|Hooray for middle linebackers who play like middle linebackers!
Well, it's always fun to take a look back and see how my predictions panned out, so here's a link to my 2010 Season Predictions.
And now for this year's picks:
I'm going to rescind my earlier faith in Michael Cox and guess that Michael Shaw will be the Wolverines' leading running back rusher in 2011. Denard Robinson would be the obvious pick if Rich Rodriguez were still coaching, but Brady Hoke wants Robinson to run less. It's basically a crapshoot with Thomas Rawls, Michael Cox, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Shaw all vying for the starting RB role. Between injuries Shaw will run for 700 yards and a couple other guys will have a few hundred apiece . . . but Denard should take the lead by a fairly small margin.
Prediction: Denard Robinson, 900 yards
The change in offense throws a wrench into my guess here, too. I think Roy Roundtree is a very good receiver, but I also think he's going to struggle more now that he's been moved from the slot to the outside. The only other serious threat to lead the team is Junior Hemingway, who might be derailed by injury like usual. I guess I'll go with Hemingway and pray he stays healthy.
Prediction: Junior Hemingway, 1000 yards
I'm pretty confident that middle linebacker Kenny Demens will lead the team in tackles, provided his shoulder injury doesn't flare up again. He had 82 last season and finished third on the team, despite only starting for half the year. Safety Jordan Kovacs was second last year with 116 total tackles, but I think - and hope - that those numbers will drop significantly.
Prediction: Kenny Demens, 100 tackles
Considering that Michigan's sack totals have dropped to 41% of what they were in 2006, I have to think that the new defensive scheme will cause at least a small jump. Of the defensive linemen and linebackers who graduated last year (Greg Banks, Renaldo Sagesse, Adam Patterson, Jonas Mouton, Obi Ezeh), none were great pass rushers. The best rushers return (Ryan Van Bergen with 9 career sacks, Mike Martin with 6.5, and Craig Roh with 2.5) with some youthful potential in the forms of redshirt freshman Jake Ryan, sophomore Jibreel Black, and true freshman Frank Clark. With all those blitzers and rushers potentially getting to the quarterback, weakside end Craig Roh should lead the team in sacks.
Prediction: Craig Roh, 7 sacks
Last year's interception leaders were cornerback James Rogers (since graduated) and free safety-turned-linebacker Cameron Gordon. So those two are out, since linebackers rarely lead teams in interceptions. That leaves us with a crew of defensive backs who have a combined four interceptions (Jordan Kovacs has 3, J.T. Floyd has 1). Cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and Courtney Avery have shown an ability to cover but not make big plays, and Floyd . . . well . . . just doesn't look like a very good cornerback. It looks like Thomas Gordon will start at strong safety and he hasn't had a chance to show his pass coverage abilities yet since he played linebacker last year. So it looks like Jordan Kovacs is my man.
Prediction: Jordan Kovacs, 3 interceptions
All-Big Ten First Team
Prediction: Denard Robinson, Mike Martin
Leading Scorer (non-QB, non-kicker)
Prediction: Michael Shaw
Breakout Offensive Player
This is a tough choice because almost every offensive starter returns. Kevin Koger should see a significant leap in production, but he'll be a four-year starter. I have a hard time picking a four-year starter as a breakout player. So I'm going to go with Jeremy Gallon. Gallon is #2 on the depth chart at wide receiver and should see some time in the slot in three- and four-wide sets. He's quick, fast, and thickly built, and he could be an X-factor if he can hold onto the ball (which he couldn't do last year as a kick/punt returner).
Prediction: Jeremy Gallon
Breakout Defensive Player
I don't foresee anyone on Michigan's defense going from an unknown to an All-American, so "breakout" here has to be looked at from a small-scale perspective. A few days ago, I picked freshman linebacker Desmond Morgan as a potential breakout player, since he's a frosh and will play at some point this season. Anybody who starts at weakside linebacker will be a breakout player, really, since all the options are young and inexperienced. Mike Jones is #1 on the depth chart, although I don't really think he's a playmaker. I think I'll go with cornerback Courtney Avery. Avery had a bad year last season, not because he's a bad athlete but because he wasn't ready to play. He should have redshirted and taken a year to add some size. Now he's a sophomore with playing experience and he might be the best cover corner on the roster, although true freshman Blake Countess is going to be a good one, too.
