Luke Waltons Forehead presented by the Sports Dude.

Friday, September 02, 2005 at 10:24 AM

AHHHHH.... YES!! Wolverine Football is back.

Can you smell it in the air? The brats, the dogs, the burgers on the grill, the smell of beer mixed with the scent of nachos. Oh, and the grass, can you smell the turf? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about baby – college football season is back, and it couldn’t be a moment too soon. So, here I am today to talk a little about college football, well, who am I kidding, I’m here to talk about my Wolverines. Is this the season that we, as Wolverine fans, have dreamed about since 1997, a serious shot at another National Championship? Or is it just another one of those “Could have been, should have been” seasons that we all have come accustomed to?

Look, for once I am not going to make any bold predictions, yes, shocking I know right? I have no fears about the offense, I can not see there being any fall off what so ever. I am not too sure that they deserve the #4 ranking, in fact it honestly shocked the hell out of me! I think somewhere, in my honest opinion that anywhere from #9 to #12 would have been more justified. But, it is the “reputation” that is Michigan football sometimes, I feel, that gets them these damn rankings. That as well as the combination that you know the pollsters love to see Michigan fall, so they figured start them high and watch them drop like flies! So, let’s take a quick look at a few areas, what they have and what I expect it will all mean for them this season.

OFFENSE:

Chad Henne should be better than last year, and I believe he will be, simply because he knows more of the offense now. He was even quoted as saying that last year, at best; he only knew 50% of the offense, mostly because he was a freshman rushed into a starting role. But, having an entire off season to prepare, study and watch film, he knows more now, has a better grasp of possible audibles to call and what defenses to look for.

Michael Hart will again be the featured back in a back field that, on paper, is the deepest and most talented bunch I have seen in a long time. If for some strange reason Hart hits a sophomore slump (which I highly doubt!) we saw enough of Max Martin (another sophomore) last season to know that he is no slouch either and could easily be a starter on any other team. Lastly, there is this highly touted, built like a truck running back by the name of Kevin Grady Jr. just waiting to get in there and show everybody what he can do.

Steve Breaston has to be the explosive cat that we saw in the Rose Bowl, not the often injured kid we saw during last years regular season. Jason Avant has the surest hands of any receiver on the team, is a great possession receiver and was dearly missed in last years Rose Bowl. With the loss off Braylon Edwards, those two should have ample opportunities to step up and between them help fill that void. There will be more balls to spread around this year without a true #1, so Henne should have his pick and the pickings all look pretty good to me. Throw in as a #3 receiver junior Carl Tabb, who has shown small flashes in limited playing time, as well as sophomore Adrian Arrington (whom Carr has said turned some heads this spring) and freshmen Antonio Bass and Doug Dutch, both of whom are highly touted young players. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, the two talented and big targets at tight end, senior Tim Massaquoi and junior Tyler Ecker.

The offensive line should eventually be steady, but for the first few games may look shaky while they learn to play together. Center David Baas will not be easy to replace, but again U of M always seems to have a strange amount of depth when it comes to the hogs up front. Seniors Matt Lentz and Adam Stenavich return to help anchor the line and open holes up front for the Wolverines stacked and talented back field. The sooner they gel the better for the Wolverines, because Henne will still need time to let plays develop down field for his receivers. Juniors Mike Kolodziel, Rueben Riley, senior Leo Henige, and sophomore Adam Kraus help round out the front five in some shape or form. Again, I expect Lloyd Carr to use the non-conference schedule as a sort of tinkering period, much like last year, until he finds five bodies he is comfortable with for the coming Big Ten season. The loss of talented Jake Long due to injury for an unspecified amount of time was a huge hit, but the depth U of M has seems to at least, for the moment, help them until he returns.

DEFENSE:

The big fella, senior Gabe Watson, anchors a strong defensive line with fellow senior Pat Massey and versatile and talented junior Lamaar Woodley. There biggest task this year is to not only finally put some pressure on opposing QB’s, but to not allow the running QB’s the Wolverines face to break containment. What we saw in the Rose Bowl and what we saw in the season finale last year against Ohio State, plus against MSU, can not be allowed to happen again this year. Yes the offense should be able to put up big numbers this year, but guys, you still got to play some defense.

The linebackers feature some familiar names in senior Scott McClintock and junior Pierre Woods, who both have to step up and help this defense erase the embarrassing games that I mentioned above. The secondary lost two key members, Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor, but returning starter Leon Hall has turned heads at cornerback this spring. Some other names to mention are juniors Willis Barringer, Ryan Mundy, seniors Grant Mason and Darnell Hood, and promising sophomore Brandent Englemon. Again the depth in the secondary will help U of M overcome the losses, but these cats, as well as the rest of the defense as a whole, needs to go back to the basics and remember to wrap their men up and actually tackle some people for a change.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

I guess I should at least mention it because they are a part of the team as well. Adam Finley, who to me it seemed like has been U of M’s punter for the last decade, finally graduated and will be replaced by either freshman Zoltan Mesko or senior Ross Ryan. Junior place kicker Garrett Rivas returns this year, but his leg is suspect at anything beyond 40 yards it seems. However, he is steady and consistent within his range, so there really is not too much need for alarm there.

