Maybe you heard, but Michigan swapped Al Borges for Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. While fans of our rivals and Alabama are generally dismissing this, the overall consensus is that this was a step in the right direction for the Michigan football program.
As Maize n' Brew we value discussion quite a bit, so in lieu of the Nussmeier hire, and having looked at 2013 (what is lost, what remains, etc.), here is a simple question: What should expectations be for the 2014 season? And does the Nussmeier hire change any previous expectations?
Zach Travis: Honestly, I don't know if the Nussmeier hire really changes what my expectations for 2014 are. If anything it just strengthens my belief that Michigan can meet those expectations.
Offensively, Michigan has plenty of weapons at its disposal. Despite the faction of Michigan fans that think Devin Gardner is definitely going back to WR so that Shane Morris can start, I think Gardner has the potential to be right up there with Braxton Miller in terms of production in 2014. He was already a top-three Big Ten quarterback in just about every relevant statistical category, and that was with no functional running game and an offensive line that held back blitzes about as well as my grandmother bench presses grand pianos (she's dead, fyi). If there is any Devin that is obviously a receiver it is Devin Funchess, which isn't all bad when you consider that Michigan now has its dual threat tight end in Jake Butt. With Amara Darboh back from injury and Jehu Chesson getting another year of off season development I think Michigan can reasonably deal with the loss of Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo.
Running back is a bit of a question, but mostly because it was hard to judge just how much of Michigan's impotence in 2013 was the fault of the backs vs. the line. Ultimately, that is the real question: how much can Michigan's line improve after losing two NFL-level tackles? One thing Michigan will have is plenty of options that at least have a year or two on campus. The other thing that should help is having an offensive coordinator that will focus on doing a few things very well with the line rather than scrapping a blocking scheme every three weeks or spending valuable practice time shuffling players around in tackle-over formations. What I'm saying is if the line can pull it together Michigan should have the same kind of offense it did last year in the best of times, only with a lot more of the consistently-good than the make-me-want-to-poke-my-eyes-out-bad that made us all lose our minds and made big Al lose his job.
Defensively, Michigan brings just about everyone back from a unit that was already one of the better defenses in the Big Ten (the last two games notwithstanding). The defensive line will be bigger, deeper, and more experienced across the board. Every single linebacker returns and some young players like Ben Gedeon could be poised to make the leap. Even the secondary is filled with experience and intriguing young players (cough, Jabrill Peppers, cough). The only real hole is at safety where Jarrod Wilson fell out of favor late and Thomas Gordon is gone, but this isn't 2010; there are a few scholarship players that have been in the program for a couple years to choose from. This defense probably won't be able to make the leap to elite next year (unless a pass rushing terror emerges and the CBs can lock down a little more effectively), but it should still be very good unit and right up there with the best in the conference. And when you consider the fact that next year's offense's raison d'etre won't be putting the defense in bad positions (fingers crossed), a jump in production on that side of the ball is very possible.
What does this mean overall? Michigan has tough road games against Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State, but the MSU defense loses a few key pieces, as does the OSU offense. A realistic expectation is to go 1-2 there with 2-1 a real possibility. The rest of the Big Ten schedule is manageable with Penn State, Indiana, and Minnesota coming to Ann Arbor and Michigan missing crossover games with Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin. By all measures, year four with a new OC and as much returning talent as Michigan has should mean ten wins and an inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game. Anything less than nine wins and there will be a run at rioting supplies at Ann Arbor Torch and Pitchfork, and for good reason. The expectation this year really has to be Michigan seriously challenging — if not outright winning — a Big Ten championship. I'm as patient and forgiving as anyone, and even I know when it's time to put up or shut up.
Peter Putzel: Looking at 2014's schedule, and factoring Nuss into the equation, it's difficult to see fewer than two more wins in '14 than in '13.
I do see two potential losses before the 10/18 Bye Week (ND and PSU), and I believe Minnesota could actually pose a threat (although I've been saying that since 1987, so...)
A season split with MSU and OSU...winning at OSU; we all saw what Borges did. Just imagine what could happen with an OC who has a consistent plan of attack! I think the run game will take a huge step forward. And by huge step, I mean that it will average something greater than "F**k me!", so maybe something more like "Son-of-a-b*tch!"
