Michigan football has its first and only bye tomorrow. Not only is this the perfect time to reflect on what has happened thus far -- make sure to read our mid-season grades for Michigan's offense, defense, and special teams -- it's the perfect time to look ahead and predict what will happen in the second half of the season. Thus, here are my 10 predictions about Michigan football for the rest of 2015.
1. Michigan Mauls Minnesota, Shuts Out Gophers
Michigan is coming off and trying to forget one of the worst last-second losses in college football history. I still keep waiting for the nightmare to end and for me to wake up in my bed and discover that Blake O'Neill punted the ball. Why hasn't that happened yet? Hurry up, nightmare. End already. Sorry, sorry, I'll get back on track. After enduring a loss this stunning, there always are questions about whether a team can rebound from such an emotional disappointment. For this Michigan team, the answer will be yes. The Wolverines will regroup during this bye week and become more terrifying than any Halloween movie monster when they take the field against Minnesota on the night of October 31st. Michigan will blank the Gophers' hapless offense (96th in S&P+) to earn its fourth shutout of the season and retake possession of the Brown Jug with a decisive win.
2. Jake Rudock Completes His First Bomb vs. Rutgers
Some of these predictions will be bold. Through seven games, Jake Rudock has yet to complete a pass that's traveled further than 30 yards in the air. One reason is that he's overthrown open receivers streaking down the field against Utah, Maryland, and Michigan State. An argument can be made that his inability to connect on these bombs is why Michigan is 5-2 rather than 7-0. However, the drought will end on November 7th when the Wolverines host Rutgers. Out of 128 FBS teams, the Scarlet Knights are 123rd in defending the pass and 120th in stopping explosive plays per S&P+. Plus, they have surrendered 33 passes that gained at least 20 yards, which is the fourth-most in the nation. Jehu Chesson will beat Rutgers over the top, and, this time, Rudock won't miss.
3. Jabrill Peppers Returns a Punt for a Touchdown at Indiana
Before this season, Michigan had not returned a non-blocked punt for a touchdown since 2008 or a kickoff for a touchdown since 2009. The Wolverines snapped one of those streaks two weeks ago against Northwestern when Jehu Chesson took the opening kickoff and raced 96 yards to the end zone. On November 14th, Jabrill Peppers will snap the other one. Indiana's punt coverage unit is sub-optimal to say the least. Only eight of Erich Toth's 40 punts have been fair caught, and more than half have been returned. This means Peppers, who averages over 10 yards per punt return and has electric moves, will have space to make IU's punt unit look silly. And he will do just that.
4. Penn State Gives Michigan a Scare, But U-M Escapes Happy Valley
Michigan is a 9.5-point favorite over Penn State, but you'll want to schedule an appointment with your doctor the week before to confirm that your pacemaker still is functional. This will be much closer than anticipated. With an offense that can't protect its broken quarterback and won't be able to run against Michigan's stout front, Penn State will struggle to put points on the board. However, Michigan's offense will sputter, too. The Nittany Lions have a balanced defense that has been excellent against the pass and cracked against the run only when facing mobile quarterbacks. Jake Rudock isn't a statue, but he won't be beating anyone with his legs either. Further, there will be a raucous atmosphere for Penn State's "White Out," so expect sloppy turnovers and mental mistakes from Michigan. But the Wolverines will do just enough to escape with a win.
5. Jabrill Peppers Doesn't Receive an Offensive Touch until The Game
After six games, we finally were able to sound the JABRILL PEPPERS IS ON OFFENSE horn last week, and did it live up to our expectations or what? Peppers' first offensive touch was a jet sweep off of a shovel pass where Michigan sealed off the left side of Michigan State's defense and Peppers beat the Spartans to the sideline before speeding down to the MSU three-yard line for a 28-yard gain. Since the end of the game, Michigan fans have clamored for him to earn more touches in the coming weeks because he's too explosive and shifty for Michigan not to use him. I don't disagree. But Michigan should win its next four games without needing Peppers on offense and doesn't want to tip its hand. Thus, the JABRILL PEPPERS IS ON OFFENSE horn will be shelved until OSU rolls into town. Then, Peppers will be unleashed with 10 offensive touches.
