Stars of Tomorrow: Michigan
With a number of posts this week about players on the rise - there are some others here in a similar vein - it felt appropriate to continue the theme and focus on each team's stars of tomorrow. We'll look at every team in the Big Ten, and highlight the players that look, already, like they will be All-Conference selections before they leave college in a few years' time.
And to emphasize the future aspect of this list, we'll strictly be looking at first- or second-year players. For Michigan, that actually eliminates a lot of acknowledged "breakout" candidates. Jourdan Lewis is already a junior, having played in 8 games as a freshman backup and special teamer. Derrick Green is a junior, even though he only has 7 starts and one 20-carry game in his career - a 22-carry, 137-yard performance against Miami of Ohio. Ty Isaac is a 3rd-year sophomore who has played in only 10 games at running back.
But, to borrow from Minnesota's maxim about building a program "brick by brick," most winning seasons are built with talented juniors like that, guys who step up on the field as they transition into upperclassmen. That's why coaches always talk about having experience; new stars are born a little more often out of that group. This series, though, will look at just younger talent - players who still have a chance to make several All-Conference teams and become the face, and the heart, of their team for several years. Michigan has three such players.
Bryan Mone, DT
Mone might have a career that Michigan fans envisioned for Ondre Pipkins - after a solid freshman campaign, in which Mone played in 12 games and started once, Mone is healthy and ready for an improved sophomore season. The youngster's weight (listed at 325 pounds) makes him an intriguing candidate for some three-man fronts, and the overall athleticism is there to actually be effective as an interior pass rusher.
He's still raw, but that's to be expected. As older leaders like Pipkins, Chris Wormley, and Ryan Glasgow depart, Mone will have the perfect chance to seize the anchor of Michigan's defense.
Jabrill Peppers, DB
Of course. Of course! Who else in the Big Ten is as ready for super-stardom? College football might not have a pair of egos as perfect as Peppers and Harbaugh, each one writing his script with the other in the background. Peppers, already a leader in his own right, will seek to carve out a career at Michigan that makes him remembered for all time. Jim Harbaugh is doing the exact same, and both know that their own individual greatness will be limited or amplified by the team's overall success. Both will be seeking to transform the area around them, and no one doubts that either will end up successful.
Mason Cole, OL
What's intriguing about Cole, just like with Peppers, is that he might project to multiple positions over the next few years depending on team need. The center/left tackle was one of Michigan's better linemen as a true freshmen, and that bodes very well for his growth the next few years.
The opportunity will be there, as either leadership or talent has been lacking from Michigan's line the last few years. Cole offers both. De'Veon Smith even pointed at him in a prediction about who would become the face of this group down the road: "I’m really proud of him," he said last November. "He’s shown that he’s becoming a leader. I’m pretty sure, by next year, guys are going to be looking up to him, even older guys."
Being a leader by his sophomore year might seem tough to believe, but Cole seems to live with a slightly different time dilation than the rest of us. He's an easy pick for a future All-Big Ten, and All-American, lineman.
Hitting the Links Wants to Play Harmonica
Football can be an amazingly transformative game. Cardale is now taking on more of a leadership role, getting receivers and younger guys into the right habits and techniques.
There is a certain amount of hype that starts to feel like too much, seeing as Penn State and Michigan, for all their potential and for all the skills of their coaches, still have flawed rosters that need some more growing pains. But, the "Bottom Three" - Maryland, Rutgers, and Indiana - are underrated squads in their own respects and help make this division (hopefully) as challenging as it's being advertised.
This was a cathartic and helpful look back on Devin Gardner's career. Gardner was an incredibly frustrating player, and for some reason very controversial. He was also a very tough Michigan Man who switched positions multiple times and fought through injuries to help his team.
I remember looking at him before the 2014 season and thinking he could be a top-10 or -15 caliber quarterback. In retrospect, his mechanics were a nightmare (that should've been a giveaway), but it was hard not to believe in a guy who could make throws like this, or this.
A much smaller issue, but one that will eventually cause its own struggles, is the Army-Navy game. Navy, which plays its iconic last game six days after the bowl lineup is announced, is now a member of the American Athletic Conference and might be eligible as a "Group of Five" member for a New Year's Six bowl.
Something tells me we'll hear from Will Hagerup again. The talent is there, certainly, and if he finds a good position coach in the pros, he could turn into a consistent force - exactly what he wasn't here in Ann Arbor.
Temple might be an easy team to ignore at first, but they might actually start the year with a big bang if they can knock off the Nittany Lions on September 5th. Penn State has not lost to Temple since 1941, but as Bill explains, the Owls' defense is a surprisingly elite group.
Beckman sees improvement from his defense, especially the front four, and says this year's defense will be able to be more layered and complex.
This is a fun link for history buffs. The AAFC (1946-49) has a pretty interesting history as one of the NFL's first real challengers, and ended up bolstering the league with two teams (the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns). The Browns actually won every single AAFC championship. Also, the commissioners of both leagues were part of Knute Rockne's Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.
Easy to forget with James Franklin's swagger-filled entrance into the Big Ten, but he actually had more of a Jerry Kill role at Vanderbilt - finding diamonds in the rough and polishing them up to compete with better players. He never had better than a low-four-star recruit at Vandy.
Also, fun fact: Miami already has 20 '16 recruits, and every single one of them is from Florida.
It's interesting that Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin - the four highest-profile coaching changes this year - all found offensive gurus to lead the team. And it's a very nice reserve of defensive masterminds who are making their home in the Big Ten at the moment.
Looking back in college football history, there have been a number of other times when academic institutions had a shaky relationship with the football that made up part of their campus and culture. In fact, the University of Chicago (home of the Maroons) would still be a part of the Big Ten if they didn't abolish their football program in 1939 and then leave altogether seven years later. In their view, football was toxic, and detracted from a university's purpose.
It was actually because of Chicago that Michigan has the Victors; an upset win over Maroons inspired Louis Elbel to write it. Fritz Crisler also hailed from UC, which won two national titles and introduced the reverse, the lateral pass, numbered uniforms, the man in motion, and the tackling dummy.
The Big Ten still has ties to the University of Chicago academically. UC is the only non-Big Ten member of the CIC, which is the conference's academic consortium.
Faux Pelini makes a writing appearance, and there are highlights aplenty. Plus, I want Connor Halliday's poster.
Oh, and Devin Gardner makes the list.
Delany might not be Harbaugh, but turning satellite camps into a larger discussion about recruiting ethics is a smooth move on his part.
This is all well and good, but hopefully we don't go too far down this road and find ourselves with college football coaches acting as celebrities and making headlines for easy free press. That hard-to-discern line is probably somewhere around Nick Saban putting on a Luigi hat. Thank goodness that hasn't happened yet.
This was too entertaining. Charlie Brown's effort was great, but the execution was worse than the T-Rex that also made the list.