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1. This is going to be fun
The University of San Diego was 37-33 in the six seasons before Jim Harbaugh arrived; the Toreros went 7-4 in his first year, then 22-2 in the next two seasons.
Stanford was 16-40 in the five years before Harbaugh arrived. The Cardinal went 9-15 in his first two years, then 20-6 in the next two, winning the Orange Bowl and finishing in the top five of the AP poll for the first time in 70 years.
The San Francisco 49ers were 39-73 in the seven seasons before Harbaugh arrived. They went 44-19-1 in four years, reached the NFC Championship three times, and narrowly lost Super Bowl XLVII to Jim's brother, John.
Harbaugh is a weird dude who says baffling, Les Milesian things -- that they both played for Bo Schembechler probably isn't a coincidence -- and might be getting weirder with age. And no one is guaranteed success when taking on a new job. If previous history correlated with future success, the last two Michigan hires would have worked out.
But Harbaugh is as close to a sure thing as you can hire. In just 11 years, he has raised the standard at every stop. He hires hungry assistants, builds an ultra-competitive environment, and then wins. He has coaching in his bloodstream, and he's been successful just about everywhere.
Hell, the Oakland Raiders haven't had a winning season since he was their quarterbacks coach in 2002. As a volunteer assistant, he recruited a large number of players on his father Jack's 2002 FCS championship Western Kentucky team. He almost reached the Super Bowl at age 32 with the Indianapolis Colts. He beat No. 1 Miami in his first start as a Michigan sophomore in 1984, then came back from injury and went 21-3-1 in 1985-86.
Sometimes it takes a year. Sometimes it takes a couple. But he has won as a head coach in three completely different environments, and it feels like more of a "when" than an "if" when talking about his prospects of winning at Michigan.
So ... when then?
You can spin your answer in whichever direction you want. Look at that coaching staff (defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, Greg Mattison staying on as defensive line coach, etc.)! Look at the loaded stable of running backs! The offensive line is actually experienced! And look at all those defensive linemen! And that secondary adds Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons and blue-chipper Jabrill Peppers!
Alternately ... look at the F/+ progression chart below: one top-20 team in seven years. Look at that quarterback situation. Look at the defensive ends lost. And congratulations on having an experienced line -- not all experience is good experience.
Michigan projects in the mid-30s, and that sounds safe to me. I respect Harbaugh and his staff enough to assume they'll put a decent product on the field, and if they can establish competence at quarterback (a big if), there won't be any positions with glaring needs. But after a three-year slide, projecting immediate success is tenuous.
With eight opponents projected worse than 40th and the two best teams on the schedule coming to Ann Arbor, assuming eight wins or so and a top-40 finish doesn't seem like a reach. With a shaky quarterback situation and no known go-to receiver, it would be foolish to expect more, but improvement is improvement, and Harbaugh should deliver.
And considering the personality he should do so with, this will be an entertaining fall of manball.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 7-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 54|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|6-Sep||at Notre Dame||34||0-31||L||9%||-30.7||0%|
|25-Oct||at Michigan State||11||11-35||L||19%||-20.2||0%|
|29-Nov||at Ohio State||1||28-42||L||55%||2.7||4%|
|Points Per Game||20.9||112||22.4||27|
2. Big plays bail you out (or don't)
Michigan wasn't far from being a good team in 2013. Going 3-4 in one-possession games meant the Wolverines were just a few plays from either 4-8 or 11-1, but despite a total collapse late, UM still ranked just 36th in the F/+ ratings. That's not good enough, but it's not a free fall. With a new offensive coordinator, there was hope for a bounceback in Brady Hoke's fourth year.
Michigan's good performances were excellent. The Wolverines three times played at a top-10 level (92nd percentile or higher) and played at a top-30 level (77th percentile or higher) two other times.
But that's five games in a 12-game schedule. And following each great performance, regression was not far behind. Dominate Appalachian State, then get crushed by Notre Dame. Play fine against Miami (Ohio), then no-show against Utah. Paste Indiana, then barely survive Northwestern and lose to Maryland.
Of course, the reasons for the sudden regression become clearer when you look at the opponents.
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ Top 40): 31% (record: 0-5)
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. rest): 78% (record: 5-2)
The Michigan offense didn't have many big plays. And with a sketchy line and a high-upside, low-downside (and eventually injured) quarterback, the Wolverines couldn't sustain drives against good defenses.
Michigan played eight games against teams with top-50 defenses according to Def. S&P+ and four teams that ranked 86th or worse. You would expect the Wolverines to do better against the lesser defenses, but the difference was stark.
