Predicting the future
With a couple of weeks to go, all we can do is make educated guesses
Michigan's season less than two weeks, so the staff at WolverineNation decided to look at some of the bigger questions for Michigan this upcoming season and offer their thoughts on what might happen.
The Wolverines are coming off their best season since 2006 and have their most anticipated opener since 1995. So it all has the potential to be very interesting in Ann Arbor this season.
What will Michigan's record be this season?
Michael Rothstein: Not as good as last year. Michigan has four tough games away from Michigan Stadium -- Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State. That foursome represents four of the five toughest games on the Wolverines' schedule, along with Michigan State in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines should be able to beat Michigan State this season and Nebraska and Notre Dame are winnable games, but road atmospheres at night could come into play. Michigan will have a better overall team than last season with a worse regular-season record at 8-4 (losses to Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State). Even with those early-season struggles, Michigan still ends up in the Big Ten title game, where it will play Wisconsin.
Chantel Jennings: 10-2. I think Michigan will drop two of the three games to Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan State. If Alabama was later in the season and Michigan's offensive and defensive lines had more time to evolve as a group, then I'd give the Wolverines more of a chance. However, I really do think that will be a very, very tough game for Michigan to pull off and believe that will be one of the two losses. I think Notre Dame and Michigan State will be tough games for Michigan and either could go either way. The Wolverines have squeaked by the Irish for a few years now, and I think a night game at Notre Dame could just be a bit too much. My explanation regarding the Spartans is below.
Tom VanHaaren: For the record, I hate this. These things take me forever because I put so many different scenarios in my head and can never come to a conclusion. With that being said, I think Michigan will go 10-2 this season with a loss to Alabama and a loss to one of Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
What game will Michigan lose that it shouldn't?
Rothstein: Almost picked Air Force here, but depletions to the Falcons had me think better of it. If I had to pick one of the four losses up there, I'd say Nebraska, based on the time of year -- Michigan's defense should be sorted out by then -- and how the Wolverines schemed on the Cornhuskers last season. But even this game is a toss-up, along with Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Jennings: Michigan State. The Wolverines have been at a serious disadvantage the last few seasons, but this year could be Michigan's year. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, I think William Gholston is going to have his say. Emotions will be at a high. It's definitely Michigan's toughest home game. And I think the pressure of the Wolverines thinking this is "their year" will get to them.
VanHaaren: There are a few games on the schedule that I could see going either way this season, but I think there are so many games that could be toss-ups that I don't know what I would consider a game under this category. Notre Dame has quarterback issues still, Nebraska at home is tough but I think Michigan will be up for it. I think the second loss I predicted will most likely come between Michigan State and Ohio State.
That being said, I don't know if you want me doing this because I am the George Costanza of jinxing things. I have a reverse jinx and whatever I think I should say, I should just say the opposite. So I'll probably be entirely wrong, Jerry!
Who will have the most rushing yards?
Rothstein: Denard Robinson. Even though Al Borges likes a featured back, Thomas Rawls is going to push Fitzgerald Toussaint for carries this season, as will Vincent Smith. The byproduct of a potentially more accurate Robinson as a passer means teams will have to respect that more, opening up more running creases and another 1,000-yard season for Michigan's senior quarterback.
Jennings: Toussaint. Even if he doesn't play against Alabama, I think Toussaint will come out and have a strong season. In the spring, the coaches couldn't stop talking about how much his field vision has improved. I think once he finally sees the field, we'll finally see how he can play.
VanHaaren: This question took a whole new twist now that Toussaint got himself in trouble. I still think it's between him and Denard Robinson and given the fact I think Denard will be more under control this season in his second season of offensive coordinator Al Borges' offense, I am going to say Fitz Toussaint.
Despite losing some big targets at receiver I think we will see a more improved, less nervous Denard Robinson.
Which freshman will have the most impact?
Rothstein: The biggest area of need for a freshman comes at tight end, where at least one has to play. That will likely be A.J. Williams, who could be used as a blocker as well as someone who at 282 pounds is a giant red-zone target for Robinson. He probably won't have a ton of catches, but it wouldn't surprise me if a few of them were touchdowns. Plus, he might see more actual time than any other rookie.
Jennings: Darboh. I'm not saying he will play the most snaps, just that he'll do the most (noticeably) with the snaps he does play.
VanHaaren: It's so early that it's hard to tell. I tend to look towards two position groups, though, for this answer. I look at the wide receivers and the defensive line as a group. Michigan lacks depth at both areas and that's probably where the biggest opportunity is. At receiver the staff brought in Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, who both have the size that Michigan is lacking outside of Roy Roundtree. On the defensive line, because of opportunity you have to look at defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins.
With all that being said, though, I think the nod goes to Pipkins. The need is there and the opportunity is there for him to succeed early on.
Besides Denard Robinson, which player is most critical to Michigan's offensive success this season?
Rothstein: Taylor Lewan. He is Michigan's most experienced and talented lineman and if he were to get hurt, the Wolverines would have to do some major shuffling to replace him without a lot of depth. Lewan is also a big-time pass blocker who can buy Robinson the time he needs to succeed.
Jennings: Lewan. It's kind of a cop out, but, if Lewan doesn't play well it'll be very difficult for Robinson to play well. If Michigan wants to be in a BCS bowl game again, it needs Lewan to have a great season.
VanHaaren: Roy Roundtree. With all the receivers that have left, Roundtree is the only one over 6-foot tall who isn't a freshman. Roundtree had a down year last season and needs to be there to make big plays for this offense, otherwise it will be very one dimensional.
Who will be Michigan's defensive MVP this season?
Rothstein: Jake Ryan. He has all the makings of a potential star as well as a knack for the ball, which most great playmakers have. Also, his ability to play both linebacker and down on the line at rush end in situational play means he'll rarely come off the field. He will have to have a big season -- especially early considering the questions on the defensive line -- for the Wolverines to have defensive success.
Jennings: Kenny Demens. At the same time I think I could've picked Kovacs, but I think Demens will be the vocal leader the defense need this year. Kovacs is more of a lead by example, which is important. But Demens will be more vocal and after losing two very vocal defensive leaders last year (Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin) the Wolverines need some to step up and be loud this year.
VanHaaren: I think the final chapter on a great story closes with senior Jordan Kovacs getting MVP honors. I think he's turned into a leader and proved that he belongs on the field. That type of character, work ethic and production is something that's valued with coach Brady Hoke and I think he'll earn it this season.
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