Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Wolverines’

weber_mike_vsOklahoma_090917 (5) TOP UNITS

Ohio State running back Mike Weber

Each year Phil Steele releases his unit rankings in his College Football Preview and given that I write the Big Ten team previews, I thought what better time to share a little insight on the reason why the units are ranked where they are.

14. Illinois Fighting Illini – Mike Epstein was Illinois leading rusher when a leg injury ended his season after five games last year. Ra’Von Bonner is the power back, while Reggie Corbin is the slasher. Epstein is a combination of the two. All three must prove they can remain healthy in the physical Big Ten.

13. Iowa Hawkeyes – Iowa has to replace two 1,000 yard rushers this year and every tailback on the roster is an underclassmen. Toren Young started one game and has power at 220 pounds. Ivory Kelly-Martin saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman and is a good change-of-pace for Young. This is a vastly inexperienced unit.

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights – Jon Hilliman was added as a grad transfer after starting 29 games for Boston College. Despite being 225 pounds, Hilliman has good speed. Raheem Blackshear averaged 6.1 yards per carry as a true freshman last year and is quick and explosive.

11. Indiana Hoosiers – Morgan Ellison broke his left leg as a Sophomore and his right leg as a Junior in high school, which hurt his recruitment. He led the Hoosiers as true freshman last year with 704 yards and is naturally strong. Cole Gest provides the change of pace with great burst and explosion, while Mike Majette is a combination of the two.

10. Northwestern Wildcats – Northwestern is replacing their all-time leading rusher in 2018. Jeremy Larkin averaged 6.0 yards per carry last year and John Moten averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2016. Jesse Brown is similar in size to Larkin and provides track speed.

9. Purdue Boilermakers – Tario Fuller started the first three games in 2017 and averaged 6.1 yards per carry before an ankle injury ended his season. Markell Jones has rushed for over 500 yards in each of his three seasons and has excellent hands out of the backfield. DJ Knox returned from an ACL injury in 2016 to average 6.2 yards per carry in 2017.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers – If this list only pertained to the starting running back, then Minnesota would be ranked higher. Rodney Smith followed up his 1,000 yard season in 2016 with 977 yards last year, battling thru a couple of concussions. With Shannon Brooks sitting this season out due to injury, Mohamed Ibrahim, Dominik London, and Jonathan Femi-Cole provide quality depth.

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers – Just how deep is the Nebraska running back unit? So deep that Devine Ozigbo, who has led the Huskers in rushing each of the last two seasons, will likely have three others in front of him for 2018! Greg Bell is the newcomer that was a two-time Juco All-American, Tre Bryant began last year as the starter before a knee injury ended his season after two games, and Mikale Wilbon is a multiple back that is also a receiving option.

6. Maryland Terrapins – After rushing for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman, Ty Johnson was the focal point for many defenses in 2017 as Maryland was devastated at the QB position. Lorenzo Harrison is elusive and powerful, while Anthony McFarland is fully healed from a high school injury that resulted in him taking a redshirt last year and has sprinter speed.

5. Michigan State Spartans – LJ Scott would’ve likely been an NFL draft pick in 2018, but opted to return to East Lansing for his Senior season. He’s a 230 pound bruiser. Connor Heyward is the son of the late “Iron Head” Heyward and has tremendous explosiveness and great hands. Weston Bridges brings a change of pace and has great vision, but can also run through would be tacklers.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions – Miles Sanders will have the difficult task of replacing Saquan Barkley as the feature running back, but is similarly built and is also a great receiving threat. True freshman Ricky Slade was ranked as the No. 3 running back in the 2018 recruiting class and has elite acceleration. Mark Allen is the veteran of the unit and will be the change of pace running back.

3. Michigan Wolverines – Michigan still ranks this high even after the recent news that Kareem Walker has decided to transfer to Juco. Karan Higdon earned Third Team Big Ten honors last year that can run inside or bounce outside. Chris Evans averaged over five yards per carry in 2017 and is the fastest of the running backs. O’Maury Samuels has great stop-start ability, and Berkely Edwards was added as a grad transfer that has excellent quickness.

2. Wisconsin Badgers – While Wisconsin just may have the Heisman Trophy winner for 2018 in Jonathan Taylor, this list is about the entire unit, not just the starter. Backup Bradrick Shaw is coming off an ACL injury, Taiwan Deal is coming off an ankle injury, and Chris James was limited to nine games last year and injured his ankle during spring practices.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes – No team in the Big Ten has more talent at running back than Ohio State. It can be argued that JK Dobbins and Mike Weber, who each has ran for over 1,000 yards in season, are the best combination in the nation. Add a pair of very highly touted true freshman to the mix along with Demario McCall, who will also play the H-Back position and it’s easy to see why this unit is ranked where it is.

Lavert Hill

Michigan cornerback Lavert Hill

When Jim Harbaugh was hired to take over the Michigan program beginning with the 2015 season, the offense was expected to improve, but it’s the defensive backfield that has taken the biggest jump.

