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Those Who Stay……2013 Season Outlook

August 30, 2013

 

Taylor Lewan

 

When Brady Hoke was hired at Michigan, he made it clear that winning the Big Ten Championship was always the #1 goal.  For a program that has  42 Big Ten Titles, but hasn’t won one since 2004, the commitment to that cause was certainly well placed.  Though Michigan won 11 games including the Sugar Bowl in Brady’s first year, most fans didn’t have Big Ten title aspirations coming off of the Rich Rod years.  With a senior Denard Robinson and a veteran squad, last year seemed to have the talent but road trips to OSU and Nebraska made the Big Ten Championship a daunting task.  Even the most optimistic of fans (ME), probably should’ve realized last year was too tough of a mountain to climb.  

Even a a win against a very good South Carolina team wasn’t in the cards, and instead of feeling good coming off of a 9-4 season and a win over the SEC, we were subjected to an entire offseason of Jadaveon Clowney treating Vincent Smith like a ragdoll.   With Taylor Lewan likely headed to the NFL to make millions, the outlook for 2013 wasn’t bleak, but it was uncertain. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to Radio City Music Hall.  Taylor decided that the thing that has made Michigan into Michigan for 40+ years; the mantra we’ve all recited before, mattered to him.  So Taylor Lewan decided to stay, so he could try and be a champion.  Now one player doesn’t make a team, or even a unit, but the return of Taylor Lewan at left tackle was a huge boost to a team looking for an identity.  And to be fair, Taylor isn’t the only key player who “stayed”.  Devin Gardner could’ve bolted to another school when the coaches asked him to switch to receiver last year.  He could’ve pouted when they made it clear that he wouldn’t be the #1 backup QB.  Instead he stayed, and like Lewan, is poised to have a huge senior season in Ann Arbor.  #thosewhostay has been a hallmark of Michigan Football ever since Bo erected that sign in the locker room.  It’s part of our history, our tradition, and hopefully our immediate future.  

So here we are on the eve of the 2013 season, starting a new era.  The Denard Robinson era, while fun and exciting, sometimes felt a little bit like a Michael Bay action film.  Sure the stunts and explosions were fun, but after 3 hours did I really feel like it ended the way I wanted it to?  Now comes Devin Gardner, who though an elusive runner in his own right, is much more quarterback than running back.  In a lot of ways he is the guy we always wanted Denard to be.   A smarter passer, a better and more accurate arm, and a better game manager.  Coupled with what should be a better rushing attack, and the only thing missing from this offense is a big play receiver (though Jeremy Gallon might be close).  Gardner has all the tools to be a great Michigan quarterback, and eventually a guy who plays on Sundays.  

Defensively, this is the best front 7 Michigan will field since the 2006 defense.  Though it may not have the star power that the 2006 team had with Woodley, Harris, and Branch, it has depth, versatility, and come late September Jake Ryan #mancrush.   And its not as though the secondary is slim pickings either, though there are some questions that still need to be answered (see the preview on the Secondary for more).  

So what does it all mean?  The return of Lewan, the emergence of Gardner, the fearsome front 7? 

If you ask any football coach not named Rich Rodriguez, they’ll tell you that to win the Big Ten you have to be able to play great defense, run the ball effectively, and excel in special teams.  If you have a special player at QB, that helps too.   Great defense? Check.  Effective running game? Check.  Good on special teams? Check.  Special QB?  Check again.   If you haven’t figured it out yet, on paper this team has all the tools you need to win the Big Ten.  That’s what it means.  

Being good on paper isn’t good enough.  They do actually play the games, often times against good opponents.  Yet there  is a lot to like about the games Michigan will play this year.  I’m going to jump past the non-conference games because Brady Hoke has brainwashed me into only focusing on the Big Ten title.  But for those looking for a prediction, I think we’ll win them all.  

Looking at the Big Ten schedule and I can’t help but smile.  OSU and Nebraska at home; a downward trending PSU team on the road, and the two biggest road challenges are MSU and Northwestern.  Throw in a timely bye the week before we head to East Lansing, and for once the schedule gods are smiling down upon us.  

Given the schedule and the talent we have, I can talk myself into an undefeated season.  Notre Dame at home at night, OSU at home, an MSU team without an offense are all things that make me think we could run the table.  The problem is that it requires just a little too much luck on our part.  We’ll need Gardner to stay healthy.  We’ll need the middle of the offensive line to gel.  And we’ll need the defensive secondary to grow up quickly.  That’ just one too many question marks for me to predict a perfect season.  But is it too many question marks for me to predict 10-2 and a trip to Indianapolis?  Hell no! 

There will be at least 1, and maybe 2 slipups along the way this fall, but don’t be surprised to see Michigan and Ohio State go head to head two weeks in a row for the first time, and hopefully the only time, in program history.   

But my prediction is as follows: 

Michigan will need to beat OSU in the last game of the season in order to head to Indianapolis to setup a re-match for the trip to Pasadena.  It’s probably worth it to reserve a hotel room in Indy right now.    

CMU PREDICTION

If you want someone to break down the CMU game, I highly recommend you read Mike’s take on tomorrow.  

Here are my brief thoughts: 

We’ve brought back the pro style offense, the massive offensive lines, and the suffocating defenses.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t bring back the workman like wins over MAC teams.  If you’ve watched Michigan football for a significant amount of time, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Build a lead, have some fun, and then let your younger guys play in the 4th quarter.   Look for Gardner and Gallon to connect on at least one long touchdown, the defensive to get better as the game goes on and they wear down CMU, and for lots (maybe as many as 6!) running backs to get carries.  If you don’t care about seeing the youngsters play, there’s no reason you won’t make your 7 PM dinner reservation.

Michigan 45

Central Michigan 10 

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