Michigan Football Getting Into B1G Trouble?

As Big Ten play begins, little is known about the Michigan Wolverines. You can even make the argument that we didn’t figure out enough to make a strong prediction on how the conference season will shake out.

Even this week, on the road at Purdue, things could get dicey.

The Boilermakers look markedly improved under first year head coach Jeff Brohm, and games are always intensified in conference play. Sure, Michigan probably wins. But, I’m skeptical to think the Wolverines will “handle” Purdue. And don’t lie to yourself, going into the season we all thought this would be an easy win. It still might be. However if you were asked in August, over or under, Michigan favored by 10 over Purdue during the week of the game? All of us would have taken the over, and then some.

But, it’s not just the Purdue game that I’m rethinking. Two road games like Indiana and Maryland, I’m not looking at and thinking those could be big time trap games. Yet, Indiana might be the biggest trap game on the schedule. Not only is it on the road against a team that likes to throw it around, and has given Michigan (along with Ohio State) a hard time in recent years. But, it also comes at a terrible time.

Michigan travels to Bloomington after playing Michigan State at home. A Spartan team that has looked improved from last season’s debacle, hasn’t given up an offensive touchdown in two games, and always plays the Wolverines physical. The Indiana game also comes before Michigan travels to Penn State, a team that could easily find themselves back in the Big Ten Championship game in December. Coach Jim Harbaugh does a great job at keeping his team focused. But with such a young team, their eyes could end up looking too far ahead when taking the field against the Hoosiers.

You could say Penn State hasn’t had a tougher schedule to date than Michigan, but they also haven’t looked as sluggish either. Michigan looked mediocre against Cincinnati. The defense played well for the most part but the offense struggled to consistently move the ball down field. Running back Ty Isaac was the only bright spot.

In fact, Isaac has been the only bright spot all season. He leads the team in rushing and is averaging over seven yards per carry. He looks a little quicker and is shutting the haters up (present company included). I’m happy for Isaac and glad he’s playing well. Unfortunately his fellow running backs aren’t keeping pace.

This was supposed to be a big breakout year for Chris Evans, but instead has resembled more of a sophomore slump. The speedster who busted onto the scene last season is supposed to be one of the offense’s weapons, but he’s failed to provide any firepower. He’s averaging 3.7 yards per carry, worst out of the three main ball carriers, and fumbled in his limited carries against Air Force.

One thing not getting thrown around well is the football. Quarterback Wilton Speight has been average at best. His 54-percent completion percentage is alarming, and he isn’t always on the same page with his receivers. We really don’t know if he’s the best quarterback on the roster, but I do know Harbaugh is going to stick with him through thick and thin. Calling for his back-ups is pointless.

I’m not mad at Harbaugh for wanting to stick with Speight. Michigan isn’t a lowly NFL team that just drafted a quarterback with a top pick. This is a high-level college football team that has a chance to win its conference. If you aren’t sure the youth will put you in a better position to win, then don’t roll the dice. Besides those odds of winning the Big Ten took a hit this week when it was announced Tarik Black might miss the rest of the season after having foot surgery. Black has looked like the best wide receiver in the corps and can hopefully receive a medical redshirt to preserve a fourth year of eligibility.

The receivers as a group have to step up with in Black’s absence. Sophomores Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford don’t look any better than their freshmen counterparts. The best receiver on the team this season, besides Black, has been by far junior Grant Perry. He’s done an excellent job in the slot and should become Speight’s security blanket. Speight is missing his old safety net in Jake Butt, especially in the red zone where the Wolverines have scored just one touchdown in 10 red zone appearances. Every other team in the Big Ten has at least 4 including Indiana who has only reached the opponent’s 20 yard line six times.

The Wolverines have been abysmal in the red zone and that has to change starting Saturday. It’ll be up to Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno to find more effective plays that’ll turn three points into six.

Staying Confident

While my skepticism for the season has gone up, I don’t think anyone should hit the panic button just yet. Some people have said that Harbaugh probably hasn’t fully opened the playbook yet, and that’s a fair point. But seeing the offensive struggle isn’t a good sign.

We’ll know a lot more about the Wolverines after they face Michigan State on Oct 7. That gives us a chance to see Michigan on the road in conference play against an up and coming team, and at home against the in-state rival. But if they continue to struggle in these two games (or even lose one), then I think it’d be fair to start wondering if they can beat the best in the Big Ten.