Noted college football prognosticator Phil Steele has his own set of pass defense rankings that take into effect more than just the standard statistics that the NCAA uses. His rankings are adjusted based on the strength or weakness of each passing attack. For example, last year Georgia allowed just 158 passing yards per game on 55 percent completions with 13 touchdowns allowed and 10 interceptions. That would be good enough to rank No. 2 according to the NCAA. However, under Steele’s more accurate rankings, Georgia finished No. 25 due to facing numerous week passing attacks.

Michigan’s best pass defense ranking per Steele’s formula from 1998-2014 was No. 17 in 2006. The year before Harbaugh’s arrival the Wolverines ranked No. 62. Michigan improved all the way up to No. 3 in 2015! After another No. 3 finish in 2016, Michigan had to replace their top five defensive backs into 2017 including two NFL draft picks. An expected drop in the rankings was to be expected, however the Wolverines only fell to No. 6.

Cornerback David Long and free safety Tyree Kinnel started all 13 games last year, while CB Lavert Hill and strong safety Josh Metellus started 12. Hill earned second team All-Conference honors. All four starters return this year, as well as cornerback Brandon Watson and strong safety J’Marick Woods, who both started one game.

Hill (first team) and Kinnel (third team) were named 2018 pre-season All-Conference by Steele. Hill is very natural and instinctive with natural man-to-man coverage technique. As if the Wolverines didn’t already have enough depth, Casey Hughes was added as a graduate transfer after starting 11 games for a Utah team that finished No. 5 in Steele’s rankings!

A consistent group with everyone returning while also adding another starting cornerback from a premier defensive back gives the Wolverines the edge when ranking the top defensive back unit into the 2018 season.


Michigan will have a new quarterback under center in 2018. Shea Patterson, a 6’3” 203 pound Junior, transferred from Ole Miss and has been granted eligibility for the upcoming season. Expectations are high, as noted college football guru Phil Steele placed Patterson on his All-Big Ten second team, despite not yet having thrown a pass in a Big Ten game.

Patterson earned high school All-American honors and Steele rated him the No. 2 overall high school quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class. Patterson graduated early and enrolled in Oxford in time for spring practices. In three games (all starts) he completed 55 percent of his throws for 880 yards with a 6-3 ratio as a true freshman. Patterson started the first seven games for Ole Miss last year and was leading the SEC in passing yards entering his final game of the season, versus LSU. Despite tearing his PCL in the first half vs the Tigers that would end his season, Patterson played nearly the entire game. For the season Patterson improved his completion percentage to 64 percent while throwing for 2,259 yards and a 17-9 ratio.

Patterson practiced with the Wolverines this spring after transferring over the winter. He has an extremely strong arm and while not a huge running threat, can extend plays with his feet. He has solid options to throw to in tight end Sean McKeon and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.

In 2015, head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season at the helm in Ann Arbor, Jake Rudock threw for 3,017 yards, meaning the Wolverines can produce through the air when they have the proper signal caller.

If healthy Patterson will have a realistic shot at breaking John Navarre’s single season school record of 3,311 passing yards, set in 2003. At the very least Patterson should become just the third Wolverine quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards in a season.

citrus bowl

These schools have met twice with Michigan winning the 2002 Outback bowl, 38-30 (-1) and the 2007 Capital One bowl, 41-35 (+11). The Wolverines are back in the post season for the fifth time in the last six years after missing out last year. Their last Citrus bowl appearance was a 45-17 (+3) loss to Tennessee in 2001. Head coach Jim Harbaugh was 1-1 SU/ATS in bowl games while the head coach at Stanford. Florida is bowling for the 24th time in the last 25 years. The Gators beat East Carolina, 28-20 (-7) in Last years Birmingham Bowl, despite being outgained 536-339. Head coach Jim McElwain was 1-0 SU/0-1 ATS as the head coach at Colorado State.

Florida returned just 11 starters and brought in a new head coach with new schemes. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier had the same role with Michigan last year. The Gators began the season 6-0 with redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier and a defense that McElwain claimed reminded him of Alabama when he was there from 2008-2011. Grier was then suspended (failed drug test) before the LSU game and Treon Harris took over. They lost to LSU, but won the rest of their regular season SEC games, despite poor quarterback play. Florida needed overtime to defeat a three win Florida Atlantic squad and then were embarrassed by Florida State before getting thumped in the SEC Championship game. The Gators only averaged 231 yards per game in their last three contests, but are No. 6 in the FBS on defense, holding their opponents to 111 yards per game less then their average.

Michigan had a home-run hire in Harbaugh and had 15 returning starters from  a 5-7 team. The players bought into Harbaugh’s intense antics. They lost their opener at Utah, but gained respect with their physical play. At 5-1 they were hosting eventual Big Ten Champion Michigan State and appeared to have the game won, but lost when their punter mishandled a last second snap and they lost a game they never trailed a second of in regulation. They then won four straight, but were embarrassed in “The Game” against arch-rival Ohio State. They are No. 4 in the FBS, holding their opponents to 116 yards per game less then their average.

Gainesville is only 112 miles away from this venue, but the Michigan faithful will travel well. Both teams feature average offenses, but top ten defenses. The Wolverines are better on special teams and Harbaugh has more experience as a head coach in big games. Since the loss of Senior nose tackle Ryan Glasgow, Michigan has given up over 300 yards rushing against Indiana and Ohio State. This should be a low scoring game.