The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 75 Top Five Games 1. Nov. 29 at Ohio State: The Wolverines and Buckeyes were in two very different places when the bitter rivals kicked off in Ann Arbor last season. Riding a 23-game winning streak to start Urban Meyer's tenure in Columbus, Ohio State was vying to cap a second straight undefeated regular season and vie a for a possible spot in the BCS National Champion- ship Game. Michigan, on the other hand, had lost four of its last six games. But what transpired that day was proof of the old adage: you have to throw out the record books when The Game starts. Michigan was a late-game two-point conversion away from notching one of the biggest upsets in the long, storied history of this rivalry, falling 42-41 in a wild offensive explosion of a game. Under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines will always play their best game against the Buckeyes. But, after toppling Ohio State 40-34 in his first year as coach (2011), snapping Michigan's seven- game losing skid to the Buckeyes, Hoke has yet to beat Meyer, losing by a combined six points in 2012 and 2013. With the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten, Michigan and Ohio State are now in the same Big Ten division, adding even more pressure — and Big Ten title game aspirations — to The Game. 2. Oct. 25 at Michigan State: From 1957-2013, the Wolverines and Spartans rotated their annual in-state rivalry between Ann Arbor and East Lansing on a yearly basis (44 of the first 50 games in the series were played in Ann Arbor). That will change in 2014. The Big Ten schedule was shaken up by the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, and one of the biggest changes was the flipping of the Michigan-Michigan State game. After the Spartans crumpled Michigan 29-6 in East Lansing last year, the Wolverines will have to make the trip up I-96 again this year, where they have not won since a 28-24 decision in 2007 — Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio's first year at the helm. The Wolverines have lost five of the last six games in the series, and a win over the Spartans this year would go a long way toward a Big Ten East Division title. Since the conference introduced the Big Ten Championship Game for the 2011 season, the Spartans have played for the crown twice, beating a previously undefeated Ohio State team in 2013 in the game to advance to their first Rose Bowl since 1987. Michigan, in the same timespan, has not finished better than second in its own division. The Wolver- ines need to turn the tide against their in-state foes. 3. Sept. 6 at Notre Dame: On Nov. 22, 1887, the Michigan football team took a train to South Bend, Ind., and literally taught a group of Notre Dame students how to play football. The two squads scrimmaged that day, a game that marked the first competitive contest in Fight- ing Irish football history. And now, 127 years and 42 total games later, the rivalry between the two iconic pro- grams will come to an end for the foreseeable future. After the Fighting Irish signed a deal with the ACC to play five teams from the conference every season, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick terminated the contract between the two teams. With a win, the Wolverines will close out the series on a run of five wins in the last six games. Michigan beat Notre Dame 38-34 in 2009, 28-24 in 2010, 35-31 in 2011 and 41-30 last season, with the lone loss a 13-6 decision during Notre Dame's run to the BCS National Championship Game in 2012. Michigan leads the all-time series 24-16-1. The game will also be the fourth consecutive time the Wolverines and Fighting Irish play in prime time. 4. Oct. 11 vs. Penn State: With games against their two biggest contenders from the Big Ten East crown on the road — at Michigan State Nov. 2 and at Ohio State Nov. 29 — the Wolver- ines cannot afford to trip up anywhere else on the conference schedule. Michigan's most marquee home game this year is against the Nittany Lions, which are introducing first-year head coach James Franklin, who led Vanderbilt to a 24-15 record in three years, including the program's first back-to-back winning seasons since 1974-75. The Commodores when 9-4 in both 2012 and 2013, the first time they had ever won nine or more games in consecutive years. Michigan has not beaten Penn State since 2007, with an 0-4 record against the Nittany Lions since then (a 46-17 loss in 2008, a 35-10 defeat in 2009, a 41-31 setback in 2010 and a 43-40 quadruple- overtime loss last season). It will also mark the first time Michigan will host a team other than Notre Dame in a prime-time contest. 5. Nov. 22 vs. Maryland: Rutgers and Maryland are both expected to struggle mightily in their first season in the conference. And that very well may be how 2014 plays out for the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights. But Maryland, which boasts a sneakily athletic roster with several potential big-play skill players, has a chance to do some damage this season. The Terrapins went 7-6 last year with a couple of impressive victories, including a 37-0 blowout win over West Virginia and a 27-24 win at Virginia Tech. Before he missed the last six games of the season due to a broken leg, junior wide receiver Stefon Diggs had emerged as a legitimate star, catching 34 passes for 587 yards (17.3 yards per catch) and three touchdowns, a season after catching 54 passes for 848 yards and six scores as a true freshman. The Terrapins will make their first trip to Ann Arbor since 1990, when the Wolverines beat them 45-17. quarterbacks last season. They ranked No. 64 nationally in sacks (25), up from No. 77 (22) the previous season. But nine of those sacks occurred before the start of Big Ten play (four sacks each versus Central Michigan and Connecticut, and one against Notre Dame). In conference-only games, U-M tallied 14 sacks (four versus Penn State, two versus In- diana, Northwestern and Ohio State, and one versus Minnesota, Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa). That ranked eighth in the Big Ten (Ohio State was No. 1 with 30 sacks in confer- ence games). Six teams in the league tallied at least 20 sacks against other Big Ten teams. Of the 25 total sacks, eight of them were attributed to players who have graduated: linebacker Cam Gordon (a team-high 5.0 sacks), defensive lineman Jibreel Black (2.5 sacks) and defensive back Courtney Avery (0.5 sacks). Michigan is returning six players who re- corded more than one sack last season: senior defensive end Frank Clark (4.5 sacks), redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Chris Worm- ley (2.5 sacks), senior defensive end Brennen Beyer (2.0 sacks), junior linebacker Joe Bolden (2.0 sacks), junior linebacker James Ross III (1.5 sacks) and junior defensive end Mario Ojemudia (1.5 sacks). Add in Ryan, who racked up 7.5 sacks in 2011 and 2012 but none last year while he was recovering from an ACL injury, and the Wolverines should have the playmakers to get into the backfield this year. 5. How will the Wolverines fare on the road? In the Hoke era, Michigan is a middling 6-8 in true road games. In the same timespan, the Big Ten champi- ons (Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012 and Michi- gan State in 2013) went a combined 8-6 on the road. But the Wolverines have failed to escape the road with a truly impressive victory in the last three years. The team has a 1-8 road mark against teams that finished with an above-.500 record. The one win came at Il- linois in 2011 (31-14). The Fighting Illini went 7-6 that year. In 2011, Michigan lost to an 11-3 Michigan State (28-14) and a 7-6 Iowa team (24-16) and beat Illinois on the road. In 2012, Michigan lost to a 12-1 Notre Dame team (13-6), a 10-4 Nebraska team (23-9) and a 12-0 Ohio State team (26-21) on the road. In 2013, Michigan lost to a 7-5 Penn State team (43-40 in quadruple overtime), a 13-1 Michigan State team (29-6) and an 8-5 Iowa team (24-21). Although the Wolverines' schedule, as a whole, isn't particularly daunting in 2014, the three toughest and biggest games (Notre Dame Sept. 6, Michigan State Oct. 25 and Ohio State Nov. 29) are all on the road. Add in a prime-time game at Rutgers Oct. 4 and a second consecutive road contest at Northwestern Nov. 8 — after Michigan has made two straight last-second overtime es- capes from the Wildcats — and U-M's road schedule is full of potential pitfalls. 72-76.Season Preview.indd 75 6/18/14 3:54 PM

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