- Michigan Offense (vs. Def. S&P+ top 50): 4.4 yards per play, 13.4 points per game
- Michigan Offense (vs. other defenses): 7.2 yards per play, 36 points per game
The defense fared well, sans the Rutgers, Michigan State, and Ohio State games, but the offense couldn't maintain any sort of efficiency against good defenses, and without big plays, the Wolverines found themselves either involved in a defensive slog or getting blown out.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.2%||82||Succ. Rt. +||108.5||36|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.6||80||Def. FP+||103.0||33|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||100||Redzone S&P+||104.2||56|
|Q1 Rk||49||1st Down Rk||62|
|Q2 Rk||70||2nd Down Rk||41|
|Q3 Rk||86||3rd Down Rk||111|
3. The Harbaugh Way
Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno was a 10-year assistant at Montana State, UNLV, San Jose State, and Idaho before connecting with Harbaugh at San Diego. He was the Toreros' offensive coordinator, then followed Harbaugh to Stanford (2007-10) and San Francisco (2011-13). After a year as USC's run game coordinator and OL coach, he reconnected. He doesn't have a ton of coordinator experience, but good things tend to happen when Harbaugh and Drevno work together.
Passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch was Al Golden's offensive coordinator for two years at Miami and led offenses that ranked 27th and 31st in Off. S&P+. Like Harbaugh and Drevno, he's got a unique mix of college and pro experience; his last five employers before Michigan: Denver (NFL), Minnesota (NCAA), Seattle (NFL), Miami (NCAA), and Jacksonville (NFL).
Running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley's last two: Syracuse (NCAA) and Buffalo (NFL). Tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh's: Oregon State (NCAA) and Baltimore (NFL).
Catching a trend?
Harbaugh crafted a staff in his own image, and the Harbaugh Way should eventually work.
So what is the Harbaugh Way? Allow Ian Boyd to explain.
He was the one who popularized the power-coast offense. He used that notoriety as a launching pad into the NFL, where he then helped bring collegiate pistol-option strategies into the pro game.
At heart, Harbaugh is a quarterbacks coach with a West Coast passing game. He relies on concepts with horizontal and vertical stretches to create clear reads for his signal caller. Many of these concepts require a great receiver at the Y position, but unlike at many programs, Harbaugh's system won't allow him to just move a good receiver inside.
Why? Because you can't go toe-to-toe with a loaded box if you put three or four receivers on the field. Harbaugh will use spread sets, but he'll always use tight ends, H-backs, fullbacks, or wingbacks so he can run the dang ball.
It would be easy to call the Harbaugh offense a "pro-style" attack and leave it at that. "Pro-style" has come to mean even more things than "spread" does. But Harbaugh's balance of power and space is unique, and he has helped to create a system that can do good things with or without an Andrew Luck.
That's good because, to put it lightly, he won't have an Andrew Luck in 2015.
SB Nation presents: The best of Jim Harbaugh since he took over at Michigan
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Shane Morris||6'3, 209||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9674||14||40||128||0||3||35.0%||1||2.4%||3.0|
|Wilton Speight||6'6, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8728|
|6'3, 208||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8560||213||345||2436||16||5||61.7%||18||5.0%||6.4|
|Zach Gentry||6'7, 230||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9228|
|Alex Malzone||6'2, 218||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8984|
4. Wanted: a quarterback
Shane Morris can still be saved. That he finished the spring as Michigan's No. 1 QB isn't an admission that the Wolverines are punting on 2015. Still, it's difficult to imagine how his first two years as a future golden boy could have gone much worse.
Morris has thrown a pass in eight college games. He completed at least 50 percent in three -- 4-for-6 against CMU, 3-for-5 against Appalachian State, and 24-for-38 against Kansas State. He went a combined 11-for-32 for 91 yards and two picks against Utah and Minnesota. His passer rating was 46.9, beyond dismal. He's known mostly as the guy who suffered a likely concussion against Minnesota but was kept in the game.
