Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017: A Season of No Surprises

I've been very quiet on here this season, for various reasons. Family. Work. Life. And the fact that it was somewhat of a painful season to watch left me with very little to say. It is what it is, which is about exactly what we thought it would be going into the season. There is simply no need for me to say too much, as I would only be pointing out the obvious.

Of course, it is okay to be critical of Michigan's 8-4 season if you wish. It was, afterall, a season that saw them lose to both rivals again while only getting one win over a bowl eligible team (Purdue). Every team deserves the feedback in college football. As a fan, we want all these young men to improve themselves on and off the field. That's what it is all about and criticism can be helpful throughout the process. However, when reviewing the last 13 games of the Wolverines' schedule, one needs to make sure that nothing is taken out of context. In other words, there needs to be an understanding of the big picture here in regards to what Harbaugh is attempting to build at Michigan.

Elite programs are not built overnight. Just ask Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. That guy has been trying to build one in East Lansing for the last decade. Sure he has beaten the Wolverines regularly since his arrival in 2007, but as the rest of the nation will tell you, including coach Harbaugh himself, beating Michigan is really nothing to brag about. Michigan just hasn't been very good. They are definitely not an elite. So beat them all you want. It really hasn't proven anything for anybody as of late. Luckily for Dantonio, that's all he really needs to do in order to keep his job.

It's no secret that Harbaugh has a big job at Michigan. It's bigger than the job at MSU. The expectations are much greater in Ann Arbor than they are in East Lansing. The Spartans can keep losing the big games against the elite competition as long as they beat the Wolverines three out of four years. On the flip side, Michigan is expected to eventually compete for national titles and not just rivalry wins against State. Granted, they haven't really done much of either one in the last 20 years, but that's where it's intended to go. And that is where it needs to be for the second highest paid coach in college football.

This is the part where we talk about context and perspective:

You see, despite what any naysayers will tell you, Michigan is right on track towards building itself back up to be an elite program. The signs are all there. Harbaugh exceeded expectation in his first season (2015). That year they won nine games and capped it off with a thrashing of Florida in the Citrus Bowl. Without him, Michigan was a seven win team at best. The following year, they were right about where they should have been with another 10-3 record, losing all three games on the road by a total of five points and being just one bad spot away from a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the playoff. The leadership on the team was led by a strong group of Brady Hoke's best recruits that had adapted well to Harbaugh's style. They competed hard every game and it came right down to the wire with two of the nation's best programs in Ohio State and Florida State. They just weren't able to get over the hump, mostly due to some issues at quarterback. The biggest issue on the team overall was a lack of depth. If somebody went down with an injury in the starting lineup there weren't many options on the roster to fill the spot, especially at quarterback. This past season, as we all know, saw the Wolverines as one of the youngest teams in the FBS and they just came short of getting over the 8.5 wins that Vegas predicted.

So, here were are now. Disappointed. Annoyed. Perhaps a litter nervous about what 2018 might hold. But there is still a lot of hope. And the nights are always darkest right before the dawn. Big things could be on the horizon. Why? Well, I will give you three good reasons why:

  1. Experienced Roster - Overall, Michigan will be returning 20 players with extensive starting experience. 10 on offense and 10 on defense, with another 15 or 16 other players that got a lot of playing time in 2017 as freshmen and sophomores. These guys will be veterans, and there should be some real leaders that emerge from the group. Hopefully, they will learn from this season and improve over course of the offseason. 
  2. Emerging Stars - Every great team needs some guys they can look to when a big play is needed. Several young Michigan players started looking like those types of stars in 2017, and many observers see them as players to watch in 2018. Aubrey Soloman looks poised to pick up where Mo' Hurst left off at defensive tackle while Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary are already considered legit players in the B1G; Devin Bush Jr. and Khaleke Hudson will be two of the best linebackers in the conference; Lavert Hill and David Long are a shutdown tandem at corner; Cesar Ruiz and Ben Bredeson could both be the next great interior linemen at Michigan; Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black look like a deadly duo out at receiver; Ben Mason might just be the stud Harbaugh needs at fullback. 
  3. Real Talent at Quarterback - Let's get it straight: the level of talent at the quarterback position has been poor over the course of the last 10 years, and the results on the field have been poor as a result. Jake Rudock and Denard Robinson were the only two signs of hope Wolverine Nation has had at the most important position on the team. Thankfully, because of Harbaugh's efforts, Michigan now has three of the best passing prospects to come out of the 2016 and '17 recruiting cycles. That is huge. And it should start to pay dividends this fall.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Early Signees

Early signing period opened up on December 20th. And for the first time ever, the Wolverines have been able to sign committed recruits before the holiday season. This will allow the coaches to put there attention on other recruits that may still be on the fence. It will also allow those truly committed kids to no longer worry about any offers getting pulled right before National Signing Day. It's a great thing for college football.

In all, Coach Harbaugh has received nine letter's of intent (LOI) this morning. And at least one of them was a complete surprise.

Signed LOI:

Mustapha Muhammad TE 4-Star 6'4"/235lbs (Missouri City, TX) Grade: 85 - The type of top tight end prospect the team needed in this class. A good athlete with multiple tools to work with at the position.

Joe Milton QB 4-Star 6'5"/222lbs (Orlando, FL) Grade: 84 - Big kid with the biggest arm to come to Ann Arbor since Ryan Mallett 11 years ago. Will need some time to refine his skills but his potential is through the roof.

Myles Sims CB 4-Star 6'2"/170lbs (Westlake, GA) Grade: 84 - Another 'need' filled with a top target at cornerback signed. One of the few players in this class that could be ready to play right away.

Cameron McGrone LB 4-Star 6'1"/215lbs (Indianapolis, IN) Grade: 83 - Adding McGrone continues the trend of Michigan signing big-time linebacker recruits. He is a heat-seeking missile that should be perfect for Dr. Blitz's defense.

Aidan Hutchinson DE 4-Star 6'5"/235lbs (Dearborn, MI) Grade: 82 - A top in-state recruit and legacy prospect who brings a lot of athleticism and versatility, much like his father. In fact, his dad Chris was one of my favorite players back when I was a freshman in high school. Great signing regardless.

Jalen Mayfield OL 4-Star 6'5"/273lbs (Grand Rapids, MI) Grade: 80 - A fine O-line prospect that could be ready to compete right away. Needs to make some gains in the weight room this offseason if he really wants a chance to play though.

Ryan Hayes OT/TE 4-Star 6'7"/252lbs (Traverse City, MI) Grade: 79 - Another top in-state recruit with the versatility to play a number of different positions, including tight end, offensive tackle, and/or defensive end.

