Apr 5, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Stadium: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
All-Time Record: 910-321-36 (83 over last 20 years)
Terps Play Them: November 22 at Michigan Stadium
The Big House. Little Brown Jug. Bo Schembechler. Tom Brady. Desmond Howard. Ohio State Sucks. Cool Helmets. Michigan Men. Appalachian State. Team 135.
This is Michigan, to the outside fan required to jam 134 years of football tradition into a few words. The Michigan Wolverines are definitely members of that hallowed group of “traditional” college football powerhouses; Notre Dame, Alabama, Texas are others you could give that label as well. But Michigan is different. Michigan is the top dog.
910 victories and a .732 winning percentage has them sitting at first all time in the win column amongst college football programs. So whatever your traditional power of choice claims, Michigan always has that “That’s nice, but we’ve won more games,” card to yank out of their pockets. Never mind the fact that they’ve been playing football for longer than any other program in the country but one (Rutgers), they’ve got the record.
So Michigan always has a seat in the room when it comes to success. They can tell you about Bo Schembechler and his one national championship (2007), and they can recall his 13 conference championships out of 20 tries while he was the head coach. If you’re wiling to lend an ear, die-hard Michigan fans will happily wax poetic about Fielding Yost and his Wolverines playing in the first-ever college bowl game (the Rose Bowl, 1902).
Michigan is permanently linked with college football because it has been around since its inception, and no one is going to forget them or their winged helmets. That said, for the past twenty years or so, Michigan has been pretty
*puts on armor*
The Wolverines have some of the highest season ticket prices in America and a massive fan base that continuously comes to games both at home and on the road. When you think Michigan football, you expect choice cuts of meat. But being a Michigan football fan is kind of like being a fan of Will Smith from the start of his career. Clean, wholesome, family friendly, hip, but without the curse words. For a lot of 80’s and 90’s babies, Will Smith was king for a long time. Show of hands: how many people born during that era can recite most every word to the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” theme song? Okay, you can all put your hands down. Four straight years of comedic genius (national champs from 1901-1904 for Michigan) that everyone just had to sit and marvel at.
Then when you wondered if his career would be like Val Kilmer’s and he’d get too fat and flame out, he went on to kill it at the box office continually. Independence Day (natty in 1918), the Men In Black trilogy (nattys 1918, 1923, and 1932), Enemy of the State (1933), I, Robot (1947), I am Legend and Hancock (1948 and 1997)! Will Smith one of the most expensive names in Hollywood for a reason: most of the time, his films are hits. And Fresh Prince, man! How good of a show was that?!
But Will Smith hasn’t shown the same pizazz as Fresh Prince lately. Remember when he was in Shark Tale? That movie wasn’t so great, but you went and saw it anyway. Definitely saw Wild Wild West, too; talk about a waste of$15 bucks. And Seven Pounds probably didn’t need to happen, but it still made some money at the box office. He probably shouldn’t have teamed up with his son in After Earth; that was one expensive straight to DVD movie! But hey that Fresh Prince episode (any of Michigan’s 42 Big Ten titles) where Carlton and Will dance to ‘Jump On It’ the other day. How great was that? Seriously, Will is so cool, and hilarious. Gettin’ jiggy wit it…
What? It’s been almost 20 years since a new Fresh Prince episode aired? Really? It’s been that long? Man, time flies. He’s still really cool, though. He’s probably going to pump out something great in no time. God I miss Fresh Prince…
At what point do we start to wonder whether or not Will Smith is going to get “it” back? Has he already lost “it”? To the casual fan, Michigan is just another underachieving Big Ten team on the national scale. They’ve won ten or more games seven times over the last twenty years. They won ten or more games 10 times over the 20 years prior to that. They haven’t been undefeated in over 20 years, have two bowl wins over the last ten seasons. Know who has more than that? Maryland. Four of their last seasons have ended with losing records in the Big Ten. Their last bowl game was called the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl, and did not feature sound if you were unfortunate enough to watch it.
This Michigan is still decent. This Brady Hoke Michigan. They have their Michigan Man at the helm. They still go to bowl games, and are relatively competitive in the Big Ten. Heck, they even sell out just about every game.
But you have to start to ask when those ticket prices are a little too high for a product that pales in comparison to Alabama. Or you question why Michigan State has been better than you lately. The new age fan hasn’t seen Michigan win anything substantial in their lifetime.
Why they could be good: Defense wins championships
Brady Hoke hasn’t been a ton of things during his time at Ann Arbor, but he has been solid with the defense. Rich Rodruigez tried to pretend it didn’t exist, but Hoke has made up for it. The Wolverines lose three starters up front, but it doesn’t matter; Jibreel Black was good, but Quinton Washington and Richard Ash weren’t.
Remember the name Bryan Mone, because you’ll hear him over and over again for the next three years. Mone is a 6’4, 315 lb true freshman who is a problem at the DT position with his strength. But there’s also Frank Clark, a weak side second-team All-B1G selection, and Ondre Pipkins is back from a torn ACL last year. Overall, their ability to attack the quarterback should be improved, which gives them hope because the rest of the defense could use help.
Cameron Gordon and the linebackers should be able to do a lot more now that they don’t have to make up for a bad front. Gordon and Jake Ryan should be terrors now that Ryan is fully healthy from a knee injury last year.
Their secondary is incredibly hawk-ish as well, with Ray Taylor and Blake Countess combining for 10 picks and 12 break-ups at corner. Thomas Gordon and Jarrod Wilson combined for five picks themselves. And all these guy were underclassmen. They add in five-star Jabrill Peppers and another star in Jourdan Lewis, so expect them to dominate.
Why they could be bad: Devin Gardner and the O-Liners
This isn’t so much a damning statement about Devin Gardner as it is the offensive line of the Michigan Wolverines. Gardner was forced to play both quarterback and running back for the Wolverines last year, as he only had a few tenths of a second to get the ball out of his hands in the pocket last season. Gardner got hit so much last season it ended up costing him a chance at playing in the bowl game as he broke his foot.
Sure, he had 11 interceptions last year and some impressively bad mistakes, but where was his help? Fitzgerald Toussaint was supposed to be a feature back, but the kid averaged 3.5 yards per carry last season. Their actual running back was Gardner in most cases (example: during that OT loss to Penn State last season, Toussaint ran for 27 yards on 27 carries, Gardner hit 121 yards on 24 carries).
Everyone can clamor on and on about how they want star prospect and sophomore Shane Morris to get the starting job, but that won’t mean a single thing if the offensive line isn’t put together again. The Wolverines had a bottom 10 adjusted yards offensive line, and a bottom 15 adjusted sack rate line as well. And the group only returns two starters (six with starting experience, though). All these guys are four- and five-stars, but as Michigan has seen, sometimes five-stars don’t pan out. They may not be a ton better, but they can’t get any worse.
They brought in Doug Nussmeier, who coached Alabama for the last few years, but does a pro-style offense like the one A.J. McCarron ran really fit…Devin Gardner?