Michigan Wolverines football preview 2013: Best case, worst case, prediction

Photo: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the final week folks. The last of the film prep, the last endless drilling and the last of us predicting what will happen. It’s finally time to start reacting to games. Speaking of predicting, today’s two-a-days feature the participants of The Game. Yes, the highest profile rivalry in the Big Ten has been one sided since Jim Tressell stepped foot in Columbus but it didn’t help that Michigan went though an uncharacteristic down period under Rich Rodriguez. Michigan will be led by third year coach Brady Hoke and of course Urban Myer will be leading the Bucks after a slightly successful first campaign. Both squads have tons of returning talent, but aren’t without question marks. Let’s try and fill in some answers, starting with the Maize and Blue.

With solid play down the stretch at quarterback, Devin Gardner almost singlehandedly generates hype for Michigan. Joining him in the backfield is Fitzgerald Toussaint, who burst onto the scene in 2011 with a thousand yards, but struggled mightily in 2012 with just 514 rushing yards. Highly touted back Derrick Green provides depth at running back and the backfield again looks like a strength, even without Denard Robinson. The big question for this trio is who will block and who can stretch the field in the passing game. Taylor Lewan is a star and projects to be a high NFL draft pick, but one lineman cannot make the unit strong. Losing Roy Roundtree leaves the wideout position in question and only time will tell who can step up from a lot of promising prospects. If the line and receiving corp do not step up, there really isn’t much point in talking about the defense because the Wolverines will need point production if they want to make it to Indianapolis.

2013 Schedule

Central Michigan: 7-6 (4-4) – MAC (All records based on 2012 season)

Best Case: Pour it on, take out the starters, no injuries. 1-0

Worst Case: CMU rallied from a 2-5 (0-3) start to finish .500, make a bowl and then win in 2012. Maybe, just maybe, that stretch combined with a good off season will make this team a tougher opponent than the one who was crushed by Northern Illinois and Michigan State, but I still don’t see a win. 1-0

Prediction: In all fairness, before someone bombs me in the comments, I realize CMU beat my Hawks last year. Michigan may struggle this season against top defensive teams, but the Chips were 96th in points allowed last year. W: 38-7, 1-0

Notre Dame: 12-1 – Independent

Best Case: After last year’s 13-7 tight loss, Michigan makes an early season statement against the defending runner-up. 2-0

Worst Case: Notre Dame’s defense still forecasts to be amongst the elite. If Michigan’s new-look line isn’t up for the early test, it could spell trouble. 1-1

Prediction: Drama in South Bend, who could have guessed that? After a magical 2012 season, Golson fund himself in trouble, Tommy Rees is the starter again and who knows whom they are dating (that’s the one and possibly only shot I’ll take against the whole fake girlfriend story). Bottom line is despite all the talent the Irish return, I really don’t know what to make of them fully. I know Michigan has its own issues, but they seem a bit more dependable. Plus it’s a night game at the Big House. I smell an instant classic in this soon to be ending rivalry. W: 17-13 (late FG clinches it after Michigan eats up 4:25 seconds of game clock in the fourth), 2-0

Akron: 1-11 (0-8) – MAC

Best Case: You read that right, a winless MAC team. 3-0

Worst Case: Coach Bowden still has a long way to go before the Zips can compete with a Big Ten-caliber team. 3-0

Prediction: This game looks like a stinker on paper and will probably turn out to be one when it is finally played. W: 56-10, 3-0

At Connecticut: 5-7 (2-5) – Big East

Best Case: Remember when UConn made a BCS bowl? Yes it was this decade (2010). That Paul Pasqualoni hire has worked out real well. 4-0

Worst Case: It is a road game, but UConn was 121st in rushing and 121st in scoring. They just look bad, and I don’t like where this program is headed at all. 4-0

Prediction: This would be a really good basketball game, but it’s not, it’s going to be a boring football game. W: 31-10, 4-0

Minnesota: 6-7 (2-5) – Big Ten

Best Case: If a team has won the trophy three times since 1831, is it still a rivalry game? Hang on, that doesn’t sound right. I’m sure a Minnesota fan will correct me. 5-0

Worst Case: Michigan had no trouble in this one last season, winning 35-13 on the road. I actually think Minnesota overachieved last year and will take a bit of a step back. I’ll take Michigan even in their worst case scenario. 5-0

Prediction: Minnesota was dreadful on the road a year ago, going just 2-5 away from TCF Bank Stadium. One of those wins was Illinois and the other was UNLV (a game that needed three OTs). What was Illinois and UNLV combined last year? 4-21. Bang that cowbell and yell Go Blue, the little brown jug is staying at the U. Wouldn’t that have been awesome if Michigan was known as the U and that little ditty was intact? W: 35-14, 5-0 (1-0)

At Penn State: 8-4 (6-2) – Big Ten

Best Case: Penn State has questions at quarterback and lost several key performers on defense. Huge road win and Michigan enters the top 10 (if they hadn’t already). 6-0

Worst Case: In their first true road trip of the year the young offensive line struggles with noise all day. A stunning upset after the undefeated start makes Michigan fans worried about their other tough tests in the back-loaded schedule. 5-1