Christian Turner RB 3-Star 5'11"/185lbs (Buford. GA) Grade: 77 - A very nice prospect with a team first attitude and the versatility to play defense. Look for him on special teams early and often in his career.

Gemon Green CB 3-Star 6'2"/165lbs (DeSoto, TX) Grade: 77 - Another very solid cornerback prospect out of some deep recruiting grounds. Might need a year to gain some weight, but his future potential is very high.

Taylor Upshaw DE 3-Star 6'5"/240lbs (Bradenton, FL) Grade: 77 - With only two years of high school playing experience, he looks like a player that is ascending quickly. He could be a future star but he most-likely is a two-year project before he starts any games.

Ben VanSumeren TE/FB/LB 3-Star 6'3"228lbs (Essexville, MI) Grade: 77 - The in-state prospect was a late offer (last week) who didn't hesitate to jump on the chance to play for Harbaugh and company. Looks like a fullback/H-back type of player that could be a great third down-type of player.

Julius Welselschof ATH 3-Star 6'6"/250lbs (Germany) Grade: 77 - A complete unknown and a big surprise for the early signing period with the measurables of an elite 4-Star prospect. His combination of size, raw athleticism, and pure speed (4.55 forty) will carry him a long way as long as he is coachable. He just hasn't really played against anybody yet so he grades out as a 3-Star prospect.

Luke Schoonmaker TE 3-Star 6'6"/225lbs (Hamden, CT)  Grade: 76 - A do-it-all-type of player in high school who got most of the reps at quarterback will play tight end for the Wolverines. He has all the things the coaches are looking for at the position., but he will most-likely need a year or two to get comfortable.

German Green S/CB 3-Star 6'2"/168lbs (DeSoto, TX) Grade: 75 - Was still recovering from a knee injury that put an end to his junior season, but played well as a senior. Give him two years in the new UM strength and conditioning program and he could be a starter somewhere in the secondary.

Sammy Faustin CB 3-Star 6'2"/180lbs (Naples, FL) Grade: 75 - Played against very good high school competition and performed very well. A very solid addition out on the perimeter of the defense.

Hassan Haskins RB 3-Star 6'1"/202lbs (Eureka, MO) Grade: 75 - Solid ball-carrying prospect that could fit the system. Would like real nice with some added muscle. Could play linebacker or safety too.

Average Recruit Grade: 79 - This means that, on average, Michigan most-likely secured 16 players that should all have a chance to contribute at some point in their careers. They all also possess the raw ability to develop into a high-end college player some day. However, they all will probably be better off with a redshirt year to start their respective careers.

Average Star Rating: 3.4 - This class should have some sustainability in regards to guys sticking around four or five years down the road instead of bolting to the NFL like some the younger guys might just do after the 2018 season.

Expected Final Grade After NSD: 3.6 - Expect Harbaugh to land a couple big fish on National Signing Day and finish out the cycle strong, just like he has the last two years. Though, nobody expects this class to be anywhere near as big in numbers as those two classes turned out to be, and it won't be quite as top-heavy. It should, however, turn out to be a very strong group of above-average college players to build around in a couple years.

Top five players remaining to secure on NSD: 

Otis Reese LB 4-Star

Nicolas Petit-Frere OT 5-Star
Tyler Friday DT 4-Star
Jarrett Patterson OT 4-Star
Kevin Doyle QB 3-Star

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Recruiting Battle Updates

OL Emil Ekiyor 4-Star - Status: Decommitted from Michigan in favor of 'Bama. Who can blame him? The Tide get just about any top target they set their sights on and turn them into NFL prospects and Ekiyor is now their top commit for 2018. Best of luck to him. I hope they all play each other soon. Michigan's class is still ranked higher than 'Bama's according to 247 Sports.

RB Hassan Haskins 3-Star - Status: Committed to Wolverines. The newest addition to the class is not ranked by most recruiting services, but appears to be a solid prospect to carry the ball down the road. The Wolverines needed another player here, and they believe they got a kid that is flying underneath most radars because he didn't display elite physical skills in any camps or play against top competition in high school.

WR JaMarr Chase 4-Star - Status: Committed to Florida but is being heavily pursued by Harbaugh's crew. Things have apparently heated up after McElwain was fired. Would be an awesome flip and most-likely the only receiver to be signed this year. He would instantly add more depth to a developing positional group already loaded with young talent.

DE Eyabi Anoma 4-Star - Status: Undecided and probably choosing between Michigan, 'Bama, and Penn State, with the Tide the big favorite. Harbaugh loves having a great defense to lean on when the offense is struggling though, so expect a fight for his services.

TE Luke Ford 4-Star - Status: Undecided and heavily pursued by everybody. It is difficult to say whether or not the commitment of two other top TE targets will deter Ford from committing. He could be the best of the bunch though, and an instant contributor at the college-level. I am betting on him going to an SEC team.

DT Michael Thompson 4-Star - Status: An undecided line prospect leaning towards Missouri, Thompson will receive lots of phone calls up until signing day. Many of them will be from Greg Mattison. The Wolverines need some big, talented bodies to add to the hopper, especially considering the "loss" of Ekiyor on the OL.

DT Tyler Friday 4-Star - Status: Undecided but seems to kinda lean towards Michigan. Chris Partridge is recruiting him and the Wolverines seem committed to going the long haul in order to add him. Penn State and Ohio State will be working hard to get him too.

ATH Brian Addison 4-Star - Status: Undecided west coast athlete "warm" on Michigan. Could be a safety for the Wolverines. The Washington Huskies might be the biggest competition for him.

DT Rick Sandidge 4-Star - Status: Undecided and heavily leaning towards South Carolina. Another big body that Harbaugh and company would really want to add to the roster. I don't really think it's going to happen.

S Julius Irvin 4-Star - Status: Undecided and apparently is interested in Michigan. Would help with depth at a position that could use some.

QB Kyle Grady 2-Star - Status: Undecided but considering walking on at Michigan. His commitment would give Harbaugh three very good QB prospects to work with in this class.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

First Half Review with Penn State Looming Ahead

Outside from a few random comment sections on the local fish-wrap websites, I have remained relatively silent through the first seven weeks of the college football season. And most of what I've had to say has been positive; often taking the high road in any engagements (though I've had my moments!). It seems, however, that many other fans and writers have decidedly taken a road more often traveled by Internet trolls. Sure, THE TEAM has provided enough bad material to discuss that would leave a terrible taste in any armchair quarterback's mouth, but is there any reason to really be angry? In my opinion, no.