Still a step up.
So, yeah, I expect at least nine wins in the regular season. I'll even accept a bowl loss if the improvements in the ground game and O-line are loud and clear. Funchess and Chesson will be gods among men because Nussmeier will help DG regain his confidence. A confident DG will be a dangerous thing.
Shash: The one expectation I have for 2014 is a return toward consistency, if not offensive efficiency. Gardner has already proven he can cut down on turnovers - that is, when he's not running for his life. If Nussmeier can teach Gardner how to properly throw the ball away instead of spinning into a gigantic sack, he's a wizard. There's no way this is going to be a one-year fix given the departures of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, but a change needed to be made.
As a whole, though, I'd expect my hard liquor consumption to go down, my relationships to improve, and my family to invite — if not welcome — me back to once again participate in holidays, weddings, funerals, etc.
Bradley Idelkope: My thoughts are on the areas where we can improve and the areas I feel we will stay the same or regress.
I think the running game will improve, but the passing game with stay the same or regress for solely personnel reasons. As much as I hate to harp on the youth argument for what seems like the 6th year in a row, there was simply a lot on the interior line. It's not original, but it's the truth. I'm expecting (praying?) the running game to be vastly improved. Given the recent success at 'Bama you have to count Coach Nuss as a running game kind of OC. If Derrick Green turns into Eddie Lacy, in regard to breaking arm tackles and punching an extra 2 yards per play after secondary contact, I expect solid numbers. I also expect the light to go on for some of the interior line guys. Kyle Kalis, for one. I want to see that mean streak we've been hearing about since he was a junior in high school. The guys I want to see come out of the other end of the hype machine are Kalis, Kyle Bosch and Ben Braden. If they improve, Michigan improves, simple as that.
As for Devin and the passing game, similar production to this year should be the barometer. The offense is losing Gallon and both senior tackles. Having a go-to WR and reliable Offensive Tackles are pillars of a successful passing game (along with a QB, obviously). Don't expect any of the wideouts to replace Gallon's production and don't expect as many drops from Funchess, but when you need a huge play, who can you really trust? Time will tell. As for "Coach Nuss the QB Guru," I expect that to have more of an effect on Shane Morris than Devin Gardner. One year is just not enough time. Now, coach Nuss was a lefty QB and will have more time to refine Shane's considerable talents. That's where I expect the most improvement. And, as we all know, the backup QB is always the most popular man in Ann Arbor.
As for me, I expect a few more wins where I can sit back and relax in the 4th quarter and maybe even a special teams touchdown.
Kevin Bunkley: It would be foolish to expect a one-year miracle in offensive line development, but I will expect better offensive output game-to-game. Dumb people forget that even though the Rodriguez offense was capable of scoring a lot and often, Michigan lost 12 conference games in three seasons. The Borges offense took a nosedive in average points and yardage per game, and that is unacceptable. This guy (Nussmeier) is coming from The Land of Running Backs, so I am hoping he picks a clear number one RB, develops the hell out of him, and gets that man to 1,000 yards through thick and thin. A lot of the other things will depend on if he and Hoke decide to shuffle around some of the position coaches, especially if Fred Jackson retires (mercifully). I will also expect a more coherent scheme from game to game, because Borges's problem was scrapping plays that didn't work once, or he'd bust out wheel routes or screens that clearly worked, but he wouldn't use them the next game or even the next drive.
Nussmeier appears to have quite a pedigree of QB development though, and it excites me to think of Devin Gardner as a more athletic Jake Locker or AJ McCarron. Those guys were brilliant at making the proper read (save for McCarron in the Sugar Bowl), and I am hopeful that Gardner now has a proper QB coach for his final year. As Shash said, too often he would either have zero time to look downfield or dance away from one guy and get plowed into by three others. If Nussmeier can get Gardner to a better level of pure decision-making, I think that's a victory. He (Nussmeier) is inheriting a different offense than Borges had this year with no Jeremy Gallon, but I expect the deep ball threat to make a triumphant return if he can get Devin enough time to chuck one to Funchess or Darboh (woo returning wide receivers!). Mix that in with a legit threat at running back, and that's enough to win some games. I think everything depends on the running backs, though. Nussmeier knows -- or will very soon when he looks at tape -- the RB output was pathetic this past year. At one point Michigan led the nation in negative yardage plays. Designing the best scheme for the offensive line we're getting is job numero uno, and everything else should fall in place.
