It's hard to believe, but we're already on B1G 2014 Week 7, which means we are halfway home. It also means that we're only halfway home and we're talking about Michigan football again, which means last year was a disappointment in Ann Arbor. With Hoke starting to get some flack from various corners of the Michigan contingent, not to mention more than a few jabs from outside that group, one has to wonder what this team can do this year.
That being said, let's embark on a Michigan style potluck. Over the next couple of days we'll touch on net-negative rushing performances, new Offensive Coordinators, bewildering decisions, that game, the best recruit, defense, more schemes, ADs doing AD things, and most importantly beer. So, grab a fork, don't forget to bring your antacids, and let's dive into the Michigan Potluck.
Appetizer: The Coney Island hot dog - While maybe not an 'appetizer' per se this is a very Michigan dish that the world knows about. A hot dog, a heaping mound of chili, some onions, and mustard. Nothing segues into questions about the O-Line like the Coney.
For those of us who followed B1G football last year, one of the great constants was the abysmal - surprisingly so - play of the Michigan Offensive Line resulting in a mostly terrible rushing offense. In a two game stretch against Michigan State and Nebraska, they put up negative yardage on the ground twice, leading to quite a bit of dissension among the Wolverine base. After the season, Brady Hoke gave Al Borges the boot, and the blame, and snagged Doug Nussmeier from Alabama. With all of the talent, you have to expect some changes are a coming. That in mind, how do you see the Wolverines faring in the new B1G East? Can the change in system be put into place quickly enough to make an impact? More importantly, do you think the Wolverines can run the ball with any effectiveness this year?
Green Akers: The line everyone seems to have about Michigan's future is that, between their history, resources, and recent recruiting success, they're basically guaranteed to be good sooner or later. Well...not so fast. Sure, those things make it easier to be successful, but nothing's guaranteed. Before Nick Saban got there, Alabama was mired in mediocrity despite a history to rival Michigan's, and a more off-the-wall insane fanbase to boot. Tennessee continues their 15-year marathon of suck despite all the conceivable advantages a program could want. So no, everyone on the internet, I don't think it's just a matter of time before Michigan is good. I think it's a matter of them, you know, being good instead of mediocre. Maybe the "talent" they have on the roster is good enough to tip those scales in their favor, maybe not. But they're in a fight for a distant third in the division right now. As to the run game, it's hard to say. A simpler scheme might work wonders with so many young guys starting, but part of the reason Al Borges tried so many different systems last year was these guys couldn't pull any of them off. It's hard to see how an offseason of practice makes up for losing an elite LT and an excellent RT to the draft, and the reports that true freshman Mason Cole might be a starter with all the ballyhooed recruits on that line can't be encouraging to the UM faithful.
Brian Gillis: Similar to what I said earlier in the week, I don't expect significant improvement this year. Not strictly in terms of record, but in terms of style of play and performance. Michigan has so far to go with its offensive line play, and offensive line play is such a critical component of its game. Doug Nussmeier is a welcome addition (although Al Borges wasn't the only problem last season) and much has been made of his simplified blocking schemes, but I'm not sure that will necessarily lead to significantly better line play overnight. I think the young players simply need to develop. The interior is a year older and more experienced, so there's reason to expect some improvement, particularly in the run game, but how much? It's hard to imagine Michigan's offensive line, one of the worst in the nation last year, becoming an average line, let alone becoming a very good one, after one off-season (particularly since, by replacing two senior tackles, it will collectively be as young or younger this season). I think Michigan fans have to be realistic in their approach to 2014. Sure, wins against ND, MSU and OSU would be nice, but it would also be nice - and perhaps even more important at this stage - to see a consistent running game along with a key defensive stop now and then. Both were all but absent last year and would be welcome sights this season.
D.J. Carver: I think that Michigan has the chance to go 9-3 in the B1G east, but just as easily could figure out a way to go 6-6. If they don't improve the OL play from last year, they're going to have a lot harder time against teams that they are in the "should win" column. Teams like Indiana, Penn State, and Maryland could all find ways to give them fits if they can't figure out a way to give Gardner more than 2 seconds to throw the ball or open up any sort of holes for their running backs. If Nussmeier implements the ground and pound game from Alabama with a bit more passing, this should simplify things for the Wolverines and be easy to impliment this year, but the OL is the key to all of it.
Jesse: So I probably led you where I was going in my question, but I think that this is a team that has enough talent to bounce back. Will it be immediate? Hard to say with a scheme change, but like I've said multiple times in comment sections this week, there is far too much talent to think this team won't get better. I have never seen an O-Line as completely lost as it was at times last year, so I have got to believe better discipline will make better use of the plethora of riches they have in the trenches. Will that translate to wins? Meh. I don't know enough yet to say that, but I can only imagine that it should translate to better play which usually translates to wins.
