The norm in college football has long been to open the season against a team that doesn't pose a real threat to your record, allowing coaches to see what their team brings to the table without risking much of anything. Projecting a team's future success against legitimately talented opponents based off of one game against a low-end team isn't completely accurate, but there are still many things we can learn from tomorrow's contest against Central Michigan.
Run, and Run with Force
Michigan will know that it isn't capable of running consistently in the Big Ten if it can't pound the rock against a Central Michigan team that doesn't field the same kind of size and athleticism up front. Everyone knows that Lewan and Schofield will move defenders off of the line, but can Kyle Kalis, Jack Miller, and Graham Glasgow give their backs room to run?
Who will that back be? Look for Fitzgerald Toussaint to take the majority of the carries in the game, and don't expect anyone else to challenge him for the lead role. Toussaint is the most balanced back on Michigan's roster, and his experience in pass protection gives him an edge over the younger, stronger backs who are looking to steal his carries. Fitz just needs to get onto the field and play like he did two season ago, slashing through lanes and keeping his balance after contact. I fully expect him to play well.
Minimize the Mistakes
The interior of the offensive line is young. Whoever starts next to Thomas Gordon at safety will be young. Michigan's ability to create big plays on offense and stop them on defense will depend heavily on these two groups.
It's all about protection for the young offensive lineman. Kalis, Miller and Glasgow need to adapt to the college game quickly, as Notre Dame will bring a multitude of blitz packages to their doorstep. Just don't leave anyone unblocked on passing downs.
The same goes for Jarrod Wilson: Don't leave receivers alone down the field. Wilson will most likely play next to Gordon for the majority of the game, and the young, rangy safety just needs to keep the ball from going over his head. Mistakes against Central Michigan will cost him his job early in the season, which would lead to a newly-minted safety in Courtney Avery seeing the field. I would rather see Wilson get past his mental lapses to take a stranglehold on the open starting safety position.
Amara Darboh went down just this past week. Roy Roundtree is busy making fun of his NFL teammates in Cincinnati. Who will step up beside Jeremy Gallon? Michigan has to get production from redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson. Otherwise, the Wolverines will start one of Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds or a true freshman. Jackson and Reynolds simply aren't talented enough to be impact receivers, and Al Borges openly admitted that none of the true freshman are ready to see the field. Chesson will have plenty of opportunities to look the ball in from Devin Gardner, and he has to make the best of them.
Get to the Passer
The pass rush has been stressed more and more since the arrival of Greg Mattison, who knows the importance of getting to the quarterback. Frank Clark, Mario Ojemudia, Cam Gordon and the rest of the Michigan front seven need to get to the passer if they want to take a step forward and become an elite defense. The unit failed to create enough turnovers a year ago, so pressuring the passer into poor decisions is paramount to its success, and ultimately to its improvement.
This year's Michigan team is still quite a ways away from being an elite team. Still, the program is on the rise, and the players mentioned above have an early opportunity to show that they're ready for a tough Notre Dame team in week two. A dominating performance on both sides of the ball is expected, as anything less will most likely be the result of a weakness that will go on to be exposed by the better teams on Michigan's schedule.