Michigan Football: Post Game Thoughts

Finally. We have a real football game to talk about.

A lot of people came into the season feeding into the mainstream headline that the Michigan Wolverines would have to adjust to returning only one starter on defense. How much accuracy is in that statement is up for debate, but “experts” on all networks played that tune all summer.

It was realized rather quickly that it didn’t actually seem to matter.

Michigan’s defensive front seven was as dominant as they were last season. Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst and Chase Winovich all showed why the defensive line for the Wolverines might just be the best unit in the country. Sophomores Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson didn’t show any signs of youth at all. Bush may have gotten too excited on the first offensive play of the game, when he hit a Florida Gator out of bounds and drew a personal foul penalty, but he recovered and had a solid game.

Not all of the questions were answered, however. Cornerbacks LaVert Hill and David Long seemed shaky at times. Hill had a couple nice pass breakups. But as a tandem, there are still worries that they will struggle against better passing teams.

Speaking of throwing the ball, the other major concern coming out of the Florida game was Michigan’s quarterback play.

Redshirt junior Wilton Speight struggled for the majority of the game His final line was 11-for-25, 182 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The worst of his showing came early in the second quarter when he threw back-to-back interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. The first tipped off the hands of Kekoa Crawford – that probably should’ve been caught – and the second he just completely overthrew junior Grant Perry.

After the game, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said Speight throwing a few high passes was “out of character,” but the inconsistency in his game is not. Speight did have a few really nice plays. On a play action pass, he found Tarik Black wide open in the end zone on a beautifully thrown deep ball. He also had a couple nice scrambles that extended drives for the Wolverines. 

After his two pick-sixes, Speight was removed for John O’Korn. A move that Harbaugh said was planned even though he admitted taking Speight out at that particular moment wasn’t. Harbaugh felt it was a good opportunity for Speight to calm down. It worked as Speight played better in the second half, but by then the Michigan defense was beginning to dominate Florida’s offensive line, and take over the game.

The running game did its part, but its success was more about when they ran the ballnot how they ran it. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno called up some really sneaky third-and-long run plays that caught everybody in the stadium off guard.

Let’s give out some helmet stickers.

Offense: Ty Issac

I’ll be the first one to admit I am not a big fan of Isaac but man I was impressed with his play on Saturday. I thought he had some really nice runs, and looked a little faster than last year. He was the beneficiary of one of those third-and-long runs, but he made sure he got the first down and some. Isaac finished the game with 114 yards on 11 carries, and earned some trust in my book.

Defense: Khaleke Hudson

On most nights I would’ve selected Devin Bush. But for Hudson’s first game at the highly coveted VIPER position, I was impressed how well he handled it. For replacing now Cleveland Brown Jabrill Peppers and having that pressure on him in the off-season, I thought Hudson was all over the field and made some great plays. He finished with only three tackles, but hurried the quarterback on a number of occasions and deflected a pass as well.

Final Thoughts:

This game went the way I thought it would for the most part. How the two teams scored not so much; but it was a close game for about a half to three quarters before Michigan started to take control. I wouldn’t stick out my chest too far if I’m a Michigan fan, but I would definitely be optimistic. The whole “this team is too young to resemble last year” narrative was put to rest. But to say this team will be better than last year or even as good as them remains to be seen.

When we reach the end of the season, we’ll realize Florida isn’t that great of a team. But nonetheless, it’s still a good neutral site victory and a step in the right direction. The Wolverines now get Cincinnati and Air Force at home to work out any bugs in the system and hopefully get their quarterback situation on track.

Michigan Football: A Season Outlook

After losing enough talent to make an entire program stumble, the Michigan Wolverines were still ranked No. 9 in the preseason USA Today coaches poll. Michigan returns just one starter on defense and lost nearly all of its weapons on offense.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff will earn their money this season if they can transform this team of youngsters into a Big Ten conference contender.

If you haven’t already read our position preview – trust me when I say there is a lot of youth.

As stated above, there is one starter coming back on defense and that is senior linebacker Mike McCray. He will be the veteran leader on his side of the ball, but he can’t make every play. McCray will get the bulk of the help from his defensive line which consists of potential NFL first round pick senior Maurice Hurst Jr. and former top overall recruit sophomore Rashan Gary.

