 303; LT: Erik Magnuson, So., 6-6, 294.
Defense: DE: Frank Clark, Sr., 6-2, 277; DT: Chris Wormley, So., 6-4, 295; NT: Willie Henry, So., 6-2, 293; DE: Brennen Beyer, Sr., 6-3, 256; WLB: Desmond Morgan, Sr., 6-1, 232; MLB: Jake Ryan, Sr., 6-3, 236; SLB: Royce Jenkins-Stone, Jr., 6-2, 234; CB: Raymon Taylor, Sr., 5-10, 184; CB: Blake Countess, Jr., 5-10, 180; FS: Jarrod Wilson, Jr., 6-2, 205; SS: Dymonte Thomas, So., 6-2, 193.
Biggest question mark: Can Michigan run the football? If the offense turns one-dimensional, as occurred last November, Gardner likely cannot carry the Wolverines with his arm. A reshaped Green and fellow sophomore back De'Veon Smith form a nice duo, and the line, despite questions, looks like a capable group with decent depth. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier is charged with designing a scheme that utilizes the run game in a fashion similar to his system at Alabama.
Most important game: Dumb question. The Wolverines visit the Horseshoe in Columbus on Nov. 29. In the reconfigured divisional structure of the conference, this is the game that Big Ten purists await, hoping it decides the East title. While Michigan State might spoil those plans, and the 107th battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy on Oct. 25 looms as large, nothing surpasses the Ohio State game for Michigan.
Upset special: It’s impossible to ignore that opener on Aug. 30 against Appalachian State. Remember 2007, when the FCS power beat Michigan 34-32 at the Big House? We’re not expecting it to happen again, but if it did ... let's not go there.
Key stat: Michigan’s net rushing total last year at Michigan State was minus-48 yards. In the series, the team to rush for the most yards has won 41 of the past 44 games.
What they're wearing: The Wolverines got fancy in 2011 and 2012, wearing eight uniform combinations, including alternate jerseys that featured an “M” across the chest for a meeting with Notre Dame. Last year, Michigan stayed traditional. An alternate-uniform game is possible this year, though nothing has been announced.
Team’s top Twitter follows: Don’t look for coach Brady Hoke on Twitter. None of the handles that bear his name are operated by the 55-year-old coach, who, several years back, famously said -- boasted? -- that he’d never sent an e-mail. Wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski (@jeffhecklinski), Nussmeier (@CoachDNuss), cornerbacks coach Roy Manning (@CoachRoyM) and safeties coach Curt Mallory (@CmalryMallory) stay active. Keep an eye on Derek Satterfield (@dsatt_), the program’s director of public and media relations, and the official handle (@umichfootball). The popular umblog.com (@UMGoBlog) is full of information, and writers Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) of MLive Media Group and Angelique Chengelis (@chengelis) of the Detroit News stay up on news. Heisman winner Desmond Howard (@DesmondHoward) and ex-quarterback Denard Robinson (@DenardX) offer interesting perspectives. Team leaders Gardner (@DevG98), Ryan (@JakeRyan_47) and Funchess (@D_FUNCH) provide insight. Younger players Jake Butt (JBooty_88) and Taco Charlton (@TheSupremeTaco) have catchy handles.
They said it: “What Doug has done is, I think, when you watch the practice in the spring, you watch the tempo of the offense, you watch the physicalness every day that guys are playing with, I think that's where it starts.” -- Hoke, on Nussmeier’s impact on the offense.
Stats & Info projections: 8.87 wins
Wise guys over/under: 7.5 wins
Big Ten blog projection: Eight wins. The schedule sets up for the Wolverines to start well. If Michigan beats Notre Dame in the last scheduled game of the storied rivalry, it could be 7-0 with an open date before the Oct. 25 trip to Spartan Stadium. Don’t count on such a sprint from the gates -- not with Butt out during nonconference play and situations unsettled on both lines. Michigan needs time to get comfortable in Nussmeier’s offense, and the back half of the schedule is rough, with trips to Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State.