The Wolverine

June-July 2012

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MICHIGAN FOOTBALL He's the program leader in wins (27), passing yards (9,131), pass- ing touchdowns (66), completions (723) and passing efficiency (146.1), and led the Spartans to two straight 11-win seasons in his final two years on campus. Although Cousins is gone, the Spartans have no plans to va- Early Look At 2012 Opponents: Michigan State In the Kirk Cousins era, Michigan State reached new heights. cate the top of the Big Ten standings. The expectation is a Big Ten title — but the team has several question marks to address before that goal can become a reality. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who will be a redshirt junior in 2012, is the signal-caller of the future. "Cousins' intangibles were so valuable, it's hard to even realize how much he meant to the success of the team with what he did in the locker room, game is expected to take a big hit. Four of the top five leaders in receiving yards in 2011 are Even if Maxwell is ready to step right in, the Spartans' passing " Rexrode said. "Maxwell has so much to live up to in that regard. I think he has the talent, but he has to handle a lot of pressure. Some guys are better at handling that than others, and we'll all just have to find out in the big game. gone — receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol, and tight end Brian Linthicum. The one returner from that list, running back Le'Veon Bell, was catching passes out of the backfield. Rising junior Bennie Fowler, if he can recover from the stress " Lansing State Journal beat writer Joe confident the defense will figure things out in the interior, and they really like Maxwell. With another year of improvement and chemistry with those guys, they expect to be in Indianapolis again. "To me, it comes down to going to Ann Arbor. At this point, those look like the two best teams in the division. It's very likely to come down to Oct. 20. " for the conference crown. Instead, the Cornhuskers went 5-3, settling for third in the Legends Division. The Big Red, however, look at 2011 as a learning experience. "Year two, you're going to see them gain some familiarity with the teams and coaches and the league," pub- lisher Sean Callahan said. "That will go a long way." ing nearly 30 points per game, thanks largely to a rushing attack that compiled 217.2 yards per contest. Three offensive linemen have moved on, but the Cornhuskers Nebraska's offense ranked fourth in the Big Ten last year, scor- return their top two rushers — senior tailback Rex Burkhead (1,357 yards) and junior quarterback Taylor Martinez (874 yards). "Rex Burkhead is always going to get you the consistent five to six yards a carry that you need from your backfield," Callahan said. "The million-dollar question, fractures he's suffered in both of his feet, can be a game-breaker in 2012. "If he's healthy, I think Fowler can be an excellent receiver, Martinez can mature as a passer in his third year as a starter. In 2011, he threw for 160.7 yards per game with 13 touch- Rexrode said. "I think he could be like B.J. Cunningham with a little bit more speed. Of course, Cunningham was so good because he was such a great technician and route runner. We haven't seen enough of Fowler to know if he's like that, but he's a big, fast, physical, talented guy. coming back, but the big name that will be missing — Jerel Worthy — leaves a big hole, both literally and figuratively. "I think losing him is huge, guy that makes plays from that position and is disruptive and forces offensive coordinators to worry about them, it opens things up for everyone else. " Rexrode said. "When you have a tans will be very strong on the end of the line. Defensive ends Marcus Rush and William Gholston will give opposing offenses fits all season. And the rest of the front seven will be equally devastating. All Although the interior line will be a question mark, the Spar- " Defensively, the Spartans have a lot of experienced talent " " Michigan, will have one of the best returning offenses in the conference, " according to Callahan, is whether downs and eight interceptions, but ranked ninth in the Big Ten with a pass efficiency rating of 126.5. "As long as Martinez makes strides as a passer, they, along with look over his career … he's proven that he can play well against some pretty good teams. But we've also seen moments like the Wisconsin game, where he threw three picks. "I think he needs to take steps as a leader. He was better in that linebacker Lavonte David, defensive lineman Jared Crick and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. "They don't have a lot of linebackers in the program right now Defensively, Nebraska loses a trio of its best defenders — " because while they were in the Big 12, the defense went away from bringing in a lot of linebackers, to getting hybrid defensive backs/linebackers, three starting linebackers — middle backer Max Bullough and outside backers Chris Norman and Denicos Allen — will all be back. Those three accounted for 248 of the Spartans' 937 tackles on really didn't take a major step back from Greg Jones to Bullough, which was big last year, high hopes in 2012, even with the offensive question marks. "The expectations are very high, running around and making plays. And Chris Norman was a playmaker. They'll be very good at linebacker. After 22 wins in the last two seasons, the Spartans have sky- " Rexrode said. "They're very " Rexrode said. "Allen was a little 5-10 guy " the year. "Max Bullough played like a senior as a sophomore. And they with having hybrid defensive backs as your second and third linebackers. They need to find those types of guys who can match up with the Wisconsins and Ohio States and Michigans … the teams that want to, and can, get physical. "To win a championship, you have to be a physical offense. The reaches Indianapolis for the conference title game. "Right now, Michigan has to be the odds-on favorite, not only to win the division but win the league," he said. "On paper, and " Callahan thinks it'll be at least another year before Nebraska " back around, to fit this league. "In this league, you need true linebackers. You can't get away " Callahan said. "Now, they're trying to build it " Callahan said. "We've seen flashes from him. If you Early Look At 2012 Opponents: Nebraska In its first season in the Big Ten, Nebraska expected to contend role last year, but he needs to continue to grow and be more of a leader in his third year as a starter. best teams in this league do that. To win this league, Nebraska knows it has to match up there. with Ohio State's situation, I just don't see any other team you could put above Michigan to win the league. — Andy Reid JUNE/JULY 2012 THE WOLVERINE 47

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