As I have alluded to, each week's respective game has led to new drama played running wild through the minds of Wolverine Nation. Whether it's controversy at the QB position, air conditioners in visiting locker rooms, another loss to Sparty, or a near choke-job at IU, Harbaugh and company have not been able to get out of the shadows from what many feel is a terrible start to the season. Some rumors even have ol' Jim hightailing it for the NFL, either hinting that the ship is sinking in Ann Arbor or that he has simply worn out his welcome with the school. Some fans have even begun sharpening their pitchforks while demanding more wins against the rivals. In other words, everybody has fucking lost their collective minds! All of this is garbage!

The last time I checked the over/under in Vegas was 8.5 wins for this young, rising Wolverine team. And every reasonable fan knew going into the season that weeks 1, 6, 8, 12, and 13 were going to be the biggest humps to get over. Heading into that week 8 matchup with the Nittany Lions this Saturday, the Wolverines are 1-1 in big games. Yes, that Florida win has lost some luster with the Gators slumping to 3-3, but it's not like they are getting blown out in the SEC this year (they lost their last two games against LSU and Texas A&M by a total of three points). So far, no other team has matched the point total that Michigan put up on them (33). That loss to Sparty hurts but it isn't as bad as everybody thinks. MSU is good. And now this game in Happy Valley will be the biggest challenge yet. Beaver Stadium is one of the toughest places in the North America to be a visiting team. Whatever happens on Saturday will tell us a lot about this year's squad. A loss would all but gash any hopes of competing for a conference championship, but a win could elevate this team right back into the Top Ten. At any rate, the point is that if you were betting on the Wolverines to run the table then you were just being foolish. Not even 'Bama runs the table these days. In fact, there has only been one undefeated team since 2010 - a Jameis Winston led Florida State team that also had an NFL-caliber defense.

This game is too complex. There are too many unpredictables. And this team is way too young. A loss was bound to happen. Why should I be surprised that an underrated and overlooked Sparty came into the Big House with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove? They came to brawl and their back was against the wall. And if there is one thing I know it's that you never really want to mess with a cornered animal. And Sparty fought their way out of it early only to control the game the rest of the way. The Michigan defense was ready too, but the simple fact is that you just don't win many games while giving up five turnovers. It's a plain ol' mathematical inevitability. That's football... and science.

The hardest thing for me to understand though, is that many - who are probably good folks at heart - also view the win over Indiana as a bad thing. Was it ugly? Yes. But did they win? Yes. And were these mistakes, like the ones made against MSU, correctable ones that are very indicative of a young team? Why, yes, I believe they are. Again, it's just basic math:

Youth + Inexperience = (Turnovers + Penalties)² 

It really is that simple. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.

Okay, so what is my analysis of the Michigan roster up 'til this point? Overall, I am generally positive, particularly in terms of the youth development. Again, I did not have very high expectations and frankly THE TEAM is right where I was expecting them to be with a 5-1 record. And for the record, I actually had the Indiana trip penciled in as a loss when the season started while I had a W next Sparty. IU looked like a possible "trap" game nudged in their between the Spartans and the Nittany Lions. Anyway, some players are emerging, if a little bit slowly. I like the fact that it doesn't appear THE TEAM is running on all cylinders just yet. There is plenty of time still left to get this together, and the ceiling is high for this roster.

So, how do the coaches get them all clicking together in unison? And how will that look if and when it does happen? It is impossible to say how good this team can be, but the only way they are going to get there is if the offense starts to hit on all cylinders. And that can happen. It just takes a little time. Once the freshmen and sophomores stop acting like freshmen and sophomores then things will improve - experience is the key! I would rather this team peak late instead of early. Honestly, I thought last year's team peaked too early. They were stomping opponents through the first eight games with a wide open play book, and then once November hit it was like everybody had the recipe to beat them. This year's squad is a lot more unpredictable due to the fact that the playbook has been kept relatively locked up. We don't know what they are truly capable of yet, especially once everybody gets on the same page and Drevno can open up the calls.

* asterisk denotes injured player



John O'Korn
Brandon Peters
Michael Sessa
Alex Malzone
Dylan McCaffrey
Wilton Speight*

Speight was all over the place behind a shaky line through the first four games of the season. He was 4-0 as a starter this year though. But he is hurt and likely out for the year anyway, so on we go with O'Korn at the helm. The former Houston Transfer could be the man from here on out if he plays more like he did against Purdue a moth ago, but he has looked terrible over the past two games. Turnovers and stupid penalties have been the biggest area of concern here. Two pick sixes (Speight) handed to Florida and three more INT's (O'Korn) gifted to MSU are unacceptable, as was the atrocious clock management at Indiana. That all has to change if this team wants to compete for anything, as does the 56% completion rate at the QB position. Of course, nobody here is getting a ton of help from the line or the wide receivers either.

Brandon Peters continues to wait in the wings but many fans are getting antsy. They want a a super star to arise right now out of the ashes of what they see as a ruin, and they are willing to sacrifice a young kid in order to move the process along quicker. My gut tells me that we will see Peters at some point this year, maybe as soon as this weekend, but it will take a lot for him to win the starting job any time soon. A total meltdown from O'Korn would expedite the process of course.

Grade: D-

Running Back

Karan Higdon
Chris Evans
Ty Isaac
Kareem Walker
Tru Wilson
➤O'Maury Samuels/Kurt Taylor

The running game has clicked enough to wear down some good opponents. Their domination of the Florida defense was particularly impressive, as was the 200 yards Higdon put up on the road at IU. The sophomore from Florida looks like the starter going into Happy Valley. Isaac, Evans, and Walker will all be ready to go too. Evans hasn't broken out like many of us were expecting, but he does have some valuable skills. I would not be surprised to see him being used more as a receiver, possibly in the slot.

The biggest problem for this unit has been the blocking up front. The coaches have experimented with some zone-blocking schemes with mixed results. The line has looked much better when they have employed more of a gap-based approach to run-blocking and Higdon has taken advantage of the opportunities given to him when that occurs. Look for more attempts at that against Penn State. And expect to see a healthy dose of play-action off the run game, along with some misdirection and reverses against an aggressive Nittany Lion defense. Don't be surprised to see a few trick plays as well.

Grade: B


Kahlid Hill
Henry Poggi*
➤Ben Mason (LB)
Nick Volk
Michael Hirsch

Not too much in the stat sheet but Hill, Poggi, and Mason all have contributed in the run-game. This could be the best group of fullbacks in the country, but we would like to see more production from them. In all honesty, I actually feel that this group has been a bit of a disappointment. They have still been good. Just not as good as expected. Kinda like the rest of the offense. The run-blocking is improving and possibly on the verge of beings scary good. Just in time for Halloween.

Grade: B-

Tight End

Ian Bunting
Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
Sean McKeon
Zach Gentry (WR)
Nick Eubanks

Everybody in this position group is contributing in some way or another. Bunting and Wheatly Jr. are doing a lot of dirty work while McKeon has emerged as a reliable weapon in the passing game. Zach Gentry and Nick Eubanks have flashed big-play potential too. All will continue to get their number's called, but until the QB situation gets settled don't expect too much in the stat sheet yet.

