I asked our staff to provide one specific offensive prediction, one specific defensive prediction, what was the most likely win out of the ND/MSU/OSU road trips, when and how they thought Jabrill Peppers would score his first touchdown, and an overall season prediction. Here is what they came up with.
Offense: I think Funchess and Darboh are going to combine for about 1,600 yards receiving. I still believe that someone will rush for 1,000 yards. My guess is that it's going to be De'Veon Smith. However, if Green can keep his weight down, he may actually meet the extraordinary expectations he had when he committed to Michigan. With my 9-3, and possible 10-2 prediction, we'll need to see that kind of output.
Defense: I stand by my Peppers will be a god statement. But if you want even more specifics on the defense, then it's gotta be that Jake Ryan is going to return to prominence as the heart of the linebackers. He will finish the season with 15 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 INT.
Win: Notre Dame. I say this mostly because it's the last one for the foreseeable future. It's not that Michigan won't be up for MSU and OSU, but when bragging rights like this are on the line, I expect that the Wolverines will play a more inspired type of game for history's sake.
Peppers: A fumble recovery for six on Appalachian State's first offensive play. Everyone overreacts and his number is given to [player name here] the following year due to his immediate status as a "Legend".
Michigan will go 11-1. [EDIT: I made the 9-3/10-2 prediction above in an email to the guys before the Notre Dame and Ohio State issues, and revised to 11-1 after--Peter]
Offense: Michigan's run game stumbles greatly out of the gates and is merely below average by the end of 2014. Devin Gardner leads a pass-heavy offense that is sporadic in its ability to get over the top of defenses but still gets DG over the 3,000 yard mark.
Defense: Michigan leads the Big Ten in forced turnovers. Yes, I'm going there. Yes, I hope this gets to Michigan State fans.
Most likely win for Michigan vs. ND/MSU/OSU? Notre Dame. Michigan State is now the easy favorite to win the B1G; Notre Dame is reeling even more than Ohio State and they don't have the same kind of terrorizing defensive lineman as the Buckeyes.
Peppers: He's not scoring in 2014, but he will in 2015 when he's so locked into the defense that Doug Nussmeier's calls to give him snaps at tailback finally reach Brady Hoke.
Overall season prediction: Ten wins. Michigan loses to Michigan State (eff) and Ohio State (argh) but cleans up the rest of the schedule behind an erratic passing attack and an aggressive defense.
Offense: A year ago, the team had 21 turnovers, more than Oregon, Northern Illinois, and Ohio State. We'll give up the ball less in 2014.
Defense: Mattison's defense forced 26 turnovers last year, something that I also predict will get better.
Most likely win for Michigan: OSU, who I had picked even before Braxton Miller's injury. Mark Dantonio has a well-oiled machine going in East Lansing, and he will save up his best work to try and take us out. Also, I think we might need another go-round before we really learn from and absorb his/their focused intensity. Notre Dame couldn't come at a worse time: we'll be the first team to see any exotic defensive wrinkles under Brian VanGorder. At some point, though, we have to learn how to take out our frustration on the Buckeyes. We've been close... we have to do it.
Peppers: Jabrill scores his first touchdown on the first snap of the Appalachian State game, when on a blitz up the middle, he bowls over the center and the guard, forces a throw to a receiver twenty yards downfield, tracks that receiver down, forces the fumble, then sheds a dozen tackles on his way into the end zone. No pressure, Jabrill.
Season prediction: 11-2
Offensive Prediction: During Doug Nussmeier's two years with Alabama AJ McCarron threw 58 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions in a conference known for it's defense. In those same two years with Al Borges Devin Gardner threw 32 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. Expect big improvement from Gardner this year.
Defensive Prediction: Jake Ryan is healthy, Frank Clark returns and Blake Countess is as good as always. Mix in Jabrill Peppers and more depth all the way around and the defense should be a big improvement over last year. As fun as last year's Indiana game was, don't expect a similar result in 2014.
Special Teams Prediction: Will Hagerup is back!!! Punting was bad last year, it will be better this year. This may not help a lot but it certainly won't hurt.
