14 Teams in 14 Days: Michigan Wolverines
Sep 7, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (12) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports Photo: Image by Andrew Weber
The Wolverines entered the back half of their 2013 at 6-1 (the lone loss a 43-40 defeat in four overtimes at the hands of Penn State) with hopes of an appearance in the B1G Ten Championship game.
Those hopes quickly vanished with a 1-4 finish to the season, the only victory being a triple overtime win over a Northwestern team that was in the midst of an eventual seven-game losing streak.
The free-fall meant rather than playing in a BCS or New Year's Day bowl, the Wolverines were relegated to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, losing to Kansas State.
Hoke's tenure at Michigan started out roses (or Sugar), going 11-2 and leading the Wolverines to a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech. He was named B1G Ten coach of the year and a finalist for national coach of the year and lead his Wolverines to wins over Notre Dame and Nebraska, but more importantly, their first win over Ohio State since 2003.
In the two years that followed, Hoke has gone 15-11 (9-7 in conference) and lost back-to-back Bowl games. More importantly though, they've dropped back-to-back games against Ohio State and have watched in-state rival Michigan State move past them on the B1G Ten food chain.
The seat is definitely hot in Ann Arbor.
Devin Gardner returns under center and the offense will go as he goes. Gardner was up and down in 2013, turning the ball over far too much early on in the season. He's athletic and throws a good deep ball, but often times he locks in on his targets too much, resulting in those turnovers. Down the stretch those mistakes greatly diminished as Gardner turned in a career performance in a one point loss to Ohio State.
The Wolverines need Gardner to be the guy they saw the last three to four games of 2013 instead of the one who opened the season if they're going to win nine or more games.
Running back is deep but with De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green leading the way for now but they could get a boost if sophomore USC transfer Ty Isaac has his hardship waiver granted and is eligible to play in 2014.
Devin Funchess shifts from hybrid tight end to traditional receiver this year and he figures to be Gardner's go-to-guy. At 6'4 he has the size to overpower corner backs but also has the speed to outrun most linebackers and safeties. Funchess flashed the potential to be a breakout start in 2014, something they'll need since he's the only returning starter with at least 15 career receptions.
Up front the Wolverines have struggled at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks in recent years. They group is deeper this year but still only boasts one potential play-maker in senior defensive end Frank Clark. They'll likely go nine deep, rotating guys to keep them fresh while expecting Clark to see double teams, freeing things up for other guys.
Despite losing Cam Gordon at linebacker, Michigan brings back arguably the best trio at linebacker in the B1G Ten. Jake Ryan moves to the middle now while James Ross III moves to the weakside. Both Ryan and Ross are potentially first-team all-conference level players. Joining them to round out the trio is senior Desmond Morgan.
The secondary is where Michigan's strength lies. They return two starters at corner back in Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor. Countess' six interceptions in 2013 lead the Wolverines and tied for the B1G Ten lead. The player everyone is eager to see however is true freshman Jabrill Peppers. There's no doubt Peppers will play in 2014, the only question is where. They could line him up on the outside, bumping Taylor to nickel back, Peppers could find himself as the nickel back or he could even play free safety.
|8/30||vs APPALACHIAN STATE|
|9/6||@ Notre Dame|
|9/13||vs MIAMI (OH)|
|10/11||vs PENN STATE|
|10/25||@ Michigan State|
|11/29||@ Ohio State|
You have to figure the Wolverines are going to need to win at least nine games for Brady Hoke to save his job and that's something that's very achievable in 2014. Michigan State and Ohio State are both on the road, but the Wolverines non-conference schedule is uncharacteristically easy in 2014. The potential is there for a 7-0 start heading into East Lansing on October 25th.
While the potential is there for another fast start, the possibility of another free-fall exists as well with Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland and Ohio State closing out the season.
2014 will be Hoke's last in Ann Arbor. The non-conference schedule is not difficult, but the Wolverines have been passed by the Spartans and remain behind Ohio State. They'll drop both those games in 2014 and could struggle with the likes of Penn State and Maryland. While 3rd place is likely, they could finish as low as fifth in the East and face a very real possibility of another second half collapse.