Grade: B-

Wide Receiver

Grant Perry
Kekoa Crawford
➤Donovan Peoples-Jones
Mo' Ways
Eddie McDoom
Nate Shoenle
➤Nico Collins
➤Oliver Martin
➤Tarik Black*

This group is young and it has shown. There have been too many dropped balls, including a key drop late in the fourth quarter against Sparty that would've been good for a first down and gotten THE TEAM in position to win the game. Black had been the lone highlight here earlier in the season until he got injured in week 3. Grant Perry has played well but he's not a number one kinda player. He is best when used as a second or third receiving option or a safety valve on passing plays. DPJ has been improving each week and looks comfortable returning kicks while Kekoa Crawford has fallen out of favor in the starting lineup. A true break-out performance from somebody would be nice this week. Expect to see a few new wrinkles and possibly some new faces in the lineup too.

Grade: C-

Left Tackle

Mason Cole
➤Andrew Steuber
Greg Robinson
Grant Newsome (Injured)

Cole is such an asset. He has looked great in the run-game. He has allowed some pressure to get through, but he has held his own against very good competition this year. I am not sure what we would do without him right now.

Grade: B+

Left Guard

Ben Bredeson
Stephen Spanellis
Andrew Vastardis
➤JaRaymond Hall

Bredeson has had some troubles, particularly in regards to consistency, but he is still developing nicely and could be an All-Conference guard some day. THE TEAM will be depending on him showing up and having a big game this Saturday.

Grade: B-


Patrick Kugler
➤Cesar Ruiz

Kugler, for the most part, has been solid. He is nothing fancy. He just gets the job done. He has also improved his game in recent weeks. His play will be crucial in attacking the Penn State defense.

Grade: C+


Michael Onwenu
Jon Runyan Jr.
➤Joel Honigford

Onwenu has not completely nailed this job down yet, despite have a few very good games. His best performance was in week one against Florida. He has since been occasionally replaced in the lineup over the last month or so, but he bounced back with some nice blocks against IU. Hopefully he can use his size and athleticism to THE TEAM's advantage this weekend. 

Grade: C


Juwann Bushell-Beatty
Nolan Ulizio
➤Chuck Filiaga

Bushell-Beatty looks like the most consistent option here. Ulizio was the starter, and he looked very good back in week one. Hhe will probably still get some playing time, but his lack of consistency against pass rushers was becoming a problem as teams were keying in on the right side of the line. Bushell-Beatty is bigger (6'6"/311 lbs) and more experienced and I feel a little more comfortable with him out there. He had a few key blocks that helped spring Higdon for big yards last week against IU and his emergence could be a key ingredient towards solidifying this line.

Grade: C


Strong-side End

Rashan Gary
Carlo Kemp
➤Donovan Jeter
➤Deron Irving-Bey

Gary has been outstanding despite the fact that he has been somewhat living in the shadows of some of his defensive teammates. Truth of the matter though, is the fact that he has been doing a lot of dirty work while occupying blockers so that other guys can make a play. Still, his two sacks, five tackles for a loss, and one forced fumble are solid stats too. Whatever he's doing is working as this is the best defense in the nation, statistically speaking. Kemp has been a solid backup too, getting playing time in every game this season so far.

Grade: A-

Defensive Tackle

Maurice Hurst Jr.
➤Aubrey Soloman
Lawrence Marshall
Ron Johnson
Carl Myers/Garrett Miller

Hurst is a very good player that the Wolverines are lucky to have back for one more season. He is one of the best defenders in the conference and he is still widely regarded as one of the top NFL draft prospects for 2018. He too has done a lot of the dirty work that has carried this defense while contributing another seven tackles for a loss. Soloman has contributed too, allowing Hurst to get some rest. Marshall has also taken advantage of a few opportunities but still lacks the polish to be a real regular.

Grade: A

Nose Tackle

Bryan Mone
Michael Dwumfour
➤James Hudson
➤Phillip Paea

Grade: B+

Mone is a solid talent who has helped a lot against the run, though he has sometimes been left off the field when Don Brown elects to go with more of a 3-3-5 front. He will remain an asset to the team after suffering a plethora of injuries over the last couple years. It's great to have him back at full strength. It's hard not to think that his best football is still ahead of him. Dwumfour has seen more action as a backup too. It is great to see the depth developing.

Weakside Defensive End

Chase Winovich
➤Luiji Vilain
➤Corey Malone-Hatcher
➤Kwity Paye

Winovich has been outstanding. He leads the Big Ten with 5.5 sacks and is also fourth in TFL's (7.5). He also is second on the team with 39 total tackles. Needless to say, he has found a home at defensive end. Nobody has really emerged as the top backup yet and I would think that Gary or Kemp would move over here if needed.

Grade: A

"Viper" (Sam) Linebacker

Kahleke Hudson
Jordan Glasgow
Joshua Uche
➤Drew Singleton

Hudson has at the very least been solid. Honestly, he has been nearly every bit as good as Peppers was at the position. There is still plenty of room for improvement but nobody is really complaining here.

Grade: B+

Mike Linebacker

Devin Bush Jr
Elysse Mbem-Bosse
➤Josh Ross

Bush Jr is unbelievable good. He might be the best inside linebacker in the conference. He makes plays sideline to sideline, using his size and speed to his advantage. He leads the team in tackles (49) and is second in sacks (4.5). Throw in his 5.5 TFLs and 6 pass break-ups and we have what looks to be a superstar in the making. He has even lined up outside at corner! As long as he is healthy nobody else needs to play here.

Grade: A

Will Linebacker

Mike McCray II
Noah Furbush
Rueben Jones
Devin Gil
➤Jordan Anthony

McCray is third on the team in tackles (38). He also has 5.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, a PBU, and an FF. Statistically, he is incredible. As far as leadership goes, he has been somewhat of a catalyst for this young defense and he should be in the NFL next year. Furbush has been great when given a chance too. He could start for a lot of other teams.

Grade: A


Tyree Kinnel
➤Jaylen Kelly-Powell
Tyler Cochran/Louis Grodman

Kinnel is athletic enough to cover most receivers and he is a decent tackler. His versatility gives the team some options. He is sixth on the team in tackles (18) and has 3.5 TFL's, 3 PBU's,  two INT's and a sack to boot. Very solid numbers. Nobody really sticks out behind him but there is plenty of potential on the roster to fill in.