The front seven is going to have to do more than pull its own weight. The secondary is too inexperienced and odds are they will get torched in a few games. The defensive backs have to hope their defensive line can get to the quarterback, more times than not, before he finds an open receiver.

On offense I’m very skeptical of the line. Senior Mason Cole is solid and Sophomore Ben Bredeson really showed us something last season. But outside of those two, I don’t have much confidence. Sophomore Michael Onwenu is a big body but I need to see him play more snaps. Whoever starts at right tackle between junior Juwan Bushell-Beatty and sophomore Jon Runyan Jr., I don’t know if either of them will be adequate over an entire season especially once superior competition is on the other side of the ball.

If the offensive line can’t hold its own, then the Wolverines will be in trouble because they don’t have many true playmakers on offense. Sophomore running back Chris Evans has lightning speed, but he needs to bulk up. All the tight ends have a ton of potential but none have showed the capability to lead the position group – they’re also very young.

The receiving corps will be an interesting group to keep an eye on. Not only are they young and inexperienced, but they also have junior quarterback Wilton Speight throwing them the ball which doesn’t make me feel all warm inside. Speight is good enough to beat Minnesota and Maryland but I’m not sure he can lead Michigan to wins over Penn State, on the road, and Ohio State.

Obviously we’re all excited to see Donovan Peoples-Jones take the field. The Detroit Cass Tech product has size, speed, and skill to be a threat early on, but he’ll have to adjust to college cornerbacks quickly. The other big freshman receiver, Tarik Black, has made headlines throughout spring camp but we’ll see how that translates in the fall. I like some of the work sophomores Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford did last year but they didn’t get enough targets to lead me to believe they can lead the receiving group this season. Most of McDoom’s highlights came off jet sweeps which aren’t going to surprise teams anymore.

So by now you’re probably thinking ‘what does this mean for their record’?

Well it means I think they won’t be any better than last year, and I actually believe they’ll be worse. Michigan also has a tougher schedule this season in my opinion.

The Wolverines will probably win their first game against Florida – a neutral site game in Texas. Florida has their own problems which includes new quarterbacks, and that can be tough when you face a ferocious front four like the one Michigan has. I think the Wolverines squeak by the Gators.

From there on Michigan will easily win their next five games to start out 6-0.

Michigan State will not be easy – as it rarely is – but Michigan is far more talented than the Spartans, plus it’s at the Big House. The win streak stops on October 21 when they travel to Happy Valley to face Penn State in a white out. I think this is Penn State’s year to show “they are back” after an impressive year in 2016. Remember when we all used to laugh at James Franklin? Not anymore. Michigan will then smother Maryland, Minnesota, and Rutgers.

I’m interested to see how the Gophers new head coach P.J. Fleck does in his first season in the Big Ten. If there is a cheaper Michigan game I recommend attending, it would be this one.

After having fun in the Big Ten’s basement, the Wolverines will get a dose of realty on the road at Wisconsin. The Badgers will be eagerly awaiting Michigan, and will be looking to seek revenge after a close Wolverines victory in 2016. I think Bucky gets his wish and Wisconsin wins a close “Big Ten style” game.

And lastly, Ohio State makes their trip up north to face “that school up north.” Michigan has defeated the Buckeyes once since 2004 – and that fact will hold true this season.

Michigan is just too young to compete with Ohio State this season. The scarlet and gray have some youth as well. But lets be honest, Ohio State just lets the empty clip fall to the ground and puts a new one in like Rambo spraying bullets into his enemies and keeps firing. They hardly ever miss a beat. I don’t think the outcome will be like the ass kicking Michigan took at home in 2015, but I can’t see this game having the dramatic flare that last year had.

So I have Michigan going 9-3 (6-3) this season and finishing third in the Big Ten East division. I just don’t see how this team is supposed to be better than last year. They have talent and a lot of potential but they have a lot of growing up to do before I have faith they win meaningful games late in the season.

Either way, Michigan is back to the bowl season where the Wolverines can potentially get its tenth win of the season for the third straight time under Harbaugh and a nice stepping stone into 2018 and beyond.

Michigan Football: A Position Preview

Now that July is over, teams across the country are reporting for fall camps. What does that mean? It means we can finally get talking about the upcoming college football season.

The Michigan Wolverines will have a ton of new names at the top of their depth chart this season. Maybe too many to have great success.

