What you need to know about this squad
SALINE, MICHIGAN AUGUST 18, 2005 Expectations are high once again for Michigan. Here’s this season’s look at the upcoming season and this team.
Before Looking Ahead . . . – Any year with a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth can’t be look upon unfavorably. It was a great season. The Texas game in Pasadena was one of the all time greats. That said, the fact is the team lost 3 games, and easily could have lost five (Michigan State and Minnesota were squeakers at home). The lingering bad taste from the last four games is due to the inability of the defense to stop the run. M gave up nearly 275 yards on the ground in these games, and finding a cure for this is at the tip of the tongue of all of the preseason talk.
Tickets – This year’s theme is ‘consecutive Big Ten championships’, featuring photos of old coaches, rings, etc., celebrating Michigan’s success in the conference. Michigan has won two straight championships and five in the last eight years.
Replay of MSU game – The Michigan Ticket department did a good thing this year. For those who renewed their tickets using an ‘eCheck’, they supplied a free copy of the MSU 3OT game. I reviewed it last weekend. The film of the game was taken by the university but it is of high quality, with angles and replays. In addition, they used the Michigan football radio broadcast (Beckman and Brandy) over the film. Really nice job. And to be clear, it’s not a highlight reel; it is just the entire game. It retails for $19.99.
QB Chad Henne Solid – Consensus is that he is the second highest regarded QB in the conference behind Iowa’s Drew Tate, possibly neck and neck with Drew Stanton. Here’s my take: he is special. I just watched the replay of the 2004 MSU comeback game. While Braylon Edwards made a lot of great plays, Henne was a great leader and kept his head in it when M was done. One thing that stuck out: down 17 deep in the fourth quarter and facing third down, instead of forcing a ball into the end zone, he tucked the ball in and basically took a sack. How many true freshman would have had the poise to stick to the game plan at that point? Garrett Rivas made the field goal, and after the onside kick recovery, two plays later Michigan was in the end zone. I can’t get over how well the true freshman played last year, and the faith Carr had in starting him (see my 2004 review: “you can cancel out true freshman Chad Henne; there’s no way Carr would start a guy right out of high school.”) Guess not.
New Jerseys. Nike will outfit Michigan in new jerseys this year. The material is 30% lighter than last year’s, and the shirts are tighter fitting. A maize outline has been added to road jerseys, the names on the back of the jersey are stitched (no longer silk screened) and the numbers are smaller. Here’s the official press release along with a history of the changes M has made to their uniforms over the years.
Freshman to Watch – Along with Henne, true Freshman Mike Hart combined for two of the biggest contributions by freshman – ever. This year a few faces will see some playing time, but the arrival of RB Kevin Grady is something a lot of fans have been waiting for. Grady has actually been practicing with the team since the Rose Bowl and is undoubtedly the real deal. He’ll play. Look for Hart to get around 20 carries a game, with Max Martin, Jerome Jackson and Grady getting the rest. Rumor is that the offense is toying with new sets in order to gets these talented guys on the field.
With underrated and under appreciated punter Adam Finley leaving, M has a gap at punter. Along comes 6-4, 225 pound freshman Zoltan Mesko. He’s supposed to have a cannon leg. We’ll see if he wins the job and delivers as advertised. Antonio Bass is a highly rated freshman ‘athlete’ that M wants to get the ball to. He was injured playing baseball in the spring but seems to be better now. M will line him up at receiver and, down the road, look at having him return kicks.
Road Opening WOES!. Michigan has lost 5 straight road openers and six of 7. This deserved its own column. Read it here.
Hard Times at the Big Show. Ernest Shazor was one of the leaders on the defense last year and was on many All-American teams. He decided to go to the NFL early (he had 1 year of eligibility left) and it was a total stunner to me that he went undrafted. I don’t wish anything bad on the guy for leaving early. Many Michigan fans have shown a lot of resentment for guys who leave early (Drew Henson is a perfect example). He signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals and now he’s a just another dude in the NFL trying to get by. He reported to camp late and reports say he is still bitter about not being drafted.
Warmer Weather for DB13. This year and in 2006, the Dooley Brothers MSU vs UM game moves to early October (10/1/05 and 10/7/06). A few weeks make that much of a difference? Believe it – Just ask the Dooley Brothers crew!
Construction. Get used to it for the next several years. M replaced a bunch of seats this year and is still working on a recruiting center between Crisler and the lockerroom. It is a place for recruits and their families to hang out during games. It will be unveiled during the Penn State game this year. After that – I assume M will break ground on the big changes: adding luxury suites and a new pressbox on the east sideline. I hear they may add an upper deck to the north end zone in order to keep M stadium the highest capacity stadium.
Home “Field”. Michigan has only lost 6 times at home since 1994, no more than once a year. Since installing the artificial turf (FieldTurf) after the 2002 season, Michigan has not lost (although they got about as close as you can get). Certainly Notre Dame and Ohio State would like to take a shot at that this year.
I maintain that the soggy grass at Michigan Stadium was somewhat of an equalizer for the opponent. Watching Michigan’s speed players lose traction on cuts was agonizing. Remember those huge chunks of sod that used to come up? Looked like one of Big Frank’s beaver pelts on the links.
Heisman?. Consider Henne, Hart and Stevie Breaston longshots. Each return next year. With Braylon Edwards gone to the NFL, look for more balls going to Breaston and Jason Avant.
Outlook: Not much of a surprise again, but most folks have picked Michigan at the top of the Big Ten. The latest ESPN poll has Michigan #4, others vary between 3 and 12.
Throwing this out, I really think this team has a chance to make some noise. The biggest obstacles I see: on the road at Wisconsin, MSU and Iowa. The Big Ten is too tough, I see M dropping at least one of those games. Then there’s the biggie v. the Buckeyes. Too far off to see right now. We’ll have to assess how M handles the running game and in particular, the running QB.
Prediction: 10-2, Big Ten co-champs, BCS bowl. Will drop either the Bowl game or to the Buckeyes.