Grade: B-


Josh Metellus
➤J'Marick Woods
➤Brad Hawkins (WR)

I guess if you needed to really find a "weakness" on this defense you start here. Though Metellus has been solid, he has given up a few plays too. I feel I am nitpicking here in order to seem unbiased, because, honestly, he has been totally solid and he could be a star before too long.

Grade: C+


Lavert Hill
➤Ambry Thomas
Drake Harris

Hill has played so well that it hardly seems like Jourdan Lewis ever left. He had two INT's against Indiana (Harbaugh says the penalty on the first one was bogus) and has been a lockdown-type player all year. Thomas has had some growing pains but he has shown enough to get some playing time throughout the season.

Grade: A-


David Long
Brandon Watson
➤Benjamin St-Juste

Watson and Long have both been very good in Michigan's first six games. Both have shown the ability to tackle on the perimeter and defend passes downfield. Neither one has an interception yet, but that doesn't matter as long as they keep holding down their island. They will get tested against Penn State this week.

Grade: B+


Quinn Nordin
Kyle Seychel
Ryan Tice

Nordin looks like an NFL kicker. He is one of the best in the country as a redshirt freshman. Currently, he leads the Big Ten in kicking.

Grade: A


Brad Robbins
Will Hart
Ryan Tice
Quinn Nordin

Statistically speaking, this group has been average in regards to the rest of the conference. Will Hart started the season and did okay. Robbins has stepped in and improved the yards per punt team average. He has also placed some balls deep inside the 20. He is a true freshman. He could be our punter through 2020. And there is depth.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Michigan 33 Florida 17

Unbelievably great game by Harbaugh and company. He and Don Brown coached circles around McElwain and his crew.

I will be reviewing the game and commenting on it more soon. And honestly, you probably don't need me to tell how great it was do you?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Big Open

Michigan Vs. Florida Preview

The Setup: To put it simply, the Gators are looking to beat the Wolverines for the first time in four tries while avenging the last loss, a 41-7 shellacking in the Citrus Bowl two years ago. It is now year three in both Harbaugh's and Florida Coach Jim McElwain's tenures. Expectations keep getting higher for both coaches. McElwain has managed to win the SEC East Division the last two years while compiling a 19-8 record. Comparatively, Harbaugh has yet to beat Ohio State or win the Big Ten East Division with a 20-6 record. On the surface, this looks like a big game. And it is for sure. These are two big-time college football programs with a lot of history and traditions. However, the game itself has very little impact on how the season will play out for either team. First of all, it has zero impact on their respective conferences records, which is the single most important stat in college football. Of course a win for either team would provide some bragging rights, and it could possibly help when vying for a playoff bid down the road, but neither team really has much to lose here. In other words, this could have the look and feel of a pure rivalry game. I expect a good ol' fashioned, balls-out gridiron brawl, despite the fact that Florida has suspended multiple starters for the game, including thier All-American candidate at wide reciever, Antonio Callaway. In fact, with the most recent news of starting running back Jordan Scarlett also being suspended for the week, the Wolverines should have no problem beating the 3.5 to 4 point spread that the Vegas casinos were holding on to up through Wednesday. Take that bet now. It's likely to change in the next couple days leading up to the game. And I will go low with the over/under at 43.5 points, as we should not expect a barn-burner of any kind.

The Key Matchups:

These are the areas where each team may have an advantage over the other. Points are awarded based on the relative matchup advantages and the percieved point differentials they create. Matchups that are not included are considered a wash with neither team having a clear advantage

Gators' Wide Receivers vs. Wolverines' Cornerbacks

The Gators return to 2017 well-stocked with talent and experience at the receiver position. Even with Antonio Callaway out due to a one-game suspension, the Gators should still be fine out wide. They have three other guys that caught at least 14 balls last year, including Brandon Powell, who was second on the team with 45 receptions. Tyrie Cleveland averaged over 21 yards per catch last season as a freshman. They've got some depth too. Add all that up with the fact that the Gators return their top two tight ends from a year ago and one can see a bit of a challenge here for the Michigan defense. As we all know, the Wolverines' respective cornerback situation is a bit murky going into the season. It is really impossible to say exactly how things will play out as we know nothing about the real capabilities of the current candidates to start. Yes, there is talent. It's not like Harbaugh just backed up the turnip truck and dumped a load on the field to fill holes on the roster. There are five players that were rated as 4-Star prospects coming out of high school. However, Lavert Hill looks like the only lock to start in week one. The group just hasn't played much yet, if at all. Can the coaches get a quick turnaround on all that raw talent? Having a stellar pass rush definitely will help the cause, though I would not be completely shocked to see a surprise performance from a Florida passer who is able to find open receivers in the seams of a completely retooled Michigan secondary. So this matchup will really depend a lot on how things play out at quarterback for the Gators. Despite that, it's just too hard to bet against this group of receivers having a good game against those corners.

Advantage: Florida - 7 pts

Gators' Linebackers vs. Wolverines' Running Backs and Fullbacks

Like Michigan, Florida lost a lot of talent up front with five of their players out of last year's front seven getting drafted by NFL teams. There is some talent to fill in, but it will be very tough to improve upon a unit that was fifth in the nation in total defense last year. In all, this is a matchup that favors the stable of tailbacks and fullbacks that the Wolverines are toting into 2017. Chris Evans will be looking to build upon a stellar freshman debut last year and Karan Higdon, of Sarasota, will want to show his home state of Florida just how well he is doing in Ann Arbor these days. Expect a healthy dose of Kahlid Hill and Henry Poggi on lead blocks. Hill is also a receiving threat on third downs and a rushing threat near the goalline. There might not be a more versatile fullback in the country. The Gators' linebackers could get some help from their D-line. A monster game from the guys in the trenches will be needed if they want a real chance at stopping the Michigan running game. There seems to be too much depth and versatility coming out of Harbaugh's backfield though, and they will be dangerous once they get to the second level of Florida's defense.

Advantage: Michigan - 9 pts

Gators' Running Backs vs. Michigan Linebackers

Florida was lucky enough to be returning it's top three rushers from a year ago, but returning leader Jordan Scarlett (889 yards, 6 TDs) will not be playing in this game. That leaves a pretty big hole in the offensive depth chart. Backups Mark Thompson and Lamical Perine are decent, but neither of them look like starters. Meanwhile on defense, the Wolverines return one starter in All-Big Ten candidate Mike McCray II, a fifth-year senior. That doesn't seem like much, but he had a monster season in 2016 and he should be a leader on this defense. Devin Bush Jr. and Kahleke Hudson fill out the starting lineup. Both are young sophomores with one year of experience as backups. Both have very high ceilings and a lot is expected of them. There is also a host of highly-touted youngsters in the hopper to provide depth, as well as a couple seniors. Florida would have won this matchp with Jordan in the lineup, but with him out the advantage goes to Michigan.

