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2011 Michigan Football Preview: The 1000 Foot View Pt. 1

WHOA, that was a long off season. And hey - I didn't write for large sections of it. What did I do with myself? Mostly, I swam in my vast piles of blogging money, straight Scrooge McDuck style homie. Diving into a pool of money only hurts if you're poor, and what with the lucrative jobs* that blogging offers that's not my problem. Another benefit? Chicks, man.

Right, so Michigan kicks off the 2011 campaign in 18 days, which could even be 17 days by the time I click post. This is an attempt to provide a huge, gaping preview of the 2011 season - did you know that Brady Hoke is the new coach?

2011 Schedule

Western Michigan Sep 3
Notre Dame Sep 10
Eastern Michigan Sep 17
San Diego State Sep 24
Minnesota Oct 1
@ Northwestern Oct 8
@ Michigan State Oct 15
Purdue (homecoming) Oct 29
@ Iowa Nov 5
@ Illinois Nov 12
Nebraska Nov 19
Ohio State Nov 26
Big Ten Championship Dec 3

As a new head coach, Brady Hoke couldn't really ask for a more favorable schedule. The first five games are at home, then Michigan gets its feet wet at Northwestern before having to face their first real road-environment opponent at Michigan State. This isn't a slam on Northwestern Football, who could very well beat Michigan this year. It's more a slam on Northwestern fans who are likely to be outnumbered by Michigan fans in Evanston on October 8th. With the issues ongoing at Ohio State, this schedule is so fluffy you could take it to the park to pick up chicks. I actually might do that.

The Notre Dame game is at night for the first time in Michigan history. Gameday is rumored (or confirmed?) to be on campus for that one. I actually won't even be mad (this is a lie) if Notre Dame beats us this year. Stick with me here: when we're good, Notre Dame tends to beat us. But those three years when we were AWFUL? We still beat Notre Dame. Ipso facto, quid pro quo, lose to Notre Dame in gut-wrenching fashion = rattling off 10 straight wins en route to a BCS berth. Write that down.

Moving down the line, San Diego State sets up as the only game featuring a Whale's Vagina, which will be an incredibly awkward joke for the three readers who have not seen Anchor Man. This game will likely get some ink because Oh hi Brady, didn't you used to live here?

The Big Ten portion of the schedule is pretty awesome. As mentioned above, the first road game is in an environment that could be described as...tepid? Tepidly tough? I don't know, "not very intimidating." Let's just go with that. Again, Northwestern could very well beat us this year (I haven't even looked at their roster), but let's hope they get more than 3 lonely people wearing purple in that stadium on October 8th. Michigan State will be the first road test for the team, so it's a good thing we have a countdown clock installed (you wouldn't want the players and coaches forgetting to be in East Lansing. How embarrassing!). In a post from today at mgoblog Brian details the offensive line of Michigan State from the Detroit News:

Converted defensive tackle Dan France has emerged as the leading candidate at left tackle, but the battle at center and right tackle are far from decided.

Redshirt freshman Travis Jackson and junior Blake Treadwell, another converted defensive tackle, are running neck-and-neck at center, while redshirt freshman Skyler Burkland and junior college transfer Fou Fonoti are fighting for the top spot at right tackle.

Michigan fans are all too aware that the depth chart above, that's like, that's not good man. You do not want a converted defensive tackle as your starting left tackle. Pressure against Michigan State: we haz it. And, as Brian goes on to say, we'd better because, well, just don't look at our defensive back situation.

Nebraska makes their first visit to the Big House to finally settle that debate from 1997. That Alamo Bowl didn't count. Stupid Sun-Belt refs. Wait - a Michigan fan complaining about officiating? That doesn't happen like, ever.

Then it's on to Ohio State where apparently we've installed this sign:

Yes, that sign hangs in our locker room. You can tell because it just says "Ohio." Did you know that Brady Hoke never says "Ohio State?" He just says Ohio! Like the bobcats are all that tough...Actually, it's been a lot longer than that since Michigan beat Ohio, given that the two have never played. I do hear that Athens is a fun place to party though. In all seriousness, given reasonable expectations of this season + a win against Ohio State would take the Brady Hoke freight train straight from lightspeed to plaid.

He "gets it," if you haven't heard.

more after the jump.....