If Morris is able to lead an eight-win campaign, he will be the rare blue-chip underdog story. But he'll have to fend off a diverse cast to win the job. Jake Rudock is transferring in as the prototype high-floor guy from Iowa, and four-star true freshmen Zach Gentry and Alex Malzone are the direct opposite: all potential, no production. Rudock's presence will ensure competence, but we'll see how high the bar can be set after a few frustrating years.
|De'Veon Smith||RB||5'11, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9151||108||519||6||4.8||5.4||34.3%||0||0|
|Derrick Green||RB||5'11, 234||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9867||82||471||3||5.7||8.5||34.1%||0||0|
|Drake Johnson||RB||6'0, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8441||60||361||4||6.0||4.6||48.3%||1||0|
|Ty Isaac (USC)||RB||6'3, 225||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9732||40||236||2||5.9||6.0||42.5%||NR||NR|
|Dennis Norfleet||WR||5'7, 168||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9203||9||64||0||7.1||5.1||55.6%||2||0|
|Shane Morris||QB||6'3, 209||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9674||8||32||0||4.0||12.0||25.0%||3||2|
|Wyatt Shallman||FB||6'3, 244||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8953|
|Karan Higdon||RB||5'10, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8715|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Amara Darboh||WR||6'2, 216||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9150||67||36||473||53.7%||21.8%||47.8%||7.1||22||7.4||69.8|
|Jake Butt||TE||6'6, 248||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9258||29||21||211||72.4%||9.4%||72.4%||7.3||-37||6.7||31.1|
|Jehu Chesson||WR||6'3, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8650||24||14||154||58.3%||7.8%||62.5%||6.4||-19||6.5||22.7|
|Dennis Norfleet||WR||5'7, 168||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9203||22||15||111||68.2%||7.1%||86.4%||5.0||-68||6.0||16.4|
|Freddy Canteen||WR||6'1, 185||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8928||13||5||22||38.5%||4.2%||69.2%||1.7||-46||2.0||3.2|
|Joe Kerridge||FB||6'0, 249||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||7||6||53||85.7%||2.3%||85.7%||7.6||-16||5.1||7.8|
|Khalid Hill||TE||6'2, 252||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8575||7||4||37||57.1%||2.3%||57.1%||5.3||-12||5.3||5.5|
|A.J. Williams||TE||6'6, 285||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8934||6||4||33||66.7%||1.9%||50.0%||5.5||-15||5.5||4.9|
|De'Veon Smith||RB||5'11, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9151||5||3||26||60.0%||1.6%||60.0%||5.2||-11||5.0||3.8|
|Da'Mario Jones||WR||6'2, 199||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8510||2||1||11||50.0%||0.6%||50.0%||5.5||-2||6.3||1.6|
|Drake Harris||WR||6'4, 174||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9663|
|Ian Bunting||TE||6'7, 243||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8904|
|Chase Winovich||TE||6'3, 230||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8938|
|Maurice Ways||WR||6'4, 205||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8687|
|Brian Cole II||WR||6'2, 200||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9613|
|Tyrone Wheatley Jr.||TE||6'6, 260||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8953|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Graham Glasgow||C||6'6, 303||Sr.||NR||NR||24|
|Kyle Kalis||RG||6'5, 292||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9753||17|
|Mason Cole||LT||6'5, 287||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9408||12|
|Ben Braden||LG||6'6, 331||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8803||12|
|Erik Magnuson||RT||6'6, 296||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9594||11|
|Patrick Kugler||C||6'5, 297||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9696||0|
|Logan Tuley-Tillman||RT||6'7, 309||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9268||0|
|Blake Bars||LG||6'5, 281||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8646||0|
|Chris Fox||RG||6'6, 303||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9472||0|
|David Dawson||LG||6'4, 309||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9537||0|
|Dan Samuelson||RG||6'5, 289||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8755||0|
|Juwann Bushell-Beatty||RT||6'6, 319||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8887|
|Grant Newsome||OL||6'7, 280||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9074|
5. The line made strides
Ranking 118th in Adj. Line Yards, 111th in opportunity rate, 120th in power success rate, 126th in stuff rate, 112th in Adj. Sack Rate. Michigan's 2013 line stats were mind-blowing. With an All-American at left tackle (Taylor Lewan) and four- and five-stars filling nearly every spot, Michigan put together one of the worst line performances you'll ever see.
(For a good look at Michigan's collapse, check out this MGoBlog post.)
With new running backs and a new coordinator, the stats improved last fall, just in time for the passing game to collapse. The line started with just 34 career starts but improved to 50th in Adj. Line Yards and 72nd in Adj. Sack Rate. Considering the level of recruiting, this isn't great, but you can only improve so much in one year.
With Drevno and even more experience -- five guys with starting experience, 76 career starts -- one can assume more improvement.
And if the line can give backs De'Veon Smith, Derrick Green, Drake Johnson, and Ty Isaac open-field opportunities, last year's big-play issues may be history. Smith, Green, and Isaac (as a USC freshman) have all posted decent average yards per highlight opportunity (a carry that gain at least five yards); they just didn't get enough chances.
Even if Drake Johnson struggles to get up to speed following his late-season ACL injury, the trio gives Michigan three big, speedy backs with which to pound away, and in former four-star recruit Wyatt Shallman, the Wolverines have a potentially unique weapon to line up at fullback, H-back, etc.
They've got the requisite tight ends (Jake Butt, two others with experience, and a total of four former four-stars) and big receivers. If they have a solid line and a competent quarterback, the manball ethos should take shape.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.5%||44||Succ. Rt. +||108.9||35|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.0||42||Off. FP+||102.0||38|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||33||Redzone S&P+||110.9||28|
|Q1 Rk||11||1st Down Rk||21|
|Q2 Rk||21||2nd Down Rk||11|
|Q3 Rk||35||3rd Down Rk||20|
6. Lose a lot, return a lot
Michigan's offensive struggles prevented us from noticing how good the Wolverine defense was. They finished 18th in Def. S&P+ -- they ranked between 12th and 27th in all four years of the Hoke/Mattison era -- and did a nice job of stuffing the run on standard downs and attacking the passer on passing downs. There were glitches; if the pass rush didn't get to the quarterback on second- or third-and-long, said QB was finding an open receiver. Plus, short yardage wasn't a strength.
Still, this was a sound defense that prevented big plays and made stops in the red zone.
As I mentioned in this year's Maryland preview, you can come up with two drastically different perceptions by focusing on either who a unit returns or who it lost. The Wolverines must replace ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer (combined: 21 TFLs, 10 sacks), stalwart middle linebacker Jake Ryan (14 TFLs, four passes defensed), and solid DBs Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess.
Ryan was the quarterback, and Clark and Beyer provided the passing downs pressure that was so important. Regression possible!
Still, Michigan returns virtually everybody else. The Wolverines have one of the deepest sets of run-stuffing linemen in the league, they return four senior linebackers, and they add Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons and safety Jabrill Peppers (a former five-star who missed nine games) to an already experienced secondary.
And they added former Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin while retaining Greg Mattison, now the defensive line coach. They might have lost the heartbeat, but it would be a shock if this wasn't another top-30 defense.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mario Ojemudia||RUSH||6'3, 252||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9085||12||24.5||3.9%||7.5||3.5||0||1||0||0|
|Ryan Glasgow||NT||6'6, 303||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||12||17.0||2.7%||4.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Taco Charlton||DE||6'6, 273||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9366||12||16.5||2.7%||5.5||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Willie Henry||DT||6'2, 311||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8438||10||16.0||2.6%||5.5||3.0||1||0||0||0|
|Chris Wormley||DE||6'4, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9428||12||15.5||2.5%||5.0||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Matthew Godin||DT||6'6, 287||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8871||11||6.5||1.0%||1.5||1.0||1||0||0||0|
|Ondre Pipkins||NT||6'3, 317||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9707||6||5.5||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryan Mone||NT||6'4, 325||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9434||12||5.5||0.9%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Maurice Hurst Jr.||NT||6'2, 281||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9039||8||3.0||0.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Henry Poggi||DE||6'4, 273||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9419||6||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tom Strobel||DE||6'6, 268||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9249|
|Lawrence Marshall||RUSH||6'4, 241||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9250|
|Shelton Johnson||RUSH||6'5, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8867|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Joe Bolden||WLB||6'3, 232||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9622||12||78.5||12.6%||4.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Desmond Morgan (2013)||MLB||6'1, 236||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8300||13||59.5||8.5%||4.5||1.0||1||3||1||0|
|James Ross III||SLB||6'1, 232||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9473||12||25.5||4.1%||3.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ben Gedeon||MLB||6'3, 241||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9135||12||14.5||2.3%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Royce Jenkins-Stone||SLB||6'2, 240||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9385||12||5.0||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Allen Gant||SLB||6'2, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8488||11||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike McCray||MLB||6'4, 242||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9371||11||2.0||0.3%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
7. Plenty of components
Despite losing Clark and Beyer, Mattison still has plenty of toys. Ends Mario Ojemudia, Taco Charlton, and big Chris Wormley each recorded at least three sacks, as did man-mountain tackle Willie Henry. Michigan has size and proven play-making ability.
