Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Michigan Wolverines [Print without images]

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Michigan predictions for 2014: No. 3

By Chantel Jennings

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.

Braxton Miller
In three starts against Michigan, Ohio State's Braxton Miller has five touchdown passes and four rushing TDs.
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.

Connor Cook, Brennen Beyer
Michigan State's Connor Cook got better as he gained experience last season.
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.

Michigan State
Ohio State
Michigan 2014 predictions: