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Craig's 2017 Pre-Season Report (2018 coming soon!)

By Craig Koss

August 28, 2017

Team 138

The 2017 edition of the greatest team in the history of college football is ready to go. Greatest, you might ask? Pick your metric. Most wins? Michigan. Highest winning percentage? Michigan. National Championships? 11. Big Ten Championships? 42. All-Americans? 130 first team. Heisman winners? 3. Biggest stadium? Michigan. Most recognized helmet? Michigan. Best fight song? The Victors. Yes, by nearly every measure, Michigan is the greatest of all time.

2017 is a monumental year for Michigan. It is the 200th year of the school that started in 1817. It is the 20th anniversary of the 1997 National Championship team. That year, the Wolverines started the season ranked 14th, coming off a three-loss season the year before. It was Lloyd Carr’s 3rd season as the head coach and featured a significant number of “unproven” players across the roster. This year, ESPN’s Football Power Index ranks Michigan #14 to start the season. It is Jim Harbaugh’s 3rd season as the head coach and Michigan is coming off a three-loss season. Lightning anyone?

Michigan led the nation Total Defense last year and they were ranked in the top 15 in Total Offense. But the Wolverines were only 67th in Turnovers Gained with 19 (an average of only 1.5 turnovers per game). The teams that made the College Football Playoff were all ranked in the top 10 in gaining turnovers. Improvements in this area could be the difference.

It has been well-documented that the Wolverines return only 5 starters from last year. We are the least experienced team in the land. Or are we? Rashan Gary was the #1 high school player in the country and is on every preseason All American team – but Gary did not start last year. Maurice Hurst is ranked in the top 50 players in the country, but he did not start last year. Every position group is stocked with players that have had experience in games, but did not start. That’s what happens when you have 11 players drafted in the NFL Draft. But the playing experience earned last year is enough to overcome the lack of actually starting. Let’s take a look at each position group.

Quarterback: Wilton Speight was the starter in 2016 and he performed pretty well (2538 yards, 18 TDs and 7 INTs). But he was injured late in the season and never really returned to his early season form. While John O’Korn is still in the QB picture, it would be quite a shock for him to win the job over Speight.

Running Back: Chris Evans, Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon did not start last year, but combined to rush for 1456 yards and 15 TDs. Add Kareem Walker to the mix and there is a formidable committee. Khalid Hill is the likely starter full back. Hill accounted for 13 TDs in 2016 to lead the team (but was not a starter). Henry Poggi looks to be the backup.

Offensive Line: Mason Cole starts for the 4th straight year. He moves back to Left Tackle. Ben Bredeson returns at Left Guard. Patrick Kugler looks to be the starting Center. Kugler was highly recruited but has never lived up to the billing. Maybe this year. Right Guard looks to be Michael Onwenu, who is a beast of a lineman. Right Tackle is still up in the air with Jon Runyon Jr and Juwann Bushell-Beatty competing for the job. Overall, the line will have some new guys but look to be more athletic and able to both power run block and protect the passer.

Defensive Line: The four starters are set – Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Brian Mone, and Chase Winovich. They will be one of the best in the country. Depth is uncertain but mostly because of inexperience. True Freshman Aubrey Solomon could be special.

Linebackers: This is another position where the athleticism will be improved. Mike McCray returns to the Mike while Devin Bush Jr will take over the Will. Khaleke Hudson is the heir apparent to fill the shoes of Jabrill Peppers as the Viper. Backups include Noah Furbush, Mike Wrobleski (a walk on) and True Freshman Drew Singleton.

Secondary: No starters return to the backfield and every position is up for competition. Expect Lavert Hill and David Long to win the corners with Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus to be the safeties. True Freshman Ambry Thomas will contribute.

Special Teams: Brad Robbins looks to win the job as the punter and Quinn Nordin is the likely kicker. Michigan must replace the entire return team for both punts and kickoffs and also needs to replace the long snapper. This is a critical position group since Michigan led the nation last year in average starting field position.

The schedule is both favorable and daunting. Michigan gets their two biggest rivals at home but also gets the two teams that played in last year’s Big Ten Championship game on the road. With the BIG now playing a nine game conference schedule, Michigan plays 4 conference games at home and 5 on the road. They also open the season in the Advocare Classic in Dallas against perennial power Florida. Back-to-back games to finish the regular season at Wisconsin and home to Ohio State are likely to determine the success of the team. Imagine a scenario where Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State are all undefeated in mid-November. Destiny awaits.

The Wolverine Den staff is very optimistic heading into the season. The consensus is that the Wolverines will finish 11-1 or 10-2. The team has the talent, coaching and depth to overcome the adversity of the season and schedule. It could be a very special year and one that would be talked about for years to come. Monumental.

See you at The Den!


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