COACHES:

Look, I know there is always the contingent of Wolverine fans out there that want Lloyd Carr’s head on a platter either at the end of the season or somewhere along the way. But say what you want about him, last year was the best coaching job Carr ever had in all his seasons as head coach at U of M. How would you like to be faced with, on the eve of your season opener, losing your starting QB and only having a true freshman to turn to? All off season, all spring, you prep and game plan for Matt Gutierrez and lose him before he can even take a snap? Suddenly you are faced with a freshman, no matter how talented in high school, to lead your team on the field with maybe, at best, only knowing a minimal amount of your offense at the time? Then, after two games, you realize the senior running back you were counting on (David Underwood) was not going to get it done? So, you turn to another true freshman to help save the season? Talk about a coaching nightmare! Yes, Carr cost us that Notre Dame game last year because he refused to take the leash off of Henne, and yes I was pissed to say the least, like many a fan was. But you know what? He came out after that game, admitted he was at fault and realized that, like it or not, those freshmen were his only options so, sink or swim; he was going to have to let it fly with them. The end result? Eight straight victories before the embarrassment at Ohio State and, quite frankly, the most exciting bowl game I had seen in a long time at the Rose Bowl. Say what you want about Carr, but the job he did last year with what he faced speaks mountains, to me, about that man as a coach and a motivator for his team. Oh, and by the way, really enjoy him while he lasts because there is no clear successor in the wings and he is not exactly a spring chicken anymore. Lastly, don’t forget this, he did something Bo was never able to do, win a National Championship. Frustrated or not with him, he is a great coach and should be remember that way.

The defensive coach, on the other hand, is the one I have the beef with. For how many years now have we been screaming about Jim Herrmann's inability to come up with a scheme to defend a running QB? Like above mentioned punter Adam Finley, it seems like forever and a day now! What the hell happened to him after the 1997 National Championship season, when many said it was his defense that won the damn thing for us! Also, not to scare any of you U of M fans out there, but there was a time when he was considered the likely successor to Carr. His defense has been spotty, full of holes and confused looking at times the past few years. Yes, the players are the ones that need to remember to actually tackle opposing players, I understand that, but how about game planning? Preparation? Putting in the right players, calling the right plays, at the right times? And coming up with a freaking scheme that can stop the Drew Stanton’s, the Michael Young’s, and the Troy Smiths of the world? If he even let’s any of those guys, the ones we face that is, have big games against us this year I am sorry, it is time that he goes. The heat is on him more this season than any other coach, crap even any other player, on that team and rightfully so. It is time to play some damn defense this year guys and it starts with the coach first and foremost.

CONCLUSION:

Look, I refuse to make a numbers prediction as far as how many wins and how many losses; I really can’t do that this year. The #4 ranking, to me, is way too high and it still boggles my mind. The offense is not the question mark here, it is that defense that I saw too many times last year (please see Rose Bowl, Ohio State and MSU game tapes for reference) that scares the hell out of me. I will say this, there is no reason they don’t go into the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin 3-0 and, after that, all bets are off. Northern Illinois, a bowl team last year itself, is not exactly a “cream puff” opener, but the Wolverines should be able to find a way to win. However, I don’t expect a blowout and that will probably drop them in the polls because that is just how it works. Notre Dame should be easier this year to handle, seeing how it is at home and Carr probably won’t have Henne on a leash again this year, followed by Eastern Michigan who, well, let’s just say they are just “happy to be in the Big House”.

After that 3-0 (the only concrete prediction you are getting from me!) the rest of the season is up in there air and I can not get an honest read on it. All I will say is this, damn the schedule makers if they didn’t want to torture U of M a little this year, don’t you think? Start off with Wisconsin on the road, a night game none the less and therefore one of Carr’s favorite things in the world (note the sarcasm in my voice!), followed by MSU on the road. Crap, that is one hell of a way to kick off the Big Ten season if you ask me, what do you think? Here is where I make my bold prediction, if U of M survives those two games they go undefeated in the Big Ten. Yes, you heard it here first folks, those two games will be enough of a confidence boost to get the Wolverines through the rest of the season. The only other game, after that, is Iowa on the road, but by surviving those two games? Come on, you really think U of M will be bothered by that? Something tells me probably not. Look, U of M has the toughest schedule in the Big Ten this year; Wisconsin, Iowa and MSU are all on the road. If they survive that schedule, maybe even with a loss to Iowa, they better damn well be in the hunt for the National Championship at the end of the year. But to guarantee it they need to go undefeated in the Big Ten which will be no easy task because it is the toughest conference in college football this season, hands down.

Well, the novel is over, the season is about too begin and I for one am geeked as ever! Hail to the Victors baby, let the football begin! Later – the sports dude.

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