Prediction: I have Penn State upsetting Nebraska to spoil their national title hopes, but one reason PSU does it is they learn from this brutal defeat. Michigan slips by, maybe in overtime, in what looks like a bout between two very even teams. W: 24-21, 6-0 (2-0)

Indiana: 4-8 (2-6) – Big Ten

Best Case: Indiana’s D was a big reason the Hoosiers failed to make a bowl game last season. In one ugly outing they gave up 62 points to Wisconsin. Michigan could drop the hammer on them. 7-0

Worst Case: IU is improved and keeps this closer than the experts think, but Michigan ultimately gets a bounce back win. 6-1

Prediction: Michigan’s offense is clicking by midseason and Indiana’s defense, while improved, isn’t up to the task in this one. W: 42-21, 7-0 (3-0)

At Michigan State: 7-6 (3-5) – Big Ten

Best Case: A big road win against a rival puts Michigan in great shape for a BCS title berth if they can finish strong. 8-0

Worst Case: Michigan barely won this a year ago (12-10) and MSU expects to be improved offensively, even without Le’veon Bell. 6-2

Prediction: Michigan makes things very interesting for one more week as they finish off a pesky Spartan squad late, setting up a huge game for the division title hopes next week. W: 17-16 (3 FGs by MSU), 8-0 (4-0)

Nebraska: 10-4 (7-1) – Big Ten

Best Case: Nebraska comes in with a loss to Northwestern, a little banged up and feeling the season slipping away. Michigan on the other hand is riding high with confidence and dominates the Huskers en route to a No. 2-ranking. 9-0

Worst Case: Nebraska’s single best game a year ago was its 23-9 win over Michigan. Maybe it is Nebraska who smells the BCS title game, or at least Roses, and duplicates that performance. 6-3

Prediction: Nebraska’s offense looks stacked and Michigan does have more unknowns than the Huskers. Perhaps the O-line has actually over achieved, despite the start, and gets exposed down the stretch. Perhaps the thin Wolverines see Gardner go down late against physical Michigan State and have no answer the next week. Too many issues with UM have me leaning towards Nebraska in a big road win. L: 28-24, 8-1 (4-1)

At Northwestern: 10-3 (5-3) – Big Ten

Best Case: Northwestern is in a house of horrors season where everything has gone wrong early and now late in the year they are battling injuries. Michigan meanwhile is just warming up as they rise to the task of a tough final five-game stretch. 10-0

Worst Case: Northwestern has a history of upsetting Michigan; especially in seasons they win a Big Ten title. Northwestern has title aspirations and based on the returning backfield, it is warranted. 6-4

Prediction: I said in NU’s preview they were capable of winning this game three, maybe even four times out of 10. That leaves Michigan with 6-or-7 victories in a close game on paper. Michigan will win on the strength of their front seven slowing NU down just enough. Throw in a bit more athleticism for the boys from Ann Arbor and maybe even help from the zebras and you get Michigan eking one out. W: 28-21, 9-1 (5-1)

At Iowa: 4-8 (2-6) – Big Ten

Best Case: Iowa is bad again and the usual Kinnick crowd has better things to do, like get ready for wrestling season. 11-0

Worst Case: Iowa is an improved team, heading towards a nine win campaign. Michigan meanwhile wants a season of disappointment to just end and tunes this one out. 6-5

Prediction: This is a great opportunity for Iowa to catch Michigan napping. They will have just played three tough games in a row and then have their arch rival the following week. It doesn’t take an active imagination to see Michigan sleepwalking through three quarters in this one and then having their rally fall short. It is possible, but not probable, especially for prediction purposes this far out. W: 28-14, 10-1 (6-1)

Ohio State: 12-0 (8-0) – Big Ten

Best Case: OSU is in the middle of another NCAA investigation and about to be given the death penalty. Meanwhile Michigan is awarded a medal by the NCAA for being “one hundred percent clean for over one hundred years.” This award is of course given at half time of this game with Michigan already up 42-0. Michigan punches their ticket to Indy and is one game away from a national title. 12-0

Worst Case: OSU is half as good as the hype and Michigan fails to live up to any of their off-season promise. They keep it close since it’s The Game, but the Wolverines eventually fall. 6-6

Prediction: I have Nebraska winning the division with a 7-1 record, thanks to a tiebreaker over Michigan, meaning this one doesn’t matter for a trip to Indianapolis. I think playing without that pressure might help Michigan come out relaxed and focused. The problem with that is this is Ohio State and Michigan. Both teams could be 1-10 and they will feel like there is a national title on the line. With that in mind, I’ll take the more experienced QB, Braxton Miller, to lead his team to a slim victory. L: 31-24, 10-2 (6-2)

Final Thoughts

With that record and two tight losses, could Michigan still make a BCS bowl? Well it is possible, but more than likely they’ll get to play in a very nice New Year’s Day game, most likely the Capital One (aka Alec Baldwin Ad Campaign) Bowl. It might leave them with a bitter taste, but considering this schedule lacks Purdue and Illinois, has road trips to PSU, MSU and Northwestern, I’d take ten wins in a heartbeat. The Big Ten may not be 100% healthy with the Lions still on probation, but it looks to be improved in 2012 and with that in mind a chance for an 11th win in a prestigious bowl is a pretty good consolation prize.