Michigan returns just one starter on its defense, linebacker Mike McCray. The offense loses the majority of their weapons with Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson, and Amara Darboh now all playing on Sundays, lost two starters along the offensive line, and redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight returns as well.

The defense is going to rely heavily on its defensive line. Senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. is widely considered one of the best interior linemen in the country. He was rated the best pass rushing defensive tackle by Pro Football Focus, and has progressed every year since he arrived in Ann Arbor. But now Hurst doesn’t have experienced guys next to him like Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton. He’ll have to rely on true sophomore Rashan Gary to be the ying to his yang. Gary was the consensus No. 1 overall recruit in the 2016 class across every major recruiting site. The potential is there, and according to a panel of ESPN experts he’s already better than Hurst. I have to see it on the field first, and a handful of freshman snaps doesn’t cut it.

Opposite of Gary will be junior Chase Winovich, who surprised everybody last season when he stepped in. Junior Bryan Mone will be anchoring the inside along side Hurst, and is also full of potential too. Injuries have plagued Mone’s career at Michigan, but if he stays healthy the Wolverines could have the best front four in all of college football.

Luiji Vilain and Aubrey Solomon are two true freshmen to keep an eye on as they should have a key part in the rotation on the defensive line according to reports.

At linebacker, McCray will man the middle while sophomore Devin Bush takes the outside. Bush saw some time on defense last year but made most of his impact on special teams with some bone crushing hits. Sophomore Khaleke Hudson will take over the coveted VIPER position. Let’s get this out of the way, he isn’t Jabrill Peppers so please don’t expect the young man to be Jabrill 2.0. He did show signs of being his own man and in the spring game. But, this will be a big test for defensive coordinator Don Brown to see how he can make any new VIPER impactful going forward.

The secondary will be the position group on defense that will have to be able to pull its own weight. There is absolutely no experience and so much uncertainty. Sophomores LaVert Hill and David Long will most likely be the starting cornerbacks while Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus will handle the safety positions. Hill and Long will have a daunting test early with Michigan facing Florida in week one. Hopefully the defensive front seven can ease them into the season.

While the front seven of Michigan’s defense could make or break the season, so can the offensive line.

Junior Grant Newsome will most likely miss the entire season due to the knee injury he suffered against Wisconsin. Mason Cole will likely move from center back to left tackle where he started his freshman season. Sophomore Ben Bredeson was excellent as a freshman last season at left guard, and should lock up that spot in fall camp. Sophomore Michael Onwenu will most likely handle right guard duties, while right tackle may not be solidified until game day.

Jon Runyan Jr. has a good shot at winning the battle, but true freshman Chuck Filiaga and Junior Juwann Bushell Beatty could also be in the mix. Center is another interesting dog fight. True freshman Ceasar Ruiz was the No. 1 center in last year’s recruiting class, and could get the starting job. Senior Patrick Kugler, however, has impressed in the spring, and head coach Jim Harbaugh could decide to go with another experienced body to balance youth.

Sophomore Chris Evans will likely start at running back as he showed some explosiveness last season. That guy can burn you in the blink of an eye. He just needs to put on a few pounds of muscle, and he will be good to go. Senior Ty Isaac and Junior Karan Higdon are back to provide some carries and help shoulder the load. I don’t think Isaac is great but he will bust off some nice runs every few games. I really like some of the work Higdon provided last year, with some offseason work he could be a real game changer this season.

Redshirt freshman Kareem Walker may get some carries this year too. One of the highest touted running backs coming out of high school two years ago has potential, but has yet to show it on the field. Khalid Hill is back to handle the fullback position. The senior led the team with ten rushing touchdowns last season and could easily repeat that number this season. Not only is Hill dangerous from two-yards out, but he’s a threat in the short passing game too.

Speaking of passing game, the young wide receiving core will have little to no time to grow up as well.

Kekoa Crawford and Eddie McDoom didn’t show us too much last season but enough to where we know they can make some plays. McDoom was the jet sweep specialist, and Crawford hauled in four passes and a touchdown. Highly touted freshmen Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones will get reps with the first team. If those two can find their stride early on, then Michigan’s offense might not take as big of step back as I expect.