Then comes the Big Ten Championship game, during which Michigan will obviously dispatch the foe from the "Leaders" division (or is it "Legends? I haven't figured it out yet) to become outright Big Ten champions. This will undoubtedly happen as I have consulted with that machine from the movie "Big." That machine, it's crazy. You should have seen what happened when I traded places with David Brandon and suggested that Michigan have a mascot! You can thank me later for the scoreboards, BTW.

The Offense

The offense last year was pretty good. There is no debating that. The debate lies in whether the offense was awesome vs. pretty good. I would like to not have that debate. Rather, let's talk about how new Offensive Coordinator Al Borges is going to use Denard Robinson, yes? Denard won "Player of the Year" in the Big Ten last year, which is funny because he wasn't first team all conference for Quarterback. I'm still trying to piece together how that works, but whatever. He's easily the most explosive player on offense for Michigan, likely the most explosive in the conference, and maybe the most explosive in the nation. So what are we going to do with him?

For starters, he's going to get less designed carries:

First-year coach Brady Hoke, who plans to run Robinson 10 to 15 times a game, and offensive coordinator Al Borges expect to give a featured running back the bulk of the team's carries.

"That's all right with me," Robinson said Sunday after posing for pictures with backup quarterback Devin Gardner at media day. "I want to stay healthy."

I'm glad it's OK with Denard. That last quote is really the important one. Remember last year when Denard would limp over to the sideline holding his elbow for like, 3 heart-stopping plays before going back in? Remember when he didn't play against Bowling Green at all? Yeah, that sucked. If Denard is truly the best player on our offense, then any system that is designed to at least keep him on the field is OK with me.

Hoke, as has been well publicized, wants to return to the power running scheme, which means identifying a feature back. This has yet to take place as Michigan is working for the first time this week in full pads. Fred Jackson has ID'd a third down back, but he won't say who it is:

"I got a guy who's going to be a great third-down back for us," Jackson said. "I don't want to say right now who that guy is because I'm still trying to develop depth at the position.

"But the first game, you'll see who that is. I promise you, you'll see who that is."

The candidates for running back are, in no particular order, senior Mike Shaw, sophomore Stephen Hopkins, junior Vincent Smith, and junior Mike Cox. Fred Jackson has, in varying capacities, compared each to a legendary hall-of-fame type back at some point in their career, so it's tough to say who is going to be the next "Anthony Thomas except faster, more powerful, and better with the ladies." My guess is that Smith or Cox will fill that 3rd-down back spot with Shaw and Hopkins battling for the "primary" role. I've been a fan of Shaw for awhile now - he needs to get north/south quicker - so I'm kind of leaning towards him being "the guy." But do you know how much insider information I have? None. None what-so-ever.

On the offensive line, Michigan is not so big. This wasn't a problem when Michigan was running the spread featuring lots of scoop blocking, and zone blocking, and other blocking schemes that Brady Hoke has determined to be not manly enough for man-ball. However, with the desire to return to power - and Brady has made it abundently clear that is the plan - those weights might be a liability.

"Our base run play will be the power play," said Hoke, "and that won't be any secret. That's where we want to start our football offensively, but depending on the scheme we're facing, depending on the team, depending on how we are running at the tailback position, it could be more or it could be less. It's a real fine line. The objective is to win, and we have to do what helps Michigan and this team win. When you look at it at the end of the day, the kids want to win. They practice hard. We've got to put them in and give them a plan that's going to put them in a position to win."

Ok, so a modified Power. At any rate, the line tops out at around 302 lbs from Taylor Lewan. Wisconsin - the mauling power offense that I think Brady Hoke craves - averages 425 of pure muscle. Ok, that's not true, but still a Michigan line that averages below 300 lbs trying to run power might be an interesting proposition.

At wideout, Michigan returns Roundtree, Odoms, Stonum...oh wait! Right, no Stonum as he red-shirts for disciplinary reasons. This takes away Michigan's only established outside threat. I don't really know how to add to this section as I'm fairly comfortable with what Roundtree, Odoms, and Hemingway bring to the table. My guess is that on a standard 3-wide set, you'll see Roundtree and Hemingway outside, and Odoms in the slot. Koger will likely feature significantly as Michigan moves to a more tight-end friendly offense.

Ok, so this thing is already getting over 1800 words, so I'm gonna break off defense, special teams, and predictions for tomorrow.

*in all seriousness, Mgo being able to offer, like, a real paying job with benefits "negotiable" is pretty awesome.