More Orange: Michigan is an enigma. They recruit Top-B1G talent every year, yet lately haven't done near enough with any of it, and last year was a prime example. Taylor Lewan gets taken in the 1st round of the NFL Draft and yet the team has 6 games where the average rushing attempt is less than 3.33 per? Something's not working on the planning side of things. Nussmeier will make a difference solely because he will make decisions and stick with them. There were 5 starting line changes once conference play started. The good news for Michigan fans lies in the realization that if the O-Line improves back to an average level then Michigan should be just fine on offense. Losing both outside tackles to the NFL/graduation will be difficult to replace, but it's Michigan. They should have the talent to get back to Illinois levels of offensive line competence.
Candystripes for Breakfast: Even without a transition on offense, Michigan was likely to fall into the middle of the B1G East just by who they got thrown into the division with. If they stay exactly where they were last year, they might only be the 4th or 5th best; with some improvement, they're probably 3rd; should they regress any, they'll be fighting to stay above Rutgers in the division, but that particular worst case scenario is unlikely.
Year one system changes are rarely made quickly, and if Nussmeier is bringing in a style of offense that the Wolverines aren't used to, it might take until next year to really see it working properly. If all goes well, the changes will be integrated by week 3, if it doesn't, maybe by week 3 next season. Regardless, expect this change to affect at least two games this year, one in Michigan's favor, and one against.
Will Michigan be effective running the ball? (checks schedule) Uh, maybe? There's not a real good litmus test series of games to really say "Yes, they can" or "Yes, but only on weak defenses" or "Not at all." Maybe the Minnesota through Michigan State stretch is the best measure, and if Michigan falls flat in 3 of those 4 games, the answer will be "No." 2 of 4 probably tells us nothing, 1 of 4 says "Kind of effective", and I think 0 or 4 speak for themselves.
Aaron Yorke: Well, it will be nearly impossible for Michigan to run the ball as poorly as they did last season, so I'm going to go way out on a limb and predict an improvement in that area. Even if they just get mediocre production from the running game, that should open things up a little more for the experienced pair of Devins Gardner and Funchess to make plays down the field. Even with a better offense, though, the Wolverines will be hard pressed to compete for a title in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan State. It's going to take another year or so before Michigan is ready to take down one or both of those heavyweights.
MNWildcat: Michigan's OL?! Trouble?! No...that couldn't be. I mean, they DO always get set for field goals... #bitter ... Are we being serious? Oh. I slot Michigan in 3rd, losing to MSU and OSU and getting PSU at home (leaving room for a tiebreaker win if they lose somewhere along the line, which I think they will). 5-3 for the Wolverines, possibly with the non-con record being a determining factor in Hoke's job security.
via upload.wikimedia.org and yes, this is a Michigan apple... I think.
Potato Apple Dish: Maple Apple Clafouti with Maple Praline Bacon - I'm honestly not even sure what's going on here, but this was the epitome of what happens when I google, "Michigan Apple Recipes Dessert". Also, I promise that this is being served at a potluck somewhere in the upper midwest this weekend. And uh, I don't have a good transition into the question... But MAPLE PRALINE BACON!
2) AD Dave Brandon thought it would be fun to relive what is arguably the most open wound in recent Wolverine fandom by bringing back Appalachian State for the season opener. For those of you unfamiliar with that game, go ahead and click here. While that game is now obviously so far in the past that it doesn't necessarily make an impact on what happens this season, you could definitely make an argument that this is a really dumb PR move that has zero upside and all sorts of room for blowing up in the Wolverines' face. Do you think that this is a good move by Brandon? Is he just playing with fire, or is he some sort of marketing genius that is ginning up support for what is obviously a body bag game? Finally, what team could your AD schedule that would have the same sort of low upside and huge downside?
Green Akers: If Brandon's goal in scheduling this game was to fill the Big House, I'm confused. The place is normally sold out regardless of opponent, or so I'm told. If Michigan needs an attendance boost, why reach for it by reliving this nightmare? If it's a ratings game, why not bring in a marquee opponent that will move the needle outside the (admittedly large) combined group of Michigan fans and Michigan haters praying for an upset? If I were a Michigan fan, I'd be anywhere but the Big House that day, because what is there to be gained? Curbstomping an App State team that's much weaker now than it was 7 years ago won't undo that humiliation. Beating them by a less-than-convincing margin casts enormous doubt on the team's current viability. And if Michigan somehow loses to them again? You'll find me in the nearest padded cell, hysterical in every sense of the word. Hrmmmm. MSU's most embarrassing recent loss was to Central Michigan in 2009, but team was Brian Kelly's ticket to the big-time (still hate you Dan LeFevour, wherever you are) and we've vanquished CMU since then. Looking back, there was a loss to Colorado State in 1998 that I guess isn't that impressive? I also see that in 1994, we lost to Kansas even without the NCAA-imposed forfeit. So that's embarrassing. Man, did the program crater post-Perles...thing is, until the last few years, MSU has more often been the team that the embarrassing loss is suffered to, rather than by.
