Three keys for Michigan in 2016
Leading up to the start of the 2016 season, we’ll preview three key factors for every B1G team to have success.
Here are Michigan’s:
1. Stick with starting QB
Remember last year when Jake Rudock struggled out of the gate and certain Michigan fans were calling for Shane Morris? Needless to say, Jim Harbaugh knew what he was doing.
The same scenario could unfold this year, especially if Wilton Speight wins the job. He might not have the experience that John O’Korn has, which could lead to some skepticism if he struggles. Unless Speight is a complete mess, Harbaugh is not making a quick switch. The same would be true if O’Korn were to win the job.
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Last year showed what Harbaugh can do when he has time to groom a quarterback. Rudock was lightyears ahead of where he was at Iowa by season’s end.
Teams competing for national titles shouldn’t have quarterback debates. Whoever Jim Harbaugh starts — barring injury — is going to be the starter for the foreseeable future. They’ll get the keys to lead what should be one of the B1G’s best offenses.
2. Ride the hot hand at RB
I don’t think Michigan has any individual back average 20 carries per game. In fact, I don’t think you’ll see a Michigan back even reach 20 carries in a game more than a few times this year. As we learned from Michigan State last year, that’s not the worst strategy.
I don’t think De’Veon Smith is heads and shoulders above his competition. He’ll likely be listed as the starter every week, but don’t expect him to get a full workload. Ty Isaac had a strong camp, and Drake Johnson is a solid change-of-pace back when healthy.
Don’t forget true freshman Kareem Walker could earn a spot in the rotation. Michigan’s offensive line is healthy and expected to be better this year, which will be key for whoever lines up in the backfield.
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They need to be better against elite competition. In the three games that the Wolverines lost last year, they averaged just 2.2 yards per carry. That won’t fly if Michigan wants to end its B1G title drought.
There are plenty of capable backs that Harbaugh has to work with. He’d be wise to take a play out of Mark Dantonio’s playbook and be willing to use them interchangeably.
3. Don’t believe the hype
This isn’t the first time that Michigan has been a preseason top-20 team since 2004. Here’s a look at how those seasons ended up:
|SEASON||PRESEASON AP RANKING||FINAL AP RANKING|
So to recap, only once since 2004 has Michigan started in the top 20 and improved its ranking. Four out of those five times, the Wolverines dropped at least 12 spots from their preseason ranking.
This is a completely different program now than it was under Brady Hoke, Rich Rodriguez and Lloyd Carr, but that’s worth mentioning because it’s easy to buy into the hype with Michigan. Actually living up to it isn’t easy. Michigan had more preseason hype than it had in recent memory and everyone wants to see how Harbaugh and the Wolverines will handle it. People forget that even Harbaugh has never entered a season in the top 25.
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Michigan will get a lot of people — me included — saying how loaded this team is. The defensive play-makers are unmatched in the B1G and maybe unmatched nationally. The pass-catchers are as good as it gets.
So how does Michigan deal with the spotlight? Are players putting in even more time in the film room? Is Michigan preparing for every opponent like they can beat them? Are players focused on winning a national title or boosting their draft stock? Is the “everyone hates Michigan” culture taking full effect?
Those are the areas that will define this season for the B1G’s most talented team.