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This one doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Michigan’s leading rusher from last season returns, and nothing that happened this off-season suggests that he will lose his mantle as Michigan’s top back. Unless a serious injury befalls him, it will be . . .
Prediction: De’Veon Smith, 870 yards
Last year I had Amara Darboh with 650 yards, and I was a little low with that yardage total. He also lost out late in the season to Jehu Chesson, who became a big-time deep threat down the stretch. There’s talk that Darboh is the #1 receiver and has stepped up this fall, but I don’t expect him to change much from his redshirt junior season to his redshirt senior year.
Prediction: Jehu Chesson, 900 yards
Hit the jump for the rest of the season predictions.
Middle linebacker is the standard pick for leading tackler unless there are questions about the depth chart. In this case, Ben Gedeon has to be The Man at middle linebacker. He won’t be setting records with his tackle totals, but I do expect him to lead in this category.
Prediction: Ben Gedeon, 80 tackles
Michigan’s leading sack artists last season were tackle/end hybrids Chris Wormley and Willie Henry with 6.5 each. I think that total goes up this year, but Henry is gone and Wormley will probably stay right about where he is. The guy who should lead the team in sacks this season is weakside end Taco Charlton, who has lost some weight and should be a little quicker.
Prediction: Taco Charlton, 9 sacks
Michigan’s move to more zone coverage should be helpful for the safeties to create turnovers. With good corners underneath, quarterbacks will have to try to force balls into tight windows, causing tips and overthrows. I think free safety Dymonte Thomas will be the biggest beneficiary.
Prediction: Dymonte Thomas, 4 interceptions
ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM
Prediction: Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson, Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill Peppers
Prediction: Jake Butt, Jourdan Lewis
LEADING SCORER (NON-KICKER)
Michigan used wide receiver Jehu Chesson in multiple ways last season, and he scored as a receiver, runner, and kick returner. I think that will continue this season, and he should have a big year.
Prediction: Jehu Chesson
BREAKOUT OFFENSIVE PLAYER
It’s difficult to pick a breakout offensive player, because everyone except Jake Rudock, A.J. Williams, Graham Glasgow, and the fullbacks return. I have a pretty good feeling that Wilton Speight will be the starting quarterback, and while I haven’t been high on him, any Jim Harbaugh quarterback has a good chance of becoming a standout player. If he’s the QB, I pick him. If it’s John O’Korn, I pick O’Korn. If it’s Uncle Rico, I pick him.
Prediction: The QB (Wilton Speight)
BREAKOUT DEFENSIVE PLAYER
The Wolverines need to replace all the linebackers, the weakside end, a safety, and Willie Henry on defense. I’m not sure that Rashan Gary will truly break out as a freshman since he’s a defensive lineman, though I think he will be good. I’m torn between weakside end Taco Charlton and free safety Dymonte Thomas. Both will play more, and both should flourish in this defense. Since I think Charlton kind of had a breakout last season (8.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks), I’ll pick Thomas.
Prediction: Dymonte Thomas
MOST DISAPPOINTING OFFENSIVE PLAYER
A huge onus is going to be placed on the offensive line this year, since it’s a very experienced unit. Left guard Ben Braden, right guard Kyle Kalis, and right tackle Erik Magnuson all return to their old positions, and left tackle Mason Cole moves to center. The one remaining spot (left tackle) should be filled by either sophomore Grant Newsome or freshman Ben Bredeson. Despite the inexperience at the blindside tackle, I think fans will be most disappointed in Kalis at right guard. I predicted him to be named Second Team All-Big Ten because it’s kind of a lifetime achievement award, but I think he has pretty much maxed out his potential. Five years after stealing a sure-fire star from Ohio State, Michigan fans might be left wanting more out of that deal.
Prediction: Kyle Kalis
MOST DISAPPOINTING DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Over the last ten years, it seems like Michigan fans are perennially disappointed by middle linebacker play. Except for Jake Ryan – who had some glitches at MIKE in 2014 – the likes of Obi Ezeh, Kenny Demens, Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan, etc. have all come in for lots of criticism. New middle linebacker Ben Gedeon came in with lots of promise, but he couldn’t beat out Bolden and has admittedly missed some plays that he should have made. The griping out middle linebackers won’t disappear until the next David Harris arrives, and I don’t think Gedeon is David Harris.
Prediction: Ben Gedeon
THE BIG FINISH
September 3 vs. Hawaii: WIN. Hawaii allowed 47 points to Cal, and they’re not going to score 21 against Michigan.
September 10 vs. Central Florida: WIN. They were terrible last year.
September 17 vs. Colorado: WIN. I can’t wait for all the replays of the 1994 game, but it’s unlikely to happen again.
September 24 vs. Penn State: WIN. Penn State has some good players, including a couple good running backs, but Michigan’s defense should be able to shut them down.
October 1 vs. Wisconsin: WIN. I was originally nervous about getting Wisconsin back on the schedule, because they’re a consistently tough team. But they lost their defensive coordinator, and the offense isn’t what it was under Bret Bielema and Gary Anderson.
October 8 at Rutgers: WIN. I actually think Rutgers is headed in the right direction with Chris Ash, but they won’t be a big threat this year.
October 22 vs. Illinois: WIN. I recently watched a replay of Illinois last year, and that was ugly. Again, I like the hire of Lovie Smith and think they’ll be well coached, but their recruiting has been pretty bad in recent years.
October 29 at Michigan State: WIN. The Spartans took a step back last year, and I don’t think they’re ready to take another step forward. They might have missed their window to be great, and they got pounded by Alabama. Michigan essentially had them beaten last year, even though the Wolverines didn’t play great.
November 5 vs. Maryland: WIN. I like the direction Maryland is going, but they won’t be able to run the ball and don’t have the quarterback play to be able to score points on a team like Michigan.
November 12 at Iowa: WIN. The Hawkeyes’ 2015 season was pretty magical when they went 12-2, surprising almost everyone. However, their record was better than their team as a whole, and I think they’ll come back to Earth. It won’t be an easy win, but it should be a victory for Michigan.
November 19 vs. Indiana: WIN. The Hoosiers seem to scare a lot of people every year, and Kevin Wilson is a great offensive coach. They rarely beat Michigan, though, and I don’t think it will happen this year, either.
November 26 at Ohio State: LOSS. Maybe the Buckeyes are just in my head, but I don’t see Michigan beating them at Ohio State. It’s a tough environment to play, and Urban Meyer – who lost a lot of talent from last year – will be building that team up all year. Meanwhile, Michigan starts with an experience advantage at the beginning of the year, and the only direction they can go is down if people start getting injured like they did last year.
Final record: 11-1
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