Fouad Egbaria: While I think Michigan did just about as well as it could have with this hire, U-M fans would do well to have realistic expectations for next season. People have been saying for a while now that 2015 is The Year, and I don't think that has changed, even with the Nussmeier hire. With that said, lost in the excitement about the offense's new direction is the fact that the defense looked downright bad at the end of the season. Sure, there were some injuries in there, Jake Ryan probably wasn't quite the player he was before (despite showing flashes of brilliance), and there was definitely some end-of-season malaise, if some of the players' comments about the bowl game were any indication.
Plus, truth be told, the defense was only solid before that in a bend-but-don't-break kind of way. They were good enough to win a few of those games that they lost, had they had a consistent offense. Alas, that wasn't the case. However, I think you can expect some improvement there. Unfortunately, a lot of that depends upon how well Ondre Pipkins can return from his injury; Michigan needs him to be a big-time player, which is a lot to ask of a big guy recovering from a knee injury.
Michigan has some exciting young guys who will become even bigger contributors going forward — Dymonte Thomas, Chris Wormley, Ben Gedeon, Channing Stribling, Jourdan Lewis, plus the incoming guys (e.g. Jabrill Peppers) — and not too many significant losses to graduation. The pass rush got slightly better this season, but only because it couldn't really get much worse. That will need to take another step forward in 2014.
As for the offense, all I can say is that I like the hire, and I'm excited to see what Nussmeier can do. However, the 2014 offensive live, which is the young guys with an extra year minus Lewan and Schofield, is a major point of concern. It is unclear to me whether Al Borges or (offensive line coach) Darrell Funk are primarily to blame for the line's struggles, but the returning players will have to grow up fast.
Like everyone else, I'm just looking for basic competence. Cut down on the negative plays (sacks, runs for negative yardage, turnovers) and things will be well on their way to turning up Milhouse. I'm not going to worry too much about wins and losses for now; every season has its share of games that could go either way. Just look at this season. Michigan was very close to wins against Ohio State, Iowa, and Nebraska, but very easily could have lost to Northwestern, UConn, and Akron. In the end, I think you generally end up with the record you deserve, and sadly, Michigan was a 7-6 team this season.
Michigan returns enough parts to improve upon last season's record; that won't happen without its best offseason since Hoke's arrival in Ann Arbor.
Anthony Mammel: My expectations for Michigan football in 2014 have changed every week since the 2013 opener against Central Michigan. For quite some time I believed that Devin Gardner was destined to turn pro and leave Michigan with an average defense and a struggling offense in 2014, but that was all derailed when Gardner sputtered behind an offensive line no one would ever buy stock in. He's back, Borges isn't, and I'm still not sure about the defense as a whole.
Specifically on offense, I'm obviously expecting more. My faith in Al Borges was thin; this tends to happen when a coordinator refuses to use simple play designs, like bubble screens, that force the hand of a defense. Nussmeier has shown the ability to adapt at every school where he has coached, leading me to believe that he'll have more in the bag than a jet sweep countered by -- surprise! -- a reverse jet sweep. Michigan is going to run the ball more effectively for a wide range of reasons, including the improvement of Derrick Green and the use of the pass to set up the run. Devin Gardner won't be hit as much, and the receiving core should actually be bolstered by the return of Amara Darboh and the enrollment of Drake Harris, who has a combination of size, athleticism and awesome ball skills that Michigan hasn't seen for quite some time. Add in Devin Funchess, Jehu Chesson and one of Da'Mario Jones or Freddy Canteen and you're looking at an offense that a competent coordinator can take and turn into one of the better units in the Big Ten. It isn't going to produce like Ohio State's, but it sure as hell isn't about to flop against Iowa.
