Michigan starts the Big Ten portion of its schedule this weekend with a rivalry game they have dominated during the last quarter-century. The Wolverines are looking at Saturday’s meeting with Minnesota as a chance for a clean slate.
Since 1986, Minnesota has beaten Michigan once. The Gophers come to Ann Arbor with one of the top rushers in the nation in David Cobb and the second-most takeaways among FBS teams. Michigan remains a double-digit favorite, but Saturday might be Minnesota’s best chance to upset a reeling Wolverines team since its victory in 2005. Here are a few players who could play a big role in making sure that Michigan retains possession of the little brown jug Saturday:
LB Jake Ryan: The fifth-year senior is settling into his role in the middle of the defense after playing outside linebacker earlier in his career. He made a team-high 13 tackles in a 26-10 loss to Utah last week. He’ll get another chance to shine against a one-dimensional Gophers offense and a workhorse back like Cobb. Another double-digit tackle performance from Ryan could turn him into an all-conference candidate on a team that hasn't had many bright spots so far this season.
TE Jake Butt: Michigan coach Brady Hoke promised changes were coming to a dismal offense this week. One possible new direction could include a bigger role for his sophomore tight end. Butt is still climbing back toward full health after offseason ACL surgery. Hoke said he wants to use the big, versatile pass-catcher as much as his healing knee will allow. After three catches and a touchdown in a win over Miami (Ohio), Butt didn’t see much action last week. He should be getting closer to playing a full role and opening up some options for whoever winds up starting at quarterback.
WR Dennis Norfleet: Michigan’s return specialist and speedster in the passing game gave a passionate defense of his head coach earlier in the week. He has emerged as one of the team leaders in his junior year. Norfleet’s emotion, if he can translate it to the field, could help provide a big special-teams play to spark a Michigan team that will take points any way it can get them.