The linebacking corps already got some practice without Jake Ryan when he missed part of 2013 with a knee injury. Desmond Morgan was a strong contributor in 2013 but played in only one game last fall before injuring his arm. He was granted a fifth year of eligibility and joins a linebacking corps loaded with seniors. Morgan, Joe Bolden, and James Ross have experience, and while none has matched Ryan, this will be a solid unit. [Update: Bryan Mone is likely out for the season with a broken ankle.]
It's really damn hard to worry about the front seven.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jarrod Wilson||SS||6'2, 210||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9117||10||37.0||5.9%||1||0||0||2||1||0|
|Jourdan Lewis||CB||5'10, 176||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9453||12||33.5||5.4%||1.5||0||2||6||0||0|
|Dymonte Thomas||FS||6'2, 191||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9682||10||23.0||3.7%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Wayne Lyons (Stanford)||CB||6'1, 193||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9497||13||24.0||3.6%||0||0||0||3||1||0|
|Delano Hill||SS||6'0, 204||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8953||7||17.0||2.7%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Jeremy Clark||FS||6'4, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8700||12||14.0||2.3%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Jabrill Peppers||FS||6'1, 205||RSFr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9992||3||7.0||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Channing Stribling||CB||6'2, 178||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8625||10||6.5||1.0%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Terry Richardson||CB||5'9, 174||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9385|
|Ross Taylor-Douglas||CB||5'10, 186||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8811|
|Reon Dawson||CB||6'2, 178||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8494|
|Brandon Watson||FS||5'11, 189||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8513|
|Tyree Kinnel||FS||5'11, 200||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9180|
8. Experience and extra pieces
The secondary was the weak link. Opponents completed 60 percent of their passes despite a solid pass rush, and Michigan defenders picked off five passes all year, only three against non-Northwestern teams. The unit was decent at preventing big plays, but it was passive.
That probably won't stand with Durkin, who coached one of the nation's most disruptive secondaries in Gainesville. He will likely put corner Jourdan Lewis into position to make more plays -- he was easily the most aggressive DB, defensing eight passes and recording 40 percent of Michigan's picks. Plus, he'll have a couple of new options.
Stanford's Lyons, once a Harbaugh recruit, ended up in Ann Arbor as a graduate transfer, and a full season of Peppers could be exciting. He played in only three games last year and took a redshirt, but he might already be Michigan's best defensive player ... at least as long as he's well-fed. With Lyons and Peppers joining a unit that was already stocked with experience, it's damn hard to worry about the secondary, too.
|Dennis Norfleet||KR||5'7, 168||Sr.||19||23.1||0|
|Dennis Norfleet||PR||5'7, 168||Sr.||10||3.8||0|
|Amara Darboh||PR||6'2, 216||Jr.||2||6.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||67|
|Field Goal Efficiency||52|
|Punt Return Efficiency||19|
|Kick Return Efficiency||118|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||106|
9. New legs
Michigan broke even on special teams, with hit-and-miss returns, strong kickoffs, and iffy punt coverage.
Special teams were a Harbaugh specialty at Stanford -- in his last three seasons in Palo Alto, the Cardinal ranked 38th, first, and 37th in special teams efficiency -- but he'll have new legs. That might work (you never know with college kickers), but you might want to give Michigan a special teams mulligan this year. [Update: Return man Dennis Norfleet has transferred.]
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|21-Nov||at Penn State||37|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||19.5% (29)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||14 / 11|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-16 / -10.5|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-2.3|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (8, 7)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||5.6 (-0.6)|
10. Get ready for close games
Barring some strange clash of egos on the coaching staff or a complete collapse of the pass rush, the Michigan defense is going to be somewhere between strong and tremendous. And with a more experienced line and competent quarterback (the competent Jake Rudock means the position shouldn't be a disaster), the offense should creep back into the Off. S&P+ top 60.
So even if the offense doesn't surge, this should again be a team that ranks in the mid-30s or so. Here's where I point out Michigan only faces two opponents projected better than 37th.
The schedule is volatile; the two best teams (Ohio State, Michigan State) come to Ann Arbor, and four of the five projected between 37th and 56th play host to the Wolverines. Michigan could end up going 0-2 against the former and 1-4 against the latter and struggle to make a bowl ... or could go 1-1 and 4-1 and play on January 1. This schedule should create a wide array of potential outcomes.
Harbaugh is probably going to win big in Michigan. He's done so basically everywhere. That the Wolverines have gone 20-18 over the last three years creates a grace period, but goodness, can you imagine the hype next offseason if Michigan gets some close-game fortune and goes 10-2 out of the gates?