Michigan should improve on the other side of the ball as well. The front should take a step up with the emergence of Maurice Hurst, Willie Henry, Taco Charlton, Ondre Pipkins and one or more of the many young maulers Greg Mattison has recruited. A rotation of Taco/Clark, Hurst/Pipkins/Henry/Poggi, and the conglomerate of strongside defensive ends Michigan has assembled should be much stronger than the 2013 unit was, and the back seven should improve with Ben Gedeon playing alongside a healthy Jake Ryan, not to mention adding Jabrill Peppers at one corner spot. A defense that struggled to get to the passer this season won't look the same next season because of Peppers' abilities in coverage and Ryan's pass rush.
Maybe I disliked Al Borges too much and am putting more stock in Nussmeier than I should, and maybe this team is destined to win 7 games and watch as Hoke and company are all replaced. Or maybe, just maybe, the team will finally put the mass of talent it has together to win a respectable amount of games.
Hollywood Hokester: Consistency on both offense and defense. I never knew what to anticipate on a game-by-game basis with Borges at the helm, and I expect Nuss to bring a consistency to Michigan's offense that Al could never find. Since I can't imagine it being any worse than last year, the offensive line can only get better, which means a more solid running attack and Devin Gardner's jersey staying much cleaner in East Lansing.
As for the defense, I look forward to seeing how Mattison responds to a less-than-stellar final two games. I think he's going to be under the microscope a bit more now that Borges is gone, and he, like Nuss and Hoke and every other coach on the staff, needs to coach a consistent product on the field. I'd love to see the defense become more stout on third down (the Wolverines ranked 65th in the nation in 2013) and hold more than one opponent to under 10 points. A bit lofty considering Michigan plays Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio on the road in 2014? Maybe, but the home schedule doesn't frighten me, and I plan on Michigan taking the easier victories without giving the entire Wolverines fan base a collective heart attack as well as sneaking away with some close victories in the big matchups.
SpaceCoyote: Perhaps the biggest take away from the Nussmeier hire will be the simplification of the the run game. In this way, the young OL should be able to work on three basic blocking techniques (covered inside zone, covered outside zone, and uncovered) and merely use man blocking concepts as constraints for things such as Power-O out of shotgun formations and in the red zone and counter trey to keep defenses honest against the zone schemes. This means they can have a base blocking scheme and continue to grow within that scheme rather than switching around mid-season. With Funk being a zone blocking guy, hopefully we see good growth in this regard.
As far as schematics, Nussmeier isn't all that different than Borges in many ways. He likes to stretch the field, he likes triangles, and he can use TEs to attack off play action, etc. Even down to his run/pass ratio, he is quite similar. I personally don't think the difference is going to come from in-game playcalling. The difference will come from how Nussmeier utilizes his practice time and fall camp to improve at his core scheme. Combined with the young players growing up, this should make the offense much more consistent. If that means that an average run game is established, that means big things for the offense. Averaging a half yard more per carry and cutting down the killer TFLs will help make the rest of the offense better. More manageable 2nd and 3rd downs. Quicker passing concepts. All this helps to protect the OL in pass pro situations, which will also appear to improve merely because of a more established rushing attack.
That consistency improvement is only one of the many problems Michigan's offense faced in 2013, but the chain effect of becoming more consistent in the run game goes a long ways to help pretty much all the other issues.
Eric Rutter: One of the quickest areas that I believe offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier can improve the Michigan offense will be with his work at the quarterback position. Al Borges worked exclusively with the quarterbacks in seasons past. Seasons that could have been handled much better and left fans with an underwhelming feeling, especially the 2013 campaign. That is largely due to the offensive line's inability to sustain any push in the running game, but that is another story entirely. It is also a situation where I think Nussmeier can improve the current unit.
Going back to his work with at the quarterback position, Nussmeier will likely assume control of Devin Gardner, Shane Morris, Wilton Speight and others. Those signal-callers are in good hands, as Nussmeier has a very complete and thorough understanding of how a QB should operate and has shown success running multiple systems. Nussmeier was a very accomplished QB on Idaho, a Division 1-AA school at the time (but a very good one at that) before he moved onto the coaching ranks. Nussmeier played under John L Smith at Idaho and later orchestrated Smith's offense at Michigan State from 2003-2005. These Spartan teams continually burned Michigan's secondary and this was all done with Drew Stanton at the helm of a spread offense.