Advantage: Michigan - 3pts

Gators O-Line vs. Wolverines' D-Line

This is the matchup of the day right here. The Gators' OL is led by left tackle Martez Ivy and right tackle Jawaan Taylor. Both guys look like they could be among the best in the SEC. Tyler Jordan should be solid at right guard but center and left guard could be sore spots with some unproven guys trying to step up into starting roles there. True freshman Tedarrell Slaton could be just the guy they need inside if he is ready. The real problem for Florida here is that they could be facing one of the best starting D-line units in the country. Michigan tackles Mo' Hurst and Bryan Mone should be the best starting inside combo in the Big Ten with the ability to shove lesser opponents aside like rag dolls. Both guys should be very high draft picks and therefore will be a handful for whoever starts inside for the Gators. And if Florida tries to double team either one of them, they could be leaving a hole for ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich to exploit on the edge. Both of them are expected to have breakout years too. In fact, Gary is being talked about as one of the top 50 players to watch in 2017, and his matchup with Taylor will particularly be a key factor in this game. It's a big task for Florida, but it's not an impossible one that they don't have the raw talent and coaching to overcome. They will just need to fend off the pass-rush enough to allow a passer to find those open receivers. In the end though, it's hard to imagine the Wolverines losing this matchup.

Advantage: Michigan - 6 pts

Gators' Defensive Ends vs. Wolverines' Offensive Tackles

Michigan was short on talent out at tackle after Grant Newsome's devastating knee injury last year against Wisconsin, so the coaches moved All-American-caliber center Mason Cole back out on the left side where he played his first two seasons. The right side could be manned by any number of guys competing, but it will probably come down to either Juwann Bushell-Beatty or Jon Runyan Jr. Even with Cole, himself a Florida native, in the lineup, this is a matchup that the Floida Gators' could exploit. Jabari Zuniga, Cece Jefferson, Jordan Sherit, and Antonneous Clayton will all provide a challenge for the Michigan tackles. Otherwise, the Gators are pretty green at defensive tackle while the Wolverines are breaking in a new center and right guard. And let's face it, a couple well-timed plays by the Gator ends could provide some game-changing moments.

Advantage: Florida - 5 pts

Punter vs. Punter

Florida has a much better punting situation going into 2017 than Michigan, without a question. Johnny Townsend was first in the nation in yards per punt with a 47.9 yard average last year. Despite anything I've said before, the Townsend factor could go a long way towards Florida controlling this game. Michigan has a freshman recruit and a redshirt freshman walk-on to compete for their punting job. This is a no-brainer.

Advantage: Florida - 5 pts

Quarterbacks vs. Quarterbacks

Though they obviously won't be lining up against one another on the field, this contest will ultimately be decided by the play of the quarterbacks. Each team's questions at quarterback are very differnt. For Michigan it is: Can Wilton Speight hold off the competition and improve upon his 9-3 record as a starter? For Florida it is: Can a graduate transfer that was a Notre Dame backup or a redshirt freshman come in and save the day? Sorry Gators, but it's just too hard to bet against the stable of talent that Harbaugh has in Ann Arbor right now. Seriously, there might be as many as three future pro quaterbacks sitting on the depth chart right now.

Advantage: Michigan - 9 pts

Gators' Kicker Vs. Wolverines' Kicker

This is where a close game truly favors the Gators. Kicker Eddy Pineiro is returning as a second-team All-SEC player from 2016. At times, he has been the highlight of the Florida offense. That could be trouble for the Wolverines, who will be breaking in a new kicker. However, redshirt freshman Quinn Nordin possesses all the potential needed to be an All-American candidate some day. Can he produce for the team right away? Harbaugh thinks so. He didn't climb that tree and sleep over at Nordin's house for nothing.

Advantage: Gators - 3 pts

The Difference Maker:

These teams really grade out similarly. Each team has it's strengths and weaknesses, and the outcome will be determined by how they are utilized and exploited, respectively. It is not unreasonable to think that this game will come down to one big play late in the fourth quarter to seal it up for either team. If you look at how the roster's are packed though, particularly with regards to the last few recruiting classes, the edge does go to Michigan. Pile on the recent suspensions and it's easy to see the Wolverines running away with it by the end.  

Point Totals: Michigan 27-Florida 20

Winner: Michigan

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Team Positional Rankings, Depth Chart, Predictions, 2017

Predicted 2017 Regular Season Record: 10-2 

Ranking the Units from Worst to First:

The Question Marks:

  1. Will Hart (RFr)
  2. Brad Robbins (Fr)
Bottom Line: The biggest question mark on the team is right here at punter. Who can Harbaugh rely on here? A second year preferred walk-on? A true freshman who was a signing day offer? Sure, there are other bodies out there, but none of them look like great options thus far. Luckily, Nordin could play here if needed too. But that would be asking a lot of the second-year kicker that has never attempted anything on the college playing field.

Prediction: The punting, or a lack thereof, will probably contribute to at least one loss this season. However, it will not be a total disaster and there is more than enough special teams coverage talent to keep returners at bay. Luckily, the offense will also be good enough to keep the punts under four per game, thus limiting the opportunities for big returns, blocks, or muffed balls.

Opponents That Could Make The Punters Lose Sleep: Florida K/P Returners (it's a big task in week one!); Ohio State KR Parris Campbell; Rutgers KR Janarion Grant; Indiana Hoosiers Punt Blocking

Preview Grade: D+

  1. Brandon Watson (RJr)
  2. David Long (So)
  3. Ambry Thomas (Fr)
  1. Keith Washington (RSo)
  2. Lavert Hill (So)
  3. Benjamin St-Juste (Fr)
  4. Drake Harris (RJr)

Bottom Line: No players returning with real starting experience here, but at least five guys who appear to be ready enough to compete on the college field. With the athleticism that is available here, this group is destined to get better with more experience.

Prediction: This group of youngsters won't get exposed as much as it would in most years due to a stellar pass-rush up front, but some big plays will be given up in the secondary. The tackling will be solid enough on the perimeter for it ever to become a complete disaster, which will be a testament to the ability of this coaching staff. In the end, this pass defense will still remain among the top units in the Big Ten, but it's hard not to imagine this group as anything but a relative weakness going into the season. And I am willing to bet that they get taken to the woodshed by at least one Big Ten passer this fall.

Opponents That Could Make The Cornerbacks Lose Sleep: Florida WR Antonio Callaway; Indiana WR's Simmie Cobbs and Nick Westbrook; Rutgers WR Janarion Grant; Penn State QB Trace McSorley

Preview Grade: C-

  1. Quinn Nordin (RFr)
  2. Kyle Seychel (RJr)
Bottom Line: It was hard to gauge the kicking situation. Nordin could be a special talent that elevates that area to an immediate strength. It is unclear if he is ready to handle the pressure of big-time college football. Seychel is competing hard and will provide some depth. He could even take the job if Nordin is not up to the challenge. There is a lot of promise here. But contrary to my typical optimistic fan ways, I won't believe the hype until I see it.