Junior Ian Bunting is likely to start the season as the lead tight end. But Sophomore Tyrone Wheatley Jr. could change that early on. The son of Michigan legend Tyrone Wheatley has a lot of upside to him and could take over if Bunting doesn’t produce in the first few weeks. Helping the corps are two redshirt freshmen Nick Eubanks, and Sean McKeon who showed potential this spring when Michigan puts two tight ends on the field.

And your starting quarterback for the Wolverines will be Brandon…kidding. It’s going to be Wilton Speight more likely than not.

Unless redshirt freshman Brandon Peters absolutely steals the show in fall camp, I doubt Harbaugh will hand him the keys. At least not yet.

Speight did enough last season to show he isn’t terrible. I’m not a huge fan of Speight and I don’t think he can lead Michigan to anything more than what he has, but he clearly has room to grow. Part of me wants to see Peters get the starting nod because I feel like I know what Speight can do and it’s nothing great. But at the same time, throwing Peters out there for his first start against Florida in Dallas could be a disaster.

Michigan has so much youth and unknowns on the team I don’t know how great they can be. If you want to know how I think they’ll do check out my season preview.

Who Has The Best Sports City In America?

I’m sure you’ve had this debate before. Whether it’s at the cubicle, at the bar with your buddies, or in the comments section of some meaningless blog, we’ve all had the conversation of what is the best sports city in America.

Well after a team of researchers compiled mountains of data – which was actually me going through ESPN.com – I believe I have come up with the winner that will end the debate…at least for now.

Now to set this up I must explain a few parameters of how I came to this conclusion.

For starters, I only used cities that have at least three professional sports teams – there are 17 cities that fit the criteria. That leaves out cities such as Green Bay, San Francisco, Buffalo, Seattle, and Kansas City to name a few. Also, college teams were excluded; this is strictly for cities and areas with pro teams. Sorry alumni.

I also gave some teams that represent a state but are close enough to the metropolitan area a break and included them. For instance all four Minnesota teams play in Minneapolis. The Colorado Rockies are included in Denver. Texas Rangers for Dallas and Florida Panthers for Miami.

You get the idea.

I measured who’s the best by looking at the latest regular season standings from the four professional leagues, put the rank of each team with their corresponding city, added those numbers up and divided that number by the amount of teams each city has. Pretty simple

And according to the numbers, the best sports city in America is (drumroll)…Houston. That’s right H-Town takes the crown with a composite score of five.

Houston only has three professional sports teams. But as we currently sit, the Astros have the best record in baseball, the Texans finished eleventh in the NFL standings, and the Rockets finished with the third best record in the NBA. Not too shabby.

In second place was a city that is used to just coming up short, Washington D.C. The Capitals had the best record in the NHL, the Nationals are currently the third best team in baseball and the Wizards had a good season themselves not only making the playoffs but getting to the second round.

Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta round out the top five.

Detroit, however, falls near the bottom at 13 with a composite score of 18.25. Bringing up the rear was Philadelphia with a score of 24.25.

Here’s the complete list:

  1. Houston 5
  2. Washington D.C. 7.25
  3. Oakland 8.3
  4. Pittsburgh 10.6
  5. Atlanta 11.6
  6. Minneapolis 13.75
  7. New York 14.1
  8. Cleveland 15.3
  9. Dallas 15.5
  10. Tampa Bay 16
  11. Denver 16.25
  12. Chicago 16.4
  13. Detroit 18.25
  14. Miami 18.3
  15. Los Angeles 19.1
  16. Phoenix 20.25
  17. Philadelphia 24.25

The most fascinating part of this list is that there is no geographical pattern. Population and location don’t play a role in where the cities are ranked. I was surprised to see Minneapolis so high on the list but the Twins are off to a good start in the young MLB season.

In Detroit’s case, the Red Wings taking a tumble hurt their score dramatically as a rebuild is on the horizon. Who would’ve thought we would say that the Lions are the best team in the city? If the Tigers can finish the season strong that would certainly help the city’s sports situation. And the Pistons aren’t what they used to be.

Cleveland is in another interesting position.

Both the Indians and the Cavaliers are one of the best in their respective leagues. But, the Browns are the laughing stock of the NFL, which drops Cleveland to the middle of the pack. If the Browns moved out of the bottom third of the league and up to only 20th in the NFL, they would jump up into the top five on the list.

Of course this list will change as the baseball season plays out. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, small or large market, you can still live the good sports life. You just need a good group of guys in your front office.