- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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There’s quite a bit we’ve already learned about Michigan through this 2014 spring season and the scrimmage will reveal even more. However, this spring really only matters because it’s a launching point for what happens next season, and it’s important to keep that in mind with everything that’s talked about this spring. So, to look forward to next fall, here are five predictions for Michigan football in 2014.
No. 3: Michigan will lose (in close games) to both Michigan State and Ohio State.
Why: We didn’t say every prediction was going to be a thrilling one, so here’s the first reality check of the fall predictions. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, losing to both of a team’s biggest rivals in a single season. But it’s a prediction that seems quite likely. The Michigan State game shouldn’t be quite as lopsided as it was in 2013 and the Ohio State game will likely be another shootout, but they both appear likely to end in defeat.
For starters, the Wolverines are on the road in both of these games. Brady Hoke has yet to win in either of those venues during his tenure. Last season, Michigan lost in East Lansing 29-6. In 2012, the Wolverines traveled to Columbus and lost 26-21. And in Hoke’s first season, Michigan lost at Spartan Stadium 28-14.
Playing away from home is tough, especially for Michigan under Hoke, as the Wolverines are 7-13 away from Ann Arbor since 2011. Playing in a rival’s stadium is even tougher. Playing in a rivals’ stadium when both are coming off conference title game appearances makes it even tougher.
The Wolverines will also be facing teams that return most of their talent. Yes, Ohio State lost its top three in tackles from that game: linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive backs C.J. Barnett and Bradley Roby. But the Buckeyes' defensive line is deep and returns a lot of talent. Michigan’s biggest problem this season was getting past the line of scrimmage, and opponents proved that heavy pressure up front was generally too much for the Wolverines to handle.
Offensively, the Buckeyes lose leading rusher Carlos Hyde, but Braxton Miller comes back, and he's the main threat. Because of what Miller does and the lanes he can open for others, even an average runner can put up better than average numbers. And the Buckeyes are replacing talent with talent in Ezekiel Elliott.
Michigan State lost some crucial talent in Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis, Denicos Allen and Max Bullough. But the reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year, Shilique Calhoun, will return and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi seems to have Hoke’s number after last season. With a new offensive coordinator at Michigan, maybe things will change. On offense, the Spartans return quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford, as well as receiver weapons and most of its offensive line.
Timing is another factor. Michigan has a bye week before visiting the Spartans on Oct, 25, but that really will be the Wolverines’ first benchmark game of the season, other than the Notre Dame game in Week 2. The Spartans will have a road game at Oregon in Week 2, so they’ll have a marquee game under their belts.
Previous schedules matter slightly less when it comes to the Michigan-Ohio State game, as it's always the final game on the regular season schedule and theoretically, both teams should be playing to their potential by then. At that time in the season, the bigger factor is health. If both teams can remain healthy and if certain guys (such as Jake Butt) can return at full strength from injuries by then, that will be a big factor.
Statistically, let’s look at the areas in both of those games where the Wolverines struggled the most.
The Wolverines couldn’t move the ball and the Spartans consistently got to Devin Gardner. Calhoun is back and is a guy who will require double-teams, but that opens things up for other talented Spartans defensive linemen like Marcus Rush and linebackers Taiwan Jones and Ed Davis. Those four combined for 16 tackles (including seven for losses) and five sacks against Michigan.
Michigan didn’t disrupt Cook enough. Yes, he only completed 18 of 33 passes and threw one interception to his one touchdown, but remember that was his first big game as a starter. He has improved since then. Don’t doubt the difference that a Big Ten championship, Big Ten title game MVP and Rose Bowl championship can make in a quarterback’s confidence.
This was kind of a strange game. The Wolverines offense, after a season of struggles, managed to pull it together against a defense that had been quite stout. But then the Michigan defense was a total sieve and allowed the Buckeyes to rack up yards in every way possible. This game will likely be another shootout of sorts, with both teams returning offensive weapons. If Gardner can put up a similar performance, that would bode well for the Wolverines, and the same can be said of Miller and the Buckeyes. But at the end of the day, if this is a shootout, I’d put my money with the QB who’s more likely to be in the Heisman Trophy conversation at the end of the year: Miller.
Michigan 2014 predictions: