By Mike Castiglione, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Coming off a historically bad 2008 campaign, there was nowhere to go but up for the Michigan Wolverines in 2009. And after four
weeks, they appeared headed in that direction with a 4-0 record, which
included wins over Notre Dame (38-34) and Indiana (36-33). But the next two
weeks brought a couple of tough setbacks; an overtime loss at Michigan State,
and a 30-28 setback at Iowa. The Wolverines got a break in the schedule the
very next week, as they got to beat up on Delaware State at the Big House,
63-6. However, the season took a somber turn, and Michigan went on to lose
five straight games to finish the year.
OFFENSE: At Big Ten Media Day during the first week of August, coach Rich
Rodriguez said the quarterback competition between sophomores Tate Forcier and
Denard Robinson is still a dead heat. He may have tipped his hand a bit by
pointing out that Robinson "took some big steps in the spring," although
Forcier started every game last year as a true freshman
"It's wide open," Rodriguez said. "I hope it's answered who will be the
starter of the two guys by the first game, but it may take a couple games
before someone clearly separates themselves, if they do."
Leading rushers Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are gone. Sophomore Vincent
Smith averaged 5.8 ypc as a freshman, but he needs to prove he is fully
recovered from ACL surgery. Keep an eye out for sophomore Mike Cox and
incoming freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint to work their way into the mix. At
wideout, there is plenty of young talent to go around, headlined by sophomore
Roy Roundtree, who put up huge numbers as the season wore on. The Wolverines
must replace two starters on the offensive line.
DEFENSE: The defense was a real sore spot last year, giving up a school-worst
393.3 yards per game. However, Rodriguez is hopeful that some of the younger
guys will make strides after taking their lumps in '09. That will be easier
said than done, considering star defensive end Brandon Graham took his talents
to the NFL. The head coach indicated in the spring that the team will employ
more 3-3-5 sets to exploit the team's speed.
Despite the loss of Graham, the Wolverines appear pretty stout up front,
thanks to dominant junior nose tackle Mike Martin and hybrid defensive
end/tackle Ryan Van Bergen. The linebacker play was average at best last year,
and it will be up to seniors Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton to either step up, or
make room for the next guy. Big plays were the norm in the Michigan secondary,
and on paper, there doesn't appear to be much reason for optimism there. Top
cornerback Donovan Warren left early for the NFL, and the safeties were burned
for big plays fairly regularly.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Darryl Stonum should hold down the kick return job after
averaging 25.7 yards per return last season, highlighted by a 94-yard
touchdown return. But after Stonum, there isn't much promise on the UM special
teams. The punt rerun job is wide open. The kicking responsibilities will go
to one of two untested options. And at punter, All-American Zoltan Mesko
departed along with his 44.5 average. Will Hagerup was a highly-recruited
punter whom Rodriguez was able to snag.
OUTLOOK: So far, Rodriguez's tenure in Ann Arbor has been marked by a couple
of losing seasons and NCAA violations for practice time. If he is to deliver
on his promise to restore the proud tradition of Michigan football, it has to
start now. With all the negative headlines surrounding the program of late,
another five-win season won't cut it in Ann Arbor. Rodriguez has said
repeatedly that he likes to have two starting-caliber players at every
position, so it's possible Robinson and Forcier could end up splitting time
under center all year long. Still, Rodriguez has been busy on the recruiting
trail, and more and more of 'his' players will be given opportunities to
The early-season schedule won't provide much time for the young Wolverines to
get their feet wet. The defense will need to make some major strides. But at
the end of the day, Michigan's hopes will rest on the spread option, and the
ability of either Forcier or Robinson, or both, to run it effectively.