Offseason Blogpoll Roundtable action on at Schembechler Hall... my contribution below.
1) It's early, but thus far, which offseason change or changes in college football are you most excited about?
You mean other than this?
I'm nigh-tingly with anticipation over the coming season because it appears to be the most wide open college football has been in recent memory. Last year's national championship race was all chalk -- USC and Texas started #1 and #2 and finished #2 and #1. That made for a great Rose Bowl but a dull season, one much like the two seasons before it. USC's recent dominance has been boring. For the first time in three years they don't enter the season as a prohibitive favorite for the national championship game.
In their stead? No one. Glorious, glorious no one. This year, you could pick any two of about fifteen teams and no one could call you insane. It's morning in college football again.
2) With spring practice underway, what are the three concerns about your team that are causing you the most anxiety? (USC fans can't just list the departures of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and LenDale White.)
3. Where have you gone, Ian Gold?
Last year was not a banner one for Michigan's outside linebackers. Then-sophomore Chris Graham was invisible all year. Then-junior Prescott Burgess alternated plays that showed off his impressive athleticism with boneheaded decisions. As a result, the run defense was horrible despite featuring three guys -- Branch, Watson, and Woodley -- on the DL who are going to play in the NFL for a long time. Granted, part of the problem was the gaping hole in the line named Pat Massey, but I don't have to worry about him any more. He graduated. Graham and Burgess return. They'll have to play much better for the defense to improve meaningfully.
2. The offensive line
...was repulsive. Jake Long's moved to left tackle, which makes me nervous about both tackles spots instead of just one. Career backup Mark Bihl has been thrust forward into the starting lineup as of right now -- a bad sign. The other problem areas on the team have new coaches, but the OL is still coached by Andy Moeller -- no wide-eyed hope in the new sheriff a la the defense. A lot can go wrong here.
1. Chad Henne.
It's not an exaggeration to say that if Chad Henne was even average last year, Michigan would have ended up at least 9-3. Games against Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were there for the taking if only Henne could have thrown to Jason Avant instead of Tacopants, Avant's imaginary eleven-foot-tall friend. Henne's shortcomings forced Michigan to become highly dependent on WR screens that opponents will have figured out in '06.
Tracking his progression over the course of the season's UFRs is somewhat encouraging -- Henne was magnificent against Ohio State in a losing effort -- but the preponderance of the evidence is frightening for Michigan fans. He's got to improve.
3) Care to take a stab at a preseason top five?
Not really, as an endeavor to do so will probably look silly by October, let alone January. Who's number one? Do you go with a team based around defense that returns two starters (Ohio State), a team down six first rounders (USC), a team starting either a redshirt or true freshman at QB (Texas), a team that has media-darling-flop written all over it (WVU), or a team whose sparkly helmets have the chattering class all-a-tizzy for not much of an actual reason (ND), or someone from the SEC meatgrinder? The Florida triumverate? FSU still features Jeff Bowden, Miami fired everyone except Coker, and Florida's quarterback is choosing which frilly sundress to wear to the debutantes' ball. Penn State? New QB, largely new lines on both sides of the ball, entirely new secondary. Michigan? 7-5 last year. Tennessee? Worse. The Pac-10 outside of USC? Riiiiight.
But I'm going to throw some darts anyway. A rough guideline:
- An experienced, non-sucky QB. I don't know if Henne fits in this category or not. Brady Quinn does; Troy Smith does. Drew Weatherford does not. I don't think Leak does, either, as he seems to be the exact wrong quarterback for Meyer's offense.
- Returning players who achieved non-mirage results. OSU and ND get punished here, since both offenses were greatly aided by a slate of terrible defenses. ND's defense was terrible; OSU's defense is gone. Texas ran rougshod over a meh Big 12 and that tall gazelle dude is gone. USC plays in the Pac 10. Etc.
- No units that can be considered huge red flags. The general theory is that if you have a major weakness you will get gutted by it at least once. Even USC's killer offense of killer doom couldn't keep USC's pass defense from costing it the Rose Bowl (and almost several other games).
- Wisconsin. Major failing on the last point, as the secondary was awful last year and is now featuring a converted safety "best known for his special teams contributions" as the nickelback. But... John Stocco went from one of the nation's worst quarterbacks to one of the most efficient (7th nationwide),. The defense returns eight starters and should get defensive ends Matt Shaugnessy and Jamal Cooper back from knee injuries. Mammoth, kickass LT Joe Thomas's ACL tear prevented him from escaping to the NFL. If the Badgers can replace, er, every skill position player, they should be excellent. So maybe not.
- Michigan. I know, I know. LLLLLoyd. Hear me out. Michigan played most of 2005 without its two best offensive players (Mike Hart and Jake Long), suffered through the nation's most difficult schedule, and lost only two players Michigan fans will miss even slightly next year (Gabe Watson and Jason Avant). Jim Herrmann and his mustache now ply their trade with the New York Jets. There are no red flag units; Henne has two years of experience; the roster should be significantly older and better; Michigan suffered outrageously at the hands of random chance a year ago. While they were (evidently) highly overrated to begin last year, chances are that they'll be underrated to start this one. This is the time to buy low. Caveat: @ ND, @ PSU, @ OSU.
1. er... LSU?
2. um... Oklahoma?
3. well... Ohio State?
4. pfft... USC?
5. uh... Wisconsin?