For the past two weeks, we at Maize n Brew have run a series where Anthony Broome and Drew Hallett address what they believe are the 10 biggest questions and storylines surrounding Michigan football and whether the Wolverines will be successful in 2015. Today marks the 10th and final installment of this series, and Anthony and Drew conclude it with their season predictions for Michigan.
Drew: Anthony, we’ve spent the past two weeks discussing the most important Michigan-related topics and questions entering the 2015 season. Everything from HARBAUGH’S BACK to Jake Rudock vs. Shane Morris to our skepticism of Michigan’s skill players to the defense’s potential dominance to seeking redemption against those damn rivals from Columbus and East Lansing.
It’s now time to answer the most important question of them all: what will Michigan’s record be in 2015? Like Brady Hoke’s debut season in 2011, will the Wolverines shock folks right out of the gate with Jim Harbaugh en route to a double-digit-win season? Or should Michigan fans prepare to temper their expectations for a rocky Year 1 under Harbaugh? Looking back on what you have written in this series, Anthony, you seem to have an optimistic attitude and think that the puzzle pieces will fall into place for Michigan as the year develops. How many games will Michigan win this season?
Anthony: Now that camp is done and we have a better idea of what has gone down the last few weeks, I have Michigan at 9-3. They will have their fair share of growing pains and likely will lose to Michigan State and Ohio State, who realistically are the only two teams on their schedule that have more talent than they do, mixed with excellent coaches in Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer.
I think what we will see is a team that comes out of the gate and punches teams in the mouth and sets the tone, something that we have not seen in year’s past. Also, they will clean up their turnover woes and force more of them on defense. All of these things in my opinion sets up the Wolverines to be a nine-win football team and beat the teams that they should beat. The days of losing to Rutgers and other lower tier teams are over. I’ve hovered around eight wins all off-season, but where we stand today, I’m buying the hype and believe that Michigan will be vastly improved, not just from last year, but with each passing week on the 2015 schedule.
Drew: Before I give my prediction, I must ask: other than Ohio State and Michigan State, to whom do you think Michigan will lose for that third defeat?
Anthony: Minnesota on the road is going to be a rough one. This is a team that beat up on Michigan last year at the Big House. This will be this group’s first stiff conference road test against a team that many see as a dark horse contender for the Big Ten West title. The Wolverines lose a close one here, but will beat Penn State on the road later in the year, which a lot of other people see as one of those coin-flip measuring stick games.
So I guess I’ll just say it: I believe Michigan will win its debut under Jim Harbaugh at Utah. I’m going to drink the kool-aid here.
Drew: Gotcha. Still can’t believe Michigan plays at Minnesota on Halloween night. Guh.
Anywho, it's my turn, and our readers will like you more than me when I'm done. A few weeks ago, I was asked by Jimmy Boyd of Boyds Bets to offer whether I thought Michigan would finish over or under the posted total of 7.5 wins. I flipped back and forth because, for a long time, I have believed that Michigan would record either seven or eight wins this season. But I could choose only one: over or under. And I took the under.
For all of the euphoria and hoopla associated with the return of Harbaugh -- a coach that's mastered the art of the turnaround everywhere he's been -- this still is a Michigan team that was a bad 5-7 last season. The hoopla doesn't disguise that. So, even though there's no doubt that the Wolverines will take a step forward under Harbaugh -- particularly because we both agree that there's raw talent on this roster -- I'm too concerned about an offense that is one year removed from being 111th in scoring offense and 115th in total offense. Just how much development can we expect and how fast should we expect it when there are questions at each offensive position except tight end?
Michigan will find answers to some of those questions. All of them? Eh. Improbable.
One answer should come in the form of Jake Rudock, who will be the starter even if Harbaugh hasn't confirmed it yet. Rudock is a safety net that will prevent Michigan's quarterback play from falling into a deep abyss. That's a huge improvement from last season, even if Rudock is no more than a middle-of-the-pack game manager. However, the biggest question mark is to whom Rudock will throw the ball. Yes, Jake Butt is primed to lead Michigan in receptions and puns, but Michigan doesn't seem to have an answer that can stretch defenses and force double teams. There is hope in Drake Harris, who's received heaps of praise in recent days, but that's putting an abundance of faith in a pair of hamstrings that don't comply with Harris' wishes. Hey, maybe Harris will be that answer, and Michigan will be able to take the restrictor plate off the offense. But, if not, defenses will crowd the box and clog space for a work-in-progress ground game that has questions at running back and offensive line. These aren't promising circumstances.