6. The Winner of The Game Plays in the Big Ten Championship Game
Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Michigan will be 9-2 (6-1 B1G) and Ohio State will be 11-0 (7-0 B1G) after slaying the Spartans the prior week. Regardless of whether Michigan State finishes with a 10-2 (6-2 B1G) or 11-1 (7-1 B1G) record, the winner of The Game will represent the East in the Big Ten Championship Game. An Ohio State win over Michigan means the Buckeyes will be the only unbeaten team in the division no matter what. If MSU has two losses, a Michigan win over Ohio State means that U-M and OSU would both be 7-1 and U-M would win the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Where it becomes interesting is if MSU has one loss and Michigan beats Ohio State, meaning U-M, OSU, and MSU each would be 7-1 in the Big Ten with 1-1 records against each other. If that happens, the tiebreaker will be the College Football Playoff poll released after that weekend's games. The team ranked the highest of the three will participate in the Big Ten Championship Game, unless the top two teams are within one spot of each other, in which case the head-to-head result between those teams will be used to break the tie. Though Michigan would have two overall losses to just one by OSU and MSU, the Wolverines will win the tiebreaker. The first CFP poll hasn't been released, so let's assume the AP poll represents how the selection committee feels. OSU is No. 1, MSU is No. 7, and Michigan is No. 15. If Michigan wins out with OSU and MSU each losing once in the final two weeks, Michigan will jump MSU and should jump OSU. And, even if U-M doesn't jump OSU, it just needs to be one spot behind the Buckeyes, so the head-to-head tiebreaker will apply. Plus, the selection committee will consider that Michigan beat Ohio State and would have beaten Michigan State if not for one of the flukiest football plays of our generation. Add in that Michigan's only other loss was on the road to a top-10 Utah team, and the committee will favor the Wolverines.
7. Michigan Fails to Ruin Ohio State's Perfect Season
But all of this talk about tiebreakers and the College Football Playoff poll will be for naught because Michigan won't beat the Buckeyes in The Game. Through the first six weeks, Ohio State didn't resemble a team that was the consensus No. 1 in the preseason, but that already has begun to change. It started last weekend when the Buckeyes ran through a quality Penn State defense to a 38-10 victory, and the transformation will continue now that Urban Meyer has realized that J.T. Barrett will solve their offensive problems. Ohio State's offense will look like one of the best units in the nation as it was last season and will poke some holes in Michigan's ferocious defense. However, Ohio State also has one of the better defenses in the country, and Michigan's offense won't do enough to keep pace. Jim Harbaugh and Meyer will throw everything they have at each other in what'll be an exciting, heated battle, but it'll be OSU that wins by a touchdown.
8. Jourdan Lewis Receives the Jim Thorpe Award
Jourdan Lewis has been the best corner in college football. No one has more pass break-ups than Lewis (14), and his 16 passes defended -- pass break-ups and interceptions -- are the second-most in the nation. It also doesn't hurt that he returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown. Plus, Lewis isn't a corner that's racking up stats while allowing lots of yards. Quarterbacks have completed only 17-of-50 passes against him, he won his matchup against the Big Ten's best receiver, and he's the best corner on a defense that's first in yards allowed per attempt and opponent passer rating. But, because Lewis isn't high on the interceptions list, I have wondered if the national media had noticed him. Well, the secret is out as both ESPN and Sports Illustrated named him to their mid-season All-America first teams. Lewis will continue to prove he's a lockdown corner when he faces capable aerial attacks from Rutgers and Indiana and future NFL quarterback Christian Hackenberg, and he'll continue to receive the national recognition he deserves. This is why Lewis will be able to place the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to college football's best defensive back, on his mantle after the regular season.
9. Michigan Rings in the New Year in Orlando
Two undefeated teams will square off in the Big Ten Championship Game, though the team from the East will be at least a touchdown favorite over the team from the West. Ohio State will overpower Iowa in the title game and claim its second straight Big Ten championship. With a 13-0 record, the Buckeyes will secure a spot in the College Football Playoff, while the selection committee will place both Iowa (12-1) and Michigan State (11-1 or 10-2) in New Year's Six bowls. The Spartans will be the Big Ten team that smells roses, and the Hawkeyes will head to the desert to play in the Fiesta Bowl. This will leave Michigan (9-3, 6-2 B1G) as the next Big Ten team to be slotted in a bowl: the Citrus Bowl.
10. Jim Harbaugh Doesn't Bolt for the NFL
Sorry, NFL. No matter how many rumors you stir up, no one is in play.