Nussmeier later had brief stints in the NFL and at Fresno State as quarterback coach before he experienced great success with the Washington Huskis from 2009-2011. These Washington teams were vastly improved, and much of these strides were evident at the QB position- one that was the product of Nussmeier's hard work. Nussmeier left Washington for Alabama in 2012 and broke several school records as part of an undefeated campaign and a National Championship. What makes this so impressive is that Nussmeier has experienced great success at two teams that have played Michigan (The Spartans from 2003-05 and 2012 Alabama) and have had their way with the Wolverines defensive unit. This bodes very well for the future, especially given that Nussmeier is a highly-regarded coach that has succeeded with two very different styles of offense. Coach Nussmeier ran the spread at MSU and a pro-style scheme at Alabama, while continuing his strong hand in shaping his quarterbacks during formative times.
If Coach Nuss can come in and install a well thought-out scheme that emphasizes the strong points of Team 135, Michigan can have one of the strongest offenses in the Big Ten. Devin Gardner's leadership and athletic ability will be a useful tool at Nussmeier's disposal, although he will likely turn sophomores-to-be Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith into dominant running backs. His ability to run a zone blocking scheme, which should please offensive line coach Darrell Funk, will be pivotal in creating a strong Michigan running game. It will be exciting to watch coach Nussmeier rejuvenate Michigan's program with his strategic prowess effective immediately.
Big House Jack: Personally, I was shocked by the Borges firing. As someone who was buying everything the coaching staff was saying, I was under the impression that the problem was not play-calling, it was youth. Specifically, youth on the offensive line. Couple that with the fact that our last two games had bigger defensive meltdowns (Can you even try to cover Tyler Lockett?!) than offensive meltdowns, I thought there was plenty of blame to go around, and 2014 became a "nut up or shut up" year. I was pointing the finger more at Hoke than at his coordinators, and I frickin' love the guy.
In firing Borges, Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon are sending a message that it was not in fact youth that was the problem; it was play-calling. Borges is now officially the scapegoat for the 2013 debacle, and if that's what Michigan feels was the reason they went 7-6, I'm not going to argue. I personally never hated Borges. In fact, I think I defended him more than a lot of other people on here. Yet I was just as frustrated with him as everyone else. (A lot of my frustration is also on offensive line coach Darrell Funk.) However, when the staff said that the problem was youth and execution, I believed them. I took a "Okay, now get it right in 2014" stance.
I think that if you're going to hire Doug Nussmeier from frickin' Alabama, you open the door to high expectations. If Borges was indeed the problem, then Nussmeier simply cannot be allowed any slack. Michigan should be moving to an Alabama-esque rushing attack that is more zone-block oriented, a system in which both Nussmeier and Funk are comfortable (and Borges apparently was not). This means that we can reasonably expect the running game to be competent, if not significantly better than average.
Hoke has been a strong proponent of loyalty within the program and the staff, so the move to fire Borges is surprising. Borges always struck me as a smart guy with a good plan, and when the players pulled it off, it was a thing of beauty. Don't get me wrong: I am absolutely thrilled with Doug Nussmeier coming in as our offensive coordinator. I agree that it is an upgrade on many levels, and frankly I'm still in shock that we even got him. However, I am done cutting this staff any slack. In year four, Hoke has to at least make an appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game. BARE MINIMUM.
How possible is that? Based on what everyone else has said, it's very possible. If we're going to move forward with the understanding that all the FIRE BORGES people were right, and coaching was an issue, then it's reasonable to scale back the patience now that Michigan has made a coaching change. The problem is that Hoke used up nearly all of his goodwill when Michigan lost games they shouldn't have: Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa -- and you can even throw Ohio State in there, considering how close it was. Michigan faces a tough schedule with all three rivals on the road, but coming off a 7-6 run on a much easier schedule where even the most reasonable fan expected closer to 9-3, Hoke is now going to have to win some games in 2014 that he is not predicted to win.
Make sure you vote in the poll and leave your own response of what your expectations are in the comments!