Most Likely Win: If I had to put money on it? I'd say ND just because of the three that team has the least talent of all. Gut feeling, OSU. Say what you will about Brady Hoke and his Wolverines, but his squads have always brought their best to The Game and I expect they will again. Plus OSU lost Carlos Hyde which will hurt more than anybody south of Toledo realizes.
Jabrill Peppers First TD: Well I was gonna be real general and say Pick Six vs ND but I want to get really specific. Jabrill Peppers will lineup on the right side of the field and pick off Golson on the second ND drive of the Third Quarter. Peppers will be picked on a bit early in this game and most likely burned for a long gain or two. However he will jump a poorly thrown ball from Golson and take it to the house to seal a win for the Wolverines. Expect #SCTop10 and #HotPeppers to be trending after this 48 yard return.
My prediction? Pain... 10-2 with losses to MSU and ND. Postseason wins could depend on division. If Sparty wins expect 10-3 with a tough loss to a good SEC team in a big name bowl (if those are even a thing anymore). If Michigan wins tack on two more wins over Wisco and Stanford (Oregon in the Playoff). Is this optimistic? Absolutely. I am a senior who wants a Rose Bowl almost as bad as a World Series? Absolutely.
Offense: Michigan has three All-Conference offensive performers: Funchess, Gardner, and Ben Braden.
Defense: Frank Clark makes an All-American team.
Away games: Notre Dame. MSU's pretty damn good and the OSU game's at the Shoe. Yikes.
Peppers: INT return, App State.
Overall season prediction. 9-3.
Defensive Prediction: Michigan was horrid against stopping drives in their tracks and getting off the field. I look for improvement in that category or else it will be a long season. Also improved sack numbers would be nice.
Offensive prediction: Michigan is still flush with running backs so I am hopeful for a better yard per carry average and overall running yards per game. I will eat my hat if we have negative rushing yards in a game again this year.
Rival win: I'm going to go to left field on this: MSU is right where we want them. Second straight away game after they achieved the maximum result last season? Bring 'em on.
Peppers will score on a blocked field goal against App State, leaping over the entire line, catching the ball in mid flight, stepping on the center's head and running over the holder toward the end zone.
The Wolverines run forward more than they run backward.
With a healthy Jake Ryan, way more sacks and overall pressure in the backfield.
Most likely win for Michigan vs. the rivals:
Notre Dame. Beat 'em down on their turf one last time, and then proceed to forget they the chickens exist.
Peppers first touchdown:
I'm going to go out on a limb and say it takes him a little while to find the end zone. But when he does, it'll be a momentum changer against Michigan State in East Lansing. Michigan will be trailing coming out at half-time, State starts with the ball, and Peppers puts the game back in reach during that first second-half series.
Overall season prediction: 11-1 because nobody thinks it will happen.
Give me one offensive prediction: The offensive line FIGURES IT OUT during the non-conference schedule. Call it optimistic, but they're due.
Give me one defensive prediction: I really think they'll be one of the best defenses in the conference this year. Will they be MSU good? No, but I think a top-two chance is a real possibility.
Most likely win for Michigan vs. ND/MSU/OSU? With Miller being out, the OSU game makes it more interesting. However, there is a LONG way to go until November. As for right now, Notre Dame's issues make this the most winnable game out of the three.
How does Jabrill Pepper score his first touchdown? What game? I say a pick-six against Miami (OH). Once he gets the first big game jitters done with against Notre Dame, he is going to start to prove his worth and hype.
Overall season prediction: I think Michigan is good for nine wins this season. With a favorable home schedule and the daunting road slate against the big rivals less daunting than it was a week ago, Michigan has a chance to push it higher if it can figure everything out.
Offense: Michigan's run game struggles over the first half of the season, but in the last six games Michigan gets over 100 yards of rushing from its running backs in all six of its final six games — including Michigan State — showing the improvement that hasn't been there the last two years and helping push Michigan's offense to the next level.
Defense: Michigan has the best per carry rushing defense in the conference.
Away games: Ohio State. Michigan will improve enough through the season to have a solid offense by the time they visit the Shoe.
Peppers: A punt return vs. App State. THE HYPE IS REAL!