ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Game still might be more than four months away and the start of the season still more than a month from beginning to take shape, but both Michigan and Ohio State always have at least bit of their focus on, well, each other.
So will we. Without knowing how things will play out over the course of camp and in the season, here’s a quick look at what could be some strengths and weaknesses for the Wolverines at the end of November.
The back seven
By the time Michigan faces Ohio State in the regular season finale, star linebacker Jake Ryan should be back from his ACL injury and actually in form, if he hits the October return timetable Brady Hoke continually has mentioned for him. Adding him to an experienced and talented secondary and a deep linebacking corps could prove problematic for Ohio State's offense, led by quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller played well as a freshman against Michigan and beat the Wolverines as a sophomore, so this could be the biggest matchup to watch.
Miller could end up as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Michigan back seven could have a large say whether or not he ends up taking home the stiff-armed trophy.
What is potential with some production now could become the league's best quarterback-to-receiver combination by the time these two teams play in the fall. Receiver Jeremy Gallon had six catches for 67 yards against Ohio State last season, and Devin Gardner was 11-of-20 for 171 yards, a touchdown and an interception. All of that was done with a somewhat odd game plan which had an injured Denard Robinson, unable to throw, lining up at quarterback intermittently.
Robinson is in the NFL, and while Michigan's receiving options other than Gallon are vast unknowns at this point, Gardner-to-Gallon should be as reliable as it can get in college football this season.
While there is some reason for optimism in Michigan's run game by the end of the season between fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint and freshman Derrick Green, there are way too many issues here between the questions at running back and the interior of the offensive line, which will feature three new, yet talented, starters. If even one of those things doesn't go completely well, it could be some major issues for the Wolverines this season.
Why? Michigan long has said it would like to have a run-based, pro-style offensive game plan. Without a run game from a running back, well, Michigan tried that last season with varying levels of success.
Getting run over
This isn't a knock on the Michigan front four, just more of the same questions. Ohio State's offensive line might end up as the best in the Big Ten this season, led by a dominant left side with tackle Jack Mewhort and guard Andrew Norwell. Expect the Buckeyes, with Miller and Carlos Hyde, among others, to try and run toward the left side over and over again.
Again, Michigan has potential and youth on the line, but there is a question at essentially every spot on the front four. Can Quinton Washington turn into a leader and be productive when dealing with double teams? Will Frank Clark play to the hype from the spring during the actual season? Does Michigan find strong rotation players and starters at the strong side end and defensive tackle spots? Until these questions are answered, Ohio State could do well by running right at the Wolverines’ line.