Prediction: Courtney Avery
Most Disappointing Offensive Player
Keep in mind that this is my most disappointing offensive player, as in the one that I think will fall short of my previous expectations. There was a time when I thought Roy Roundtree was headed toward wearing the #1 jersey. On top of being a very good slot receiver, he was a good blocker and a playmaker after the catch. He started to fall off toward the end of last season when he began dropping too many passes, particularly against Wisconsin and Ohio State. And while he did have over 900 yards receiving last year, many of those receptions came in the middle of the field, an area that he won't roam as often from his new outside receiver position. He should start this fall and put up decent numbers, but I don't know if the #1 jersey is in his future anymore.
Prediction: Roy Roundtree
Most Disappointing Defensive Player
Just like last year, it's tough to pick someone who's going to be disappointing, because not much is expected from most of the guys on this unit. The bar has been lowered so much that it's almost impossible for anyone to limbo underneath it. With that caveat aside, I think Troy Woolfolk is going to disappoint some people a little bit. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and many Michigan fans hope that Woolfolk will be Michigan's Savior in the Secondary this season. He was a solid free safety and cornerback in 2009 before dislocating his ankle prior to the 2010 season, which might have been fortuitous since he preserved his last year of eligibility to play under a coach who actually knows what he's doing. But Woolfolk has zero interceptions in his career, and while he's a solid tackler with excellent speed, I doubt he'll suddenly be causing turnover after turnover. I expect continued solid play in the coming months, but nothing spectacular.
Prediction: Troy Woolfolk
The Big Finish
Sept. 3 vs. Western Michigan: WIN. Michigan's offense ought to be too good for Western Michigan to handle. Denard Robinson torched them in 2009 for one of his best career highlights, and he'll probably make some more highlights. MAC teams just can't handle his speed.
Sept. 10 vs. Notre Dame: LOSS. Notre Dame should have beaten Michigan in 2010, if not for quarterback Dayne Crist getting injured. This year the Fighting Irish should be better.
Sept. 17 vs. Eastern Michigan: WIN. The Screaming Eagles are horrible at football.
Sept. 24 vs. San Diego State: WIN. I think this will be a pretty easy win. SDSU lost a couple of their top receivers for the year due to injury. Otherwise, I thought it was going to be a close win.
Oct. 1 vs. Minnesota: WIN. The Golden Gophers are just a steap ahead of Eastern Michigan.
Oct. 8 at Northwestern: WIN. The Wildcats have a solid offense that will put up some points, but I have confidence that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will have some better ideas on how to stop the spread than his predecessors.
Oct. 15 at Michigan State: WIN. It's about time that Michigan gets another victory against the Spartans, who got lucky repeatedly in the 2010 season. I can't see Hoke and Mattison losing to MSU in year one.
Oct. 29 vs. Purdue: WIN. Purdue is bad, and their starting quarterback from last year is out due to an ACL tear.
Nov. 5 at Iowa: LOSS. Iowa is going to be good this year, unfortunately. They always seem to play Michigan tough, and their defense is solid. If this game were in Ann Arbor, I'd pick the Wolverines . . . but it's an away game.
Nov. 12 at Illinois: WIN. Illinois lost a couple good players in their defensive front seven, and the couple good players left shouldn't be enough to beat the Wolverines.
Nov. 19 vs. Nebraska: LOSS. Nebraska's too good on both sides of the ball for Michigan to handle. They might win the Big Ten in their first season.
Nov. 26 vs. Ohio State: LOSS. I wish I could predict a Michigan victory here, but Ohio State has been so dominant in recent years that I can't see the Wolverines pulling out a victory. All of OSU's suspended players will be back and warmed up for several weeks before coming to Ann Arbor.
Final Record: 8-4