Brian Gillis: You said it - there is no upside to playing this game. Michigan is really in a no-win situation. Just scheduling the game will bring a week's worth of reminders of what happened last time, complete with highlights, Sports Illustrated covers, etc. If Michigan wins handily, it's only doing what it's supposed to do. Squeak out an Akron-like victory or, heaven forbid, lose the game, and it gets real ugly, real fast.
Graham: I do love the Central - MSU games here in mid-Michigan. Always a good crowd and when Central was good, some classic matchups. That said, why UM is playing Appalachian State is beyond me. If they win, but struggle, the imagery and highlights and publicity could be catastrophically bad for all involved. If they lose? Everyone is done.
DJ Carver: I think this is a terrible move. It doesn't do anything for Michigan if they win, and will just make them the laughing stock of the college football world again if they lose. He is definitely playing with fire. If Maryland ever schedules Middle Tennessee State again, they're getting a nasty letter from me. No upside, and if I have to relive that experience of watching them lose to a directional school...
Jesse: I know we'll get more into Brandon tomorrow - I promise - but this is just so great to me. What a, "Hey guys, screw you. I'm gonna go ahead and do whatever the hell I want." While there is very little upside as far as the actual on-the-field team goes, the upside to publicity (something Brandon craves) is probably worth it to him. Good move? No, not even a little bit. Does it matter? Also no. Dave Brandon does what he wants and scoffs at the notion you matter. Also, as for current open wounds? Well, while I can't think of a brutal loss like Appy State, I can't help but think that Wisconsin is still scoring on us with the Jet Sweep, so there's that.
More Orange: The year Appalachian State came to Ann Arbor is a funny memory for me. That was the first year I really tried to follow sports in general, so when the upset happened, it didn't really register in my mind. Nowadays, I would classify it as 'Aggressively Embarrassing Failure', but back then no such mark existed. Looking back on it with 7 years of context, the game is a ghost that will forever haunt the men of Michigan. I can only condone Brandon's decision abiding one outcome: A win. Anything else makes it hysterical, evolving from a ghost to a curse, but a win and it all fades into distant memory. Illinois's AD Mike Thomas couldn't make such a similar invitation -- the stakes have not risen high enough to fall that hard. At least, not in the past 20 years. Is it bad that I almost wish we had an embarrassing moment?
C4B: A good move? Probably not, but with App State coming off a 4-8 year, now's as good a time as any to try and get that revenge. Though if App State pulls it off again, the laughter will be heard throughout the conference.
Yes, Brandon is playing with fire. He got burned the first time, so this time he took some precautions, and by took precautions, I mean he lucked into an App State team that Michigan should actually beat this time. "Should" being the key word here.
[re: Indiana] Navy and Ball State, definitely. And, of the teams on this year's schedule, North Texas. Losing there a couple years ago was bad. Losing in Bloomington this year would be unforgivable.
Aaron Yorke: I don't see a problem with scheduling Appalachian State. Unless Michigan loses again, which it won't, because last time everyone on the team was high. Right? Or is that just an urban legend. Anyway, they'd be in bigger trouble if they traveled to Eastern Washington or something.
Penn State experience this sort of low upside situation every time we play Temple. PSU is supposed to beat Temple, doesn't get any credit for beating a "major" conference opponent, and if Temple wins, its fans will probably storm the field. Also, I'm pretty sure the administration is still scared to schedule Toledo after what happened in 2000. We'll take our victories over the Zips of Akron, thank you very much.
MNWildcat: New Hampshire. 2006. Also, let's take this minute to laugh at Iowa State, who are running the risk of playing NoDak State this fall. Despite Craig Bohl leaving, I want to see the Bison run a train on the Cyclones. Just for the LOL. Gophers, never do that again. My adolescence was ruined by that '07 game in the 'Dome.
Monday: Cocktail Party Preview
Tuesday: Smartest Guy in the Room
Wednesday: Potluck Part One (You are here)
Thursday: Potluck Part Two/Smoking Room
Friday: Keeping the Enemy Close