Prediction: There will be some ups and downs, but Nordin will emerge as a real strength at the position by 2018. At least one big field goal will get missed this season, probably contributing to a loss, but there will also be a few kicks made that seemingly defy logic. There will be ups and downs. Kickoffs should be fine with Nordin booming balls through the endzone on a regular basis.

Opponents That Could Make The Kickers Lose Sleep: Ohio State PR/KR Parris Campbell; Rutgers PR/KR Janarion Grant; Maryland DE Chandler Burkett, Minnesota Kicker Emmit Carpenter

Grade: C+

Wide Receiver
  1. Kekoa Crawford (So)
  2. Mo' Ways (RJr)
  3. Nico Collins (Fr)
  1. Tarik Black (Fr)
  2. Nate Shoenle (RFr)
  3. Donovan Peoples-Jones (Fr)
  4. Nate Johnson (RFr)
  1. Grant Perry
  2. Eddie McDoom
  3. Oliver Martin (Fr)
Bottom Line: The talent level is very high among this group of players, so there is a lot of promise here. On the contrary, there are no returning starters and very little experience throughout the group. In fact, there is a grand total of 44 catches on the entire receiving corps' resume. It's anybody's guess as to how they will respond when the lights come on.

Prediction: Crawford, Black, and Shoenle are the top three guys going into fall camp. Mo' Ways and Grant Perry are right behind those three in their respective development, but things will change quickly. Perry will also be in a battle for the slot position with McDoom and Martin. Shoenle could play there as well. The coaches will utilize multiple formations and a variety of lineups to keep opponents on their toes. They will also have a lot of wrinkles drawn up to make use of some special talents and abilites.

Opponents That Could Make The Wide Receivers Lose Sleep: Florida CB Duke Dawson; Penn State CB John Reid; Indiana CB Rashard Fant; Ohio State CB Denzel Ward; Penn State S Marcus Allen

Grade: C+

Position Groups on the Rise:

  1. Tyree Kinnel (Jr)
  2. Jaylen Kelly-Powell (Fr)
  3. Brad Hawkins (Fr)
  1. Josh Metellus (So)
  2. J'Marick Woods (Fr)
  3. Tyler Cochran (RFr)
Bottome Line: Another unit that has no returning starters but do have a couple guys with experience set to take over. In fact, I see the combination of Metellus and Kinnel as a possible upgrade over Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. The problem is that there really isn't any depth to speak of yet. Hopefully, Kelly-Powell, Woods, and Hawkins - all freshmen - will be ready to play. Glasgow and Hudson both have some experience here too, but both guys are playing the "Viper" position these days. Watson also has the ability to play here in a pinch too, but the team really needs its younger players to step up quickly.

Prediction: Very little, if any, loss of production here overall as long as everybody stays healthy. Going into 2018 it should be the best group of safeties in the conference.

Opponents That Could Make The Safeties Lose Sleep: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley and TE Mike Gesicki; Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli; Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett and RB Mike Weber; Iowa RB Akrum Wadley

Grade: C+

Offensive Line
  1. LT Mason Cole (Sr)
  2. T Andrew Stueber (Fr)
  3. T JaRaymond Hall (Fr)
  1. LG Ben Bredeson (So)
  2. G Andrew Vastardis (RFr)
  1. C Patrick Kugler (5th)
  2. C Cesar Ruiz (Fr)
  1. RG Michael Onwenu (So)
  2. G Stephen Spanellis (RFr)
  3. G/T Nolan Ulizio (RSo)
  1. RT Jon Runyan Jr. (RSo)
  2. T Juwann Bushell-Beatty (RJr)
  3. T Chuck Filiaga (Fr)
  4. G/T Joel Honigford (Fr)

Bottom Line: This is a unit that has the talent and ability to be more productive than last year's group. Too many unknowns right now to rank them any higher, but the raw athleticism is there to create something great. The left side could be awesome with Cole (LT) and Bredeson (LG), both All-Conference material, protecting the backside. 5th-year senior Kugler (C) could finally be there at center too, as long as he doesn't get overtaken by the talented Ruiz. Onwenu (RG) is probably a year away from actually being great but he could still contribute to an improvement on the right side. Runyan Jr (RT) brings the most athleticism, but he still has to beat out Bushell-Beatty, who brings more size and experience. Overall, depth is better than it has been for most of the last decade, with a slew of talented underclassman. In reality, that isn't really saying much when you consider what had been developed here during the previous two coaching eras.

Prediction: An increase in production up front will occur and we will see the rushing numbers improve. The talent is too good even though it is relatively young, though there will be some growing pains. By the end of the season this group will be among the best in the conference. And how they play against Ohio State will tell us all exactly where they are at when the season ends. I believe it would be foolish to sleep on this group.

Opponents That Could Be A Thorn in The Linemen Linemen's Side: Minnesota DL Steven Richardson; Ohio State DE's Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, and Sam Hubbard; Wisconsin's Front Seven

Grade: C+

Tight End
  1. Ian Bunting (RJr)
  2. Tyrone Wheatley Jr (RSo)
  3. Zach Gentry (RSo)
  4. Nick Eubanks (RFr)
  5. Sean McKeon (So)
Bottom Line: Bunting and Wheatley Jr. both have a little experience and both have shown an ability to produce when called upon. Now is there time to take over. Fending off the likes of Eubanks, Gentry, and McKeon for reps will be a challenge. All five could play a lot this fall. Gentry and Eubanks have the most intriguing raw receiving skills and either one could play out wide. In fact, Gentry had primarily gotten reps out there already in the spring. My guess is that we will see him lining up all over the place to take advantage of matchups against smaller defenders.

Prediction: The team will miss having a go-to player like Butt, but we will see very little drop in production from the group overall. In fact, this group will contribute to an improvement in the run-blocking along the edge of the line.

