clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Jim Harbaugh's almost a sure thing, but Michigan's 2015 could go 2 ways

New, comments

Expect immediate improvement from the Wolverines, but a look at this schedule makes this season a wild toss-up.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Appalachian State 104 52-14 W 100% 61.1 100%
6-Sep at Notre Dame 34 0-31 L 9% -30.7 0%
13-Sep Miami (Ohio) 103 34-10 W 93% 34.1 100%
20-Sep Utah 29 10-26 L 31% -11.6 4%
27-Sep Minnesota 37 14-30 L 41% -5.2 10%
4-Oct at Rutgers 81 24-26 L 61% 6.5 60%
11-Oct Penn State 45 18-13 W 79% 19.0 83%
25-Oct at Michigan State 11 11-35 L 19% -20.2 0%
1-Nov Indiana 88 34-10 W 96% 39.8 100%
8-Nov at Northwestern 71 10-9 W 78% 17.8 89%
22-Nov Maryland 62 16-23 L 36% -8.2 13%
29-Nov at Ohio State 1 28-42 L 55% 2.7 4%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 26.3 82 19.6 18
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.74 118 IsoPPP+ 89.0 97
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.9 ACTUAL 26 +4.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 115 74 42 97
RUSHING 64 62 41 78
PASSING 112 84 48 99
Standard Downs 57 23 77
Passing Downs 111 91 118
Q1 Rk 49 1st Down Rk 62
Q2 Rk 70 2nd Down Rk 41
Q3 Rk 86 3rd Down Rk 111
Q4 Rk 52

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

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Devin Gardner
174 283 1896 10 15 61.5% 25 8.1% 5.6
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
Jake Rudock
(Iowa)
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
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
Devin Gardner QB
73 426 4 5.8 4.6 49.3% 5 3
Drake Johnson RB 6'0, 207 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8441 60 361 4 6.0 4.6 48.3% 1 0
Justice Hayes RB
48 213 0 4.4 3.2 39.6% 0 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







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Devin Funchess WR
100 62 733 62.0% 32.5% 53.0% 7.3 -22 7.4 108.1
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
Justice Hayes RB
16 11 65 68.8% 5.2% 37.5% 4.1 -66 3.6 9.6
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

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 104.9 2.73 3.72 40.0% 71.9% 19.3% 98.1 7.1% 7.7%
Rank 50 94 24 55 32 67 72 107 72
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Jack Miller C
16
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
Joey Burzynski RG
2
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.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.74 9 IsoPPP+ 124.5 13
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 11.3 ACTUAL 10.0 -1.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 7 24 32 13
RUSHING 15 8 18 6
PASSING 19 45 59 33
Standard Downs 22 33 15
Passing Downs 34 41 30
Q1 Rk 11 1st Down Rk 21
Q2 Rk 21 2nd Down Rk 11
Q3 Rk 35 3rd Down Rk 20
Q4 Rk 35

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.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 121 2.52 2.82 32.7% 71.1% 24.1% 122.5 4.9% 12.2%
Rank 9 19 30 12 89 14 31 57 5
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Frank Clark DE
10 35.5 5.7% 13.5 4.5 0 2 0 0
Brennen Beyer DE
12 25.0 4.0% 7.5 5.5 0 0 0 0
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








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jake Ryan MLB
12 89.5 14.4% 14.0 2.0 1 3 2 0
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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Raymon Taylor CB
10 32.5 5.2% 1 0 0 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
Blake Countess NB
12 20.0 3.2% 0 0 0 3 0 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
Delonte Hollowell CB
12 13.0 2.1% 2 0 0 2 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Will Hagerup 53 42.9 9 6 16 41.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Matt Wile 52 63.0 24 0 46.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Matt Wile 28-28 10-11 90.9% 5-10 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
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
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 67
Field Goal Efficiency 52
Punt Return Efficiency 19
Kick Return Efficiency 118
Punt Efficiency 97
Kickoff Efficiency 30
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

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
3-Sep at Utah 39
12-Sep Oregon State 70
19-Sep UNLV 123
26-Sep BYU 45
3-Oct at Maryland 56
10-Oct Northwestern 62
17-Oct Michigan State 9
31-Oct at Minnesota 42
7-Nov Rutgers 79
14-Nov at Indiana 81
21-Nov at Penn State 37
28-Nov Ohio State 2
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?