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Big Ten Countdown - No. 2 Michigan
By Tony Gerdeman

2. Michigan 11-1 (7-1)

Two Cent Overview

Quarterback Chad Henne returns and is less than 4,000 yards away from becoming Michigan’s all-time leading passer. Running back Michael Hart is also back and healthy. Nearly everybody returns on the offensive line. Jason Avant is gone, but other receivers return, namely Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham. The defensive line is talented and disruptive. There are plenty of linebackers returning as well. The secondary is looking for a second corner to play opposite Leon Hall and there are about five safeties good enough to start most anywhere else. The kicking game returns intact, but that may not necessarily be a good thing.

Schedule

Sept. 2 Vanderbilt (W)
Sept. 9 Central Michigan (W)
Sept. 16 at Notre Dame (W)
Sept. 23 Wisconsin (W)
Sept. 30 at Minnesota (W)
Oct. 7 Michigan State (W)
Oct. 14 at Penn State (W)
Oct. 21 Iowa (W)
Oct. 28 Northwestern (W)
Nov. 4 Ball State (W)
Nov. 11 at Indiana (W)
Nov. 18 at Ohio State (L)

Goal

Big Ten Championship. That’s the goal every year for the Wolverines and 2006 is no different. If they win at Notre Dame on September 16, then the goal will be adjusted to “National Championship”. If they get by Penn State on October 14, the goal then morphs into, “Don’t blow it, don’t blow it, don’t blow it!”

Five Questions Looking For Answers

1. Can Chad Henne become a more accurate quarterback?

2. Can Michael Hart stay healthy this year?

3. Does Mario Manningham pass Steve Breaston by?

4. Will defensive tackle Alan Branch follow in Gabe Watson’s footsteps and sink four inches into the ground?

5. Will Prescott Burgess finally get to play safety this year?

Something To Look For

Steve Breaston, everywhere. Last season, Antonio Bass took over much of Breaston’s role as “gimmick back”. He took snaps at quarterback and was involved in several sweeps from the slot position. With Bass out for the season, look for Breaston to return to that role. When pressed to confirm Breaston’s new old role, Lloyd Carr responded, “Well, you never know what you’re going to see.” Which totally means I’m right.

Returning Starters

Six on offense, eight on defense, the kicker and the punter.

Best Player

Running back Michael Hart. When Hart is healthy, Michigan is a different team. When he’s not, they lack identity. Hart provides a calming influence via an executable game plan. When he’s in the game, the Wolverines can do anything. Hart is not only a gifted runner, he’s a terrific receiver and a very capable pass blocker. He’s the rock of the offense. When he’s out, the Wolverines are lost and appear to be just trying things in hopes that they’ll work.

Second Best Player

Defensive end LaMarr Woodley. Woodley finished fourth in the conference in tackles for loss last season with 14. His role on defense is to get into the backfield and cause disruptions. His seven sacks in 2005 are further evidence of that. He is also athletic enough to drop back and chase the ball down.

Best Chance For a Big Loss

At Notre Dame. Opening the season against Vanderbilt and Central Michigan doesn’t exactly prepare you for a trip to South Bend. Also, Michigan has lost three of the last four meetings, although all three losses were close. Oh, and add in the fact that Michigan hasn’t won their road opener since 1999 at Syracuse, and you have “the makings“.

Most Important Game

At Ohio State. Not only is it the best rivalry in all of sports, but it’s also like final exams in college--worth 25% of your grade. For Lloyd Carr, however, he may be working on a pass/fail situation if he goes 1-5.

Best Road Game To Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To

At Penn State. A trip to Happy Valley will always make you feel better about yourself. So if your kids come home and tell you that some of their classmates make fun of them because they aren’t up to speed on the latest stonewashed fashions, maybe a trip to Penn State will skyrocket their self-esteem.

Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated

They have to play on the road. Michigan hasn’t gone undefeated on the road since they shared a portion of Nebraska’s national championship in 1997. With road games at Notre Dame, Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State, that pattern looks to hold firm.

Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated

Talent. Frankly, Michigan is experienced and loaded. They have veterans at every position and young players knocking on the door right behind them.

Game They Shouldn't Lose But Could

At Minnesota. The Gophers lost a lot from last season, but they get Michigan at home. This game has been very close the last three years and this year could see more of the same.

Player People Are Expecting Too Much From

Receiver Mario Manningham. After Steve Breaston’s disappointing season last year and Mario Manningham’s promising debut, people have just assumed that Manningham is going to become the next great Wolverine receiver. He may very well be, but Manningham is just one piece of the puzzle. Chad Henne won’t have to rely on Manningham the way he did Braylon Edwards. Manningham will probably be the leading receiver, but don’t expect All-American numbers quite yet.

Player People Will Be Pleasantly Surprised By

Safety Jamar Adams. Adams is a big safety (6’2” 215) and is fast enough to stay with receivers. He has only eight starts in his career, but Lloyd Carr has mentioned that he believes Adams could become the next great safety at Michigan.

Game On The Schedule That Glen Mason Is Jealous That He Didn't Schedule

Ball State. Who wouldn’t love to have the Baltic Avenue of division I-A football teams on their schedule?

Something They Do Well

Defend the pass. Pass defense starts up front, and the Wolverines have a front four that can get to the quarterback. They have a great deal of experience in the secondary, and they are hopeful that they can find a complementary corner to fit next to Leon Hall.

Something They Don't Do So Well

Lose less than three games in a season. The last time Michigan finished a season with less than three losses was 1999 when they went 10-2. In fact, Lloyd Carr has only finished a season with less than three losses twice in his eleven seasons at Michigan (1997 and 1999).

What's Improved?

Henne’s accuracy. I’ll go out on a limb, so to speak, and say that Henne will have a more accurate arm this season. Attributing Chad Henne’s struggles last season to the lack of a running game, Carr feels Henne is ready to emerge. "Chad Henne is ready to take another step. I think at some point he'll be a great quarterback. He's got everything it takes to be a great quarterback." Although, now that I think about it, that doesn’t exactly sound like praise-heaping. Reading between the lines, it sounds more like “He’ll eventually be great, or at least you would think he would be...at some point...one day. Right?”

What's Gotten Worse?

Defensive temperament. With a new defensive coordinator in Ron English, it is expected that Michigan won’t be so relaxed on defense. There should be more attacking, and there are plenty of guys able to carry out these plans. Where Gabe Watson was lacking in effort, Alan Branch is not. Where Pat Massey was lacking in...everything, young guys like Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson will be an improvement. Carr is also high on the prospects of young defensive end Tim Jamison. There are plenty of weapons at English’s disposal.

Three Things Gleaned From The Media Guide

1. 39,650,705 fans have watched the Wolverines over the years at Michigan Stadium.

2. Lloyd Carr is 15-6 against Top 10 opponents, with three of those losses coming in bowl games. (The other three losses are to Ohio State, though he is 4-3 against the Buckeyes when they’re ranked in the Top 10.)

3. The Wolverines are the most televised team in college football history with 356 appearances. (Go tell your Notre Dame friends, it will eat them up.)

Targets for Ridicule in Upcoming Tip Sheets

Henne’s “accuracy”; Lloyd’s promises to Prescott Burgess; 1-4.

80's TV Show That This Team Reminds Me Of

The Golden Girls. Well, with those yellow “highlights” on the top of their helmets, it was a pretty easy choice. Lloyd Carr is almost as surly as Sophia and Chad Henne is almost as ripped as Dorothy. If Larry Harrison were still around, we could probably compare him to Blanche. And Tyler Ecker would make the perfect Rose.

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