Let's get the first thing out of the way: With exception to a supercharged quarterback in Denard Robinson and program-great running back in Mike Hart, Michigan's ground game hasn't been much to talk about during the past handful of years.
And that's been a problem.
However, this fall could be the year that the Wolverines get over the hump and make a triumphant return to their former efficient-ball-running-ways.
Well, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, two of the top backs of 2013, will be sophomores. With another year of experience to their credit, it's safe to say that they could provide significant assistance in the YPC department. And, of course, there's Ty Isaac, the former 5-star APB who left USC for AA and could possibly be a part of the festivities this season if granted a hardship waiver through from the NCAA.
Three, count 'em, three backs who hover at or near 6'0," weigh 220 or better and run sub-4.5-second 40s. Isaac is roughly 6'3" and 240, while Green and Smith are about 6'0" and 230. Brady Hoke's new offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, should have a lot of fun with that trio. It'd be like he's back at Alabama, only instead of that putrid crimson, his guys will wear aesthetically pleasing winged helmets and blue shirts.
This past fall, Michigan rushed for 1,634 yards, per ESPN. Really, one or two dominant backs could have easily rung up that total. But the Wolverines needed a fleet of guys to reach that mark, one of which was a former 1,000-yarder himself, Fitz Toussaint.
The O-line has holes. We know that. Without Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield book-ending at tackles, an already young line becomes even younger. The middle (guard, center, guard) was atrocious as well, and it'll be on Jack Miller, Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and the rest to get that figured out before they enter Big Ten competition.
On paper, it wouldn't appear that Michigan stands much of a chance of doing better this year. But, as mentioned, Green and Smith arrive with more experience--and they each had bursts late in 2013 that prompted a bit of optimism.
What Isaac Means to UM
Buried in a five-man-deep rotation, Isaac rarely carried the ball for USC, which was led by Javorious Allen and Tre Madden. Somehow, he squeaked out 236 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries. When broken down, those averages are pretty decent given the scenario--nearly six yards per touch and a touchdown every 20 totes for a guy who rode the bench and looked at playbooks.
He's a powerful back with a good burst, which will come in handy behind a developing O-line. Considerably larger than the run-of-the-mill running back, he'll be difficult to tackle, just as Smith and Green tend to be. He'll work as a dump-off option--he has OK hands--and serve as a great blocker.
Let's lay out a scenario: Smith has a slight edge in speed, so he could be the first-down back, leaving Green and Isaac to throw the body blows. That's not to say that Smith can't deal out punishment, but Isaac is the ram of the group and Green is right there with him.
Instead of the 1-2 with Smith and Green, it'll be 1-2-3 with Isaac. Not many teams can boast such a forceful trio. On paper, this group seems capable of racking up close to 2,000 yards (USC rushed for more than 2,600 in 2013) in Nussmeier's wear-them-down system, which just got a kick in the backside thanks to the addition of Isaac.
There really isn't anything not to like about Isaac, other than he wasted a year at USC before transferring to Michigan.
Follow Maize 'n Brew's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81