Opponents That Could Make The Tight Ends Lose Sleep: Penn State S Marcus Allen; Iowa LB Josey Jewell; Wisconsin LB's T.J. Edwards and Jack Cichy,

Grade: B

  1. Mike McCray II (5th)
  2. Noah Furbush (RJr)
  3. Rueben Jones (RSo)
  4. Drew Singleton (Fr)
  1. Devin Bush Jr (So)
  2. Michael Wroblewski (5th)
  3. Elysee Mbem-Bosse
  4. Jordan Anthony (Fr)
  5. Josh Ross (Fr)
  1. Kahleke Hudson (So)
  2. Jordan Glasgow (RSo)
  3. Devin Gil (So)
  4. Josh Uche (So)

Grade: B

Bottom Line: There is an elite mixture of talent here. McCray II, an All-Big Ten candidate, and Noah Furbush, the top backup and special teams player from a year ago, represent the core senior leadership of the group. McCray will once again start at the weakside position. Bush Jr. will take over for Ben Gedeon in the middle while Hudson takes over for Jabrill Peppers at the "Viper". They both have very high ceilings and could represent an upgrade to the starting lineup as a whole. Yes, Peppers was great and all, but Hudson himself looks like a physical beast who was born to play the "Viper". And I had him ranked a bit higher than most recruiting services back when he was just a recruit, as did the Michigan coaching staff. Wroblewski, Gil, Glasgow, and Jones provide more depth. Anthony, Singleton, and Ross III could represent the future, but all three are highly-touted recruits. They could be ready to play right away. The competition should be fierce.

Prediction: This group will not look as polished in September as last year's did, but there will be very little loss in production throughout the year. In fact, by the end of the year it could be in much better shape. There's just so much raw talent. Expect lots of sacks and a few more INT's than the three the unit produced last season. There is a lot to be excited about at LB.

Opponents That Could Be a Thorn In The Linebackers' Sides: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley and QB Trace McSorley; Ohio State RB Mike Weber and QB J.T. Barrett; Minnesota RB Rodney Smith; Iowa RB Akrum Wadley

Grade: B

Position Groups in Good Hands

  1. Wilton Speight (RJr)
  2. John O'Korn (5th)
  3. Brandon Peters (RFr)
  4. Michael Sessa (RFr)
  5. Alex Malzone (RSo)
  6. Dylan McCaffrey (Fr)
Grade: B+

Bottom Line: Returning both the starting and top backup quarterbacks that helped the team win 10 games last year is a major plus. Throw in the prospect of Peters potentially being the best of the bunch makes it hard not to smile. This is the best shape the position has been in a very long time.

Prediction: Speight will start again. O'Korn and Peters will still get playing time. In fact, expect to see them all in week one against Florida. Production in the passing game will improve overall and we will see this team throw for 3,000 yards. Expect a few monster games against some weaker pass defenses. Cincinnati and Air Force come to mind quickly. Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue could represent some opportunities for big stats too. However, we will also see a slight increase in drops and tipped INT's as the young receivers get acclimated.

Opponents That Could Make The Quarterbacks Lose Sleep: Penn State DE Shariff Miller and S Marcus Allen; Florida's Secondary; Wisconsin Front Seven; Ohio State

Running Back
  1. Chris Evans (So)
  2. Karan Higdon (Jr)
  3. Ty Isaac (5th)
  4. Kareem Walker (RFr)
  5. Tru Wilson (RFr)
  6. O'Maury Samuels (Fr)
  7. Kurt Taylor (Fr)
Bottom Line: There is a lot to be excited about here with both star-power and depth. Evans looks like an overall game-changer with the speed and instincts to turn big plays. Higdon is a solid compliment that will play hard. He has shown to understand the blocking schemes as much as anybody. Isaac will also get a lot of reps and he too has the ability to take it to the house. The icing on the cake is Walker. Some think that he is the most talented player at the position.

Prediction: Expect an increase in big plays and overall yards from scrimmage. De'Veon Smith's pass-blocking will be sorely missed though.

Opponents That Could Be Speedbumps for The Running Backs: Ohio State LB Jerome Baker and those pesky DE's; Indiana LB Tegray Scales; Wisconsin Front Seven; Florida LB David Reese

Grade: B+

Defensive Tackle
  1. Maurice Hurst Jr (5th)
  2. James Hudson (Fr)
  3. Deron Irving-Bey (Fr)
  4. Carl Myers (RFr)
  5. Lawrence Marshall (RJr)
  6. Ron Johnson (RFr)
  1. Bryan Mone (RJr)
  2. Aubrey Soloman (Fr)
  3. Michael Dwumfour (RFr)
  4. Michale Paea (Fr)
Bottom Line: The starting duo of Hurst Jr. and Mone is about as good as it gets. Both guys are big and disruptive, and capable of blowing up blocking schemes all over the country. Their presence will provide room for the speedy linebackers and ends to run to the ball. Depth is a major concern though. A lot is riding on Soloman and Hudson, as well as several others, to arrive ready to play this summer. If not, then Myers, a walk-on, and Marshall, a 4-Star bust so far, will be depended on to provide some help off the bench. Rashan Gary could easily play here too if needed.

Prediction: Mark my words, Hurst Jr, Mone, and Soloman will form the best trio of tackles in the conference, and all three of them will receive some postseason accolades.

Opponents That Could Slow Up The Defensive Tackles: Ohio State OL; Wisconsin OL, Penn State OL

Grade: A-

  1. Kahlid Hill (5th)
  2. Henry Poggi (5th)
  3. Nick Volk (RJr)
  4. Ben Mason (Fr)
Bottom Line: Hill and Poggi are the best pair of returning fullbacks in the nation. Hill has a special balance of ability as a blocker and receiver, and he led the team in rushing TD's last year. Expect to see more from him this season. Poggi is more of pure blocker but he can catch the ball too. Volk is strictly a backup while Mason will prepare to take over the position next year.

Prediction: Will be one of the most productive groups of fullbacks in the nation.

Opponents That Could Be a Thorn in The Fullbacks' Sides: Wisconsin Front Seven; Ohio State DE's; Florida LB David Reese (former Michigan commit), Iowa LB Josey Jewell

Grade: A-

Defensive End

Rashan Gary (So)
Carlo Kemp (RFr)
Donovan Jeter (Fr)

Chase Winovich (RJr)

Luiji Vilain (Fr)
Shelton Johnson (RSo)
Kwity Paye (Fr)

Bottom Line: A lot is riding on the idea that Gary will be a game-changer at the anchor position. Winovich has already shown that he can capitalize on opportunities when they are presented to him. Kemp looks poised to push for playing time too. Jeter had a good spring as an early enrollee and Vilain is a top 50 recruit.

Prediction: Gary will be one of the best in the country and Winovich will use his speed and athleticism to capitalize on opponent's attention being focused elsewhere, just as he did last year. Expect lots of sacks and TFL's. from this bunch for the next couple years. Kemp, Jeter, and Vilain will all provide just enough depth to support the starters.

Opponents That Could Be Speedbumps For the Defensive Ends: Ohio State OT's Jamarco Jones and Isiah Prince, and QB J.T. Barrett; Wisconsin OL and TE Troy Fumagalli; Penn State OL, RB Saquon Barkely, and TE Mike Gesicki

Grade: A-