Here's a look at Michigan to get a better idea of what Utah is dealing with.
Michigan's 2007 season is most known for two things, their opening season loss to Appalachian State and the retirement of 13 year head coach Lloyd Carr. But lost in most of this is the fact Michigan took a disastrous start and turned things around, winning eight games in a row at one point and ending Carr's career with a pretty emotional 41-35 victory over Florida in the Capital One Bowl.
But the season always goes back to that first loss to Appalachian State and as much as the Wolverines have tried to shake it, that moment will hang over the program for a while. At least until Rich Rodriguez can get things turned around to the point where they're not only defeating Ohio State, but knocking on the door to the national championship. And that has been something Michigan really hasn't done since winning their first championship in nearly 50 years back in 1997, a big reason why Carr was consistently being slowly edged out in Ann Arbor.
As you can see, Michigan doesn't return many starters on offense. So they'll have to rely on inexperience at key positions, especially at quarterback, where as of today, it's still an undecided position.
Top Returning Statistical Leaders:
Junior Brandon Minor had 90 carries in 2007 for 385 yards, which was a 4.3 average. He finished the season with one touchdown and is expected to be the key offensive player for the Wolverines, who are looking to replace the successful Mike Hart. Expect him to be the bedrock of this offense against Utah, since they still haven't settled on a quarterback and that could prove to be a weak position, at least early in the year.
David Cone is the lone returner who saw action last season, where he completed one pass for 21-yards. That's it. Even though he's the only quarterback on the roster with actual D-1 game experience, Cone probably won't be the starter as it appears that battle is between Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan. Neither choice has experience, so Utah will be their first true test, but we've also got to remember that these are big-time recruits, as well. There is a reason for this and they should be ready.
Sheridan & Threet
Greg Matthews is the leading receiver from a year ago, catching 39 passes for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns. This experience will be important for either Sheridan or Threet, as like with the other offensive positions, there isn't any starting experience here.
|Tim Jamison||DE||6-3||263||5th Sr.|
|Will Johnson||DT||6-5||285||5th Sr.|
|Morgan Trent||CB||6-1||188||5th Sr.|
On defense, there is a bit more experience and this should help Michigan greatly, especially as the offense takes its time adjusting to Rodriguez's style of play.
Top Returning Statistical Leaders:
Obi Ezeh in 2007 had 68 tackles, 33 of which were solo, 35 assisted. However, if you look at career, that goes to Morgan Trent, who has 108 total tackles in his career with the Wolverines. Ezeh, a linebacker, looks to be the best of the linebackers core, which this season appears to be rather inexperienced.
Brandon Graham had 8.5 sacks in 2007 for 54 yards, which led the team and he should be a force on the Wolverine defensive line again this year. In fact, that line will be strong, especially with Tim Jamison, who was a solid pass rusher last year. The line could be Michigan's biggest asset all around, especially if Terrance Taylor lives up to expectations. However, if it struggles stopping the run like last year, Utah could find an opening on the ground.
Corner Morgran Trent had two interceptions last year and returns as the leader in this category. Michigan defended the deep ball well in 2007 and with Trent and Donovan Warren at the corners, they should be able to keep the big-time passing plays to a minimum.
For the Wolverines' defense to succeed, though, they will need to do it up front. Far too many times last season they were burned on the ground and even though they have a solid secondary, if they're not doing their job on the line, they will be in trouble.
Because of this, look for the Utes to test their run defense and if Utah can find a ground game, it could be a difficult day for Michigan. If they defend the run well, the Utes could be forced into a throwing game and that may play right into Michigan's strengths in the secondary -- especially if Johnson looks deep.
If Michigan is going to win this game, it'll probably have to do it on the backs of the defense. Their offense is too inexperienced to really dominate, so this very well could come down to whether or not their defense can stop Utah's potentially explosive and experienced offense. If they do, it'll be a battle and they might just have enough juice in the tank to win a game in similar fashion to what we saw in 2002. However, if they give up the run, Utah will be in good position to steal a victory.
As I said in my preview yesterday, I predict Michigan to win. That does not mean, though, I'm purely confident in that pick. It was made by default only because I have yet to see this team really perform well against a solid BCS program on the road under Whittingham (and Louisville doesn't count). I definitely see the possibility for a win and the needed mix of talent and experience is there, but we'll just have to wait and see.