Weight: 211 lbs.
High school: Avon Old Farms High School in Dorchester, MA
Position: Running back
Class: Redshirt junior
Jersey number: #15
Last year: I ranked Cox #17 and said he would be the starting running back with 700 yards. He played in two games and had 6 carries for 56 yards.
Just like yesterday's Devin Gardner discussion, my placement of Michael Cox this high on the list (the highest of the running backs) stirs up old arguments and will surely anger some people. Cox has been the subject of frequent rumors about brain farts, cockiness, fumbles, etc. All of those weaknesses have commiserated and allowed him to touch the ball only 19 times in 6 regular season appearances. Those 19 carries, though, have turned into 169 yards (8.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
Proponents of Cox will argue that he makes big plays. In limited opportunities Cox has a 57-yard touchdown run, a 35-yard run, and a 24-yard jaunt. That means nearly 16% of his carries have gone for 24 yards or more. Cox also had the best run of the 2010 spring game (a 22-yard TD) and the 2011 spring game (a 68-yard TD). In literally every competitive situation Michigan fans have witnessed him carry the ball, he's produced a play of 22 yards or more.
Opponents of playing Cox more frequently will argue that the coaches know more than fans, which is certainly true. They will also argue that Cox's only career carries have come against MAC and FCS opponents, which is also true. Their numbers (plus Stephen Hopkins') against common opponents:
Cox: 19 carries, 169 yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 2 touchdowns
Shaw: 30 carries, 185 yards, 6.2 yards per carry, 3 touchdowns
Smith: 31 carries, 238 yards, 7.7 yards per carry, 3 touchdowns
Hopkins: 6 carries, 32 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, 0 touchdowns
All of the above statements are factual. Each side has solid arguments. But when I watch these potential starters play, I just don't see big plays in the arsenal of Smith and Hopkins. Shaw has more potential as a difference maker, but his problem has been injuries more than anything else. There's nothing anyone can do about that except maybe a witch doctor. Two-year starter Vincent Smith has two career plays of 22 yards or more and Michael Shaw has five in 21 and 30 career games, respectively.
As for the coming season, it's really a toss-up when it comes to naming a starter. Brady Hoke has stated that he wants one guy to take the majority of the snaps and get 20-25 touches a game. I don't know who that guy will be. A lot of people like Hopkins, but he's not particularly outstanding. Shaw is perpetually injured and didn't get much run in the spring. Smith will probably be a third down back. Freshman Thomas Rawls reminds me of former Wolverine Kevin Grady, which isn't necessarily a great thing, and classmate Justice Hayes probably needs a redshirt year to get himself physically ready.
Of course, Cox isn't without question marks. He's not perfect, but he looks to me like the running back with the fewest warts.
Prediction: Starting running back; 175 carries, 875 yards, 10 touchdowns