I would feel better about the offense's development if Michigan had a "cupcake" opener. Using that time to find a rhythm and work out the kinks before the real competition sets in would have been the preferred strategy for this season. But we live in a world where college football non-conference schedules are set at least five years in advance, so, instead, Michigan has a lovely opener against Utah. In Salt Lake City. Then, three weeks later, Michigan hosts BYU. Who has Taysom Hill -- a dual-threat quarterback that runs circles around defenses when he's healthy. Guess what? He's healthy. The Cougars could spring an upset because, if Hill performs his now-you-see-me, now-you-don't magic tricks, Michigan may not have the offense just four weeks into the season to keep pace with BYU. For the record, I don't think Michigan will lose both of these games. A 3-1 non-conference record feels right. But a 2-2 record in September is more probable than 4-0.
Then, there’s this dirty, little secret: Michigan has been awful on the road for a long time. Since 2008, the Wolverines are 4-17 as road underdogs, and they should be road underdogs against Utah, Minnesota, and Penn State -- all of which will be night games or a "White Out." I know what you’re thinking: this is a Harbaugh-coached team, not a team coached by Rich Rodriguez or Brady Hoke. You’re right. However, these are still the same players that have struggled in hostile environments their entire career. Maybe Harbaugh’s presence will change how these players approach and perform in road contests. But, until I see it on the field, I think Michigan will lose all three of these games.
Finally, there is Michigan State and Ohio State, which I have penciled in as losses.
That’s 7-5. However, Michigan could finish anywhere from 6-6 to 10-2 depending on the breaks with this schedule. The only two games that are likely or automatic losses are the rivalries, unfortunately. However, every other one is either an automatic win or a toss-up. If the offense gels quickly and Michigan wins the opener against Utah, the Wolverines could ride a wave of confidence to a 6-0 start before the Spartans come to town and a very successful season. But, because it will some take before this Michigan offense begins to click, the Wolverines drop the opener and stumble a bit to a 7-5 season.
Or maybe that’s the pain of prior seasons guarding my expectations. We’ll see.
With our predictions in, let’s end it: how will fans reflect on this season when it’s over?
Anthony: Well, whether it’d be 9-3 or 7-5, games can often be decided by a single play or moment that changes everything, so we are not too far off there as it may appear.
I will say this about the season: Regardless of the record they end up with, this will be a "not quite there yet" season for the Wolverines. They will show flashes of being reborn as one of college football’s powerhouses and also will do some things that will make fans want to rip their hair out. At the end of the year, we will be able to see a vastly different football team than the start of things. I just think that’s the type of impact this staff will have this year. Things will get corrected and fixed as the year goes on because that’s what Jim Harbaugh does.
So, while this year will ultimately likely end up without a Big Ten title again, this will be season where the Wolverines put forth a good effort and on-field product and make fans proud of the football team they have and the direction that the program is heading.
Drew: If a 7-5 season comes to fruition, it will not be viewed upon too favorably in the immediate aftermath. Nonetheless, fans will see that improvement was made and groundwork was laid. They will see that Harbaugh has put his stamp on this program and that, as soon as 2016, the rest of the Big Ten should fear Michigan once again.
Previous Installments of Michigan Football's Biggest Storylines in 2015
August 17th: The Impact of Jim Harbaugh's Return
August 18th: Did Brady Hoke Leave the Cupboard Bare?
August 19th: Jake Rudock vs. Shane Morris -- Who Wins?
August 20th: Will a No. 1 Receiver Emerge?
August 21st: The Running Back Rut
August 24th: Defense, Dominance, and Durability
August 25th: Pressure Problems
August 26th: The Delayed "Debut" of Jabrill Peppers
August 27th: Rivalry Redemption