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B1G 2016: Michigan Cocktail Party Preview

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Michigan week kicks off with the cocktail party preview.

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About Last Season

The Good

Michigan exceeded all but the loftiest of expectations in Jim Harbaugh's inaugural season, capping off a ten-win season with a dominating 41-7 victory over SEC East champ Florida in the Citrus Bowl. After a shaky start to the season, quarterback Jake Rudock settled in and finished strong, ending the season completing 64% of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Rudock, who finished with the second most prolific passing season in Michigan history, wasn't the only player to perform well. Jake Butt garnered All-Conference honors at tight end, receivers Amara Darboh and team MVP Jehu Chesson excelled in their first seasons of extended use, and when he wasn't banged up, De'Veon Smith provided Michigan with the kind of hard-running tailback it hasn't seen in awhile. But as good as the offense was, it was often overshadowed by the defense, particularly early in the season, when the Wolverines recorded their first back-to-back-to-back shutouts in more than three decades. Led by an attacking front bolstered by strong secondary play led by Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers, the defense ranked among the nation's best much of the season.

The Bad

You don't have to look very hard to find the blemishes on Michigan's 2015 season, as crushing losses to Michigan State and Ohio State marred an otherwise successful season. We all know what happened in the Michigan State game by now, as a Wolverine team that spent the entire afternoon putting itself in a position to beat the Spartans, did the only thing it couldn't do on the game's final play, not only surrendering possession, but allowing the Spartans to score on the game's final, frantic play. Six weeks later, after the Wolverines had run off four consecutive victories (some more harrowing than others), Ohio State came into Ann Arbor and emphatically put an end to Michigan's slim hopes of playing for a conference championship, overwhelming the Wolverines in a game that may not have been as close as its 42-13 final score.

The Offense

The Good

Michigan returns an experienced offensive unit in 2016, with virtually its entire offensive line and skill position players, save its record-setting quarterback, returning. Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch also return, ensuring a measure of continuity. With so much returning talent, providing Michigan finds its quarterback, the Wolverines look to score a lot of points in 2016.

The Bad

Michigan may be returning the majority of its offense, but it has to replace two of its most important players. For the second year in a row, Michigan will turn to a new starting quarterback. The competition appears to be down to redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight and Houston transfer John O'Korn. While each has his attributes (O'Korn is thought to possess the greater upside while Speight is billed as the steadier, less error-prone option), neither is likely to provide the type of leadership Rudock did, a player many of his teammates referred to as "Dad" as much for his temperament as for his age. Whoever does emerge as the starter, however, will have one thing going for him - he'll have plenty of experienced teammates to lean on.

Michigan may be returning four-fifths of its offensive line, but it's losing its best lineman in walk-on-turned-Detroit Lion, Graham Glasgow. Michigan figures to be solid up front, but despite one of the nation's most experienced lines (more than 100 career starts among returning players), improvement isn't a given. It wasn't that long ago that the Wolverines returned two future NFL tackles but lost Rimington Trophy winning center David Molk, and for those who don't remember, the results weren't pretty. One thing that 2012 team didn't have was junior Mason Cole sliding over to center, however. So with Michigan's best returning lineman replacing Glasgow at center, the drop-off shouldn't be as severe this time around. At least that's the hope in Ann Arbor.

The Defense

The Good

Michigan loses its entire starting linebacking corps, but returns almost everyone else. Last season, Michigan's defense was led by its defensive front, which both harassed opposing quarterbacks and bottled up opponents' running games alike. At least it did until Ryan Glasgow suffered a season-ending injury in early November. Despite losing Willie Henry to the NFL, Michigan should have even more depth up front this season. Headed by seniors Glasgow, Chris Wormley and Maurice Hurst, Michigan's defensive front will be further bolstered by the return of Bryan Mone (who sat out 2015 due to injury) and the addition of the nation's number one recruit, incoming freshman Rashan Gary, who should vie for playing time. But while the defensive line looks to be Michigan's strength, the Wolverines should also be solid on the back end, as Lewis returns to anchor what looks to be another strong secondary. Not to be overlooked is new defensive coordinator Don Brown, whose attacking style had Boston College playing as well as any defense in the country last year, and figures to have Michigan doing the same this season.

The Bad

Michigan may feature an experienced defensive unit as a whole, but it will start an entire new linebacking corps. Upperclassmen Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray are expected to help fill the void, but don't be surprised to see true freshman Devin Bush play a key role - or to see Peppers take snaps in somewhat of a hybrid-linebacker position. Michigan also lost secondary coach Greg Jackson, who returned to the NFL.

Special Teams

The Good

Michigan's special teams play in 2015 was a major improvement over years past, when it often ranked among the nation's worst. Michigan will have to replace punter Blake O'Neil, who dropped more punts inside the 20-yard line than anyone in recent memory, but kicker Kenny Allen and primary returners Peppers and Lewis all return.

The Bad

First-year special teams coach John Baxter, credited for much of Michigan's special teams turnaround last season, left Ann Arbor for the sunnier climes of Los Angeles. How much of last season's special teams improvement was directly related to Baxter? We'll soon find out.

The Schedule

The Good

Michigan faces Michigan State and Ohio State teams that have to replace a combined 17 players who were drafted in the past NFL draft.

The Bad

Michigan faces Michigan State and Ohio State teams on the road (thank you, Dave Brandon), and despite losing 12 players to the past NFL draft, any reports of Ohio State's demise are greatly exaggerated.

If You're Talking to a Michigan Fan

Do Mention

Jim Hackett (gone, but not forgotten), the 2016 Citrus Bowl win over Florida, the end of the Adidas era, the women's softball team and America's greatest college town.

Don't Mention

Last season's Michigan State and Ohio State games would be a good start. Also, enough about satellite camps.