Game Prediction: Nebraska-Michigan

The game Saturday between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Michigan Wolverines will be the Big 10 conference opener for both teams. But at this moment, the seasons are heading in opposite directions of these storied programs.

Michigan, after a season-opening loss to Notre Dame, has seemed to right the ship for the time being with monster wins over Western Michigan and SMU. They beat the Broncos 49-3 for their first win of the year and then beat the Mustangs 45-20 to start a now two game winning streak.

Nebraska, after bringing in former quarterback Scott Frost (sound familiar Wolverine fans?) to lead the program, has started off 0-2. Their season opener against MAC foe Akron was cancelled due to the weather. They then officially opened the season with a home game against Colorado where they lost 33-28 after leading 28-27 heading into the fourth quarter.

The real shocker so far this season for Nebraska was in their last game when they lost at home to Troy 24-19. While Frost, and most fans, didn’t expect this year to be the year that the program would turn it around, they also didn’t expect a loss to Troy.

This is the first time since 1957 that the Cornhuskers have started a season 0-2.

Nebraska also has some concerning injury news to deal with heading into Saturday. Freshman QB Adrian Martinez didn’t play in the loss versus Troy after having a really solid outing against the Buffaloes. He was a crisp 15-20 for 187 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His biggest impact, however, came on the ground where he rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts.

His backup, sophomore Andrew Bunch, didn’t play bad against the Trojans, but didn’t that good either. He completed 19 passes on 27 throws for 177 yards and two TDs. But he also threw two interceptions, the second coming with Nebraska trailing by five with just over two minutes to play in the game.

The quarterback situation at Michigan has to please Jim Harbaugh after a rocky start to the season. After his average showing against the Fighting Irish in the season opener, Shea Patterson has shown what all the hype was about coming into the year.

Over the last two games, Patterson has went 26-35 for 362 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. While he put up those stats against inferior opponents, it still has to instill confidence in the coaching staff and fan base that they found a QB that can keep them in games. He may have also found a favorite target.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, a former five-star recruit, has started to live up to that ranking. Over the last two games DPJ has caught eight passes for 121 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those four TDs came against SMU.

Michigan though, like Nebraska, has an injury to deal with on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Karan Higdon, who went off versus Western Michigan to the tune of 156 yards and two TDs, missed the last game against SMU. He is also questionable to play this Saturday. But the maize and blue have some very capable backs behind him on the depth chart.

Juniors Chris Evans and Tru Wilson carried the ground game for the Wolverines in Higdon’s absence. Evans rushed for 85 yards on 18 carries while Wilson had 53 yards and a touchdown on eleven carries.

With all that being said, it’s now time for the prediction.

Michigan is riding that two game winning streak while Nebraska has lost six straight games dating back to last season. Their last victory came October 28, 2017 against Purdue. They are looking to break that streak and get Frost his first win at his alma mater.

But I believe Michigan’s defense will be too stout against this Nebraska offense. Patterson and the offense are beginning to click and should continue to gel versus the Cornhuskers. The current line is sitting at minus-18 for the Wolverines. While I don’t think they will cover, they should win this one handily.

Michigan 37, Nebraska 20.

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Game Prediction: SMU-Michigan

This Saturday, SMU travels to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan. This will mark the second ever meeting between the two schools. The first one came back in 1963 with U of M coming away victorious 27-16.

The tale of the tape for both of these squads are vastly different. Through two games, the Wolverines, sitting at 1-1, have averaged 33 points per game while giving up 13.5. The Mustangs, on the other hand, have only averaged 17.5 points while allowing 44 per contest and are currently 0-2 on the season.

Michigan is averaging 379 yards of total offense through their first two games. They are also holding their opponent to 255 total yards, which was lowered after only allowing 208 yards to Western Michigan in their 49-3 rout of the Broncos last week.

SMU, through their first two contests, is only averaging 249 yards of total offense while allowing opponents to rack up 461 yards per game. Both of their games have also not been competitive. They trailed North Texas 36-0 through three quarters before losing 46-23. In their game against the TCU Horned Frogs they actually led 9-0 after the first quarter before losing 42-12.

The Mustangs, if they want to compete in this one, will have to rely on the arm of junior quarterback Ben Hicks. Last year as a sophomore, Hicks threw for over 3,500 yards, 35 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions while leading SMU to a 7-6 record.

This year has been a different story so far. Hicks, through two games, has struggled mightily with his accuracy. He has completed only 48% of his passes (30-62) and thrown two touchdowns to one interception.

Besides Hicks, this SMU offense doesn’t have much going for them. Their leading rusher, senior running back Braeden West, has only 104 rushing yards on the season. The team as a whole is averaging only 67.5 yards per game on the ground.

As for the Michigan offense, after struggling in their season opener in South Bend, found their groove last week against the Broncos. Shea Patterson completed 70% of his passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns. He even threw two of those TDs to receivers (one to Nico Collins in the second quarter and another to Donovan Peoples-Jones in the third). Those were the first TD receptions by a Wolverine receiver since September 2017 against Cincinnati.

But the real juggernaut of the offense was Karan Higdon. He rushed 13 times for 156 yards and one touchdown. He could’ve easily topped the 200-yard mark had the game been close. The game being such a blowout paved the way for the depth chart to get carries from multiple faces.

Chris Evans, who only had two carries against Notre Dame, rushed ten times for 86 yards and two scores. Tru Wilson even got into the game and was productive. He toted the rock six times for 54 yards. The Wolverines as a team ran for 308 total yards on the ground and averaged 8.8 yards per attempt.

Now onto the prediction for this week. Michigan comes into this one as heavy favorites with the current line sitting with the Wolverines (-36). While I expect this one to be a blowout, I do believe the Mustangs will cover the spread.

This game should allow the U of M offense to continue to gel and get ready for their Big Ten opener next week against Nebraska. I believe Patterson will continue to improve and find more of a rapport with his receivers. The ground game behind the legs of Higdon and Evans should continue to churn out yards behind an offensive line that is still working out the kinks.

The defense, behind studs like Rashan Gary and Devin Bush, should eat up this SMU offense. I believe they will pressure Hicks into an interception or two and will bottle up the ground game.

Michigan 45, SMU 13.

 

 

Game Prediction: Western Michigan @ Michigan

Both the Michigan Wolverines and Western Michigan Broncos got off to an 0-1 start to the season last Saturday. U of M lost to Notre Dame, 24-17, while WMU lost to Syracuse, 55-42. That was not an outcome either team was hoping for to kickoff the 2018 college football campaign.

Michigan, who started the season ranked 14th in the AP poll, dropped to 21 after their loss in South Bend. While no team likes to lose, the one silver lining that the Wolverines can take away from their game against the Fighting Irish is that they outscored them 17-10 after falling behind 14-0 after the first quarter. They also out-gained Notre Dame, 307-302, in total offense.

The same can be said for Western Michigan. After falling behind 24-7 after the first quarter, they outscored the Orange 35-31 over the final three quarters. They also put up more yards than their opponent as they racked up 621 yards of total offense while their defense gave up 560.

Another similarity between the two teams is that they both turned it over twice in their openers while only forcing one. But that’s about where the similarity ends with these two squads.

Michigan came into 2018 with high expectations and lofty goals. While the game against Notre Dame didn’t help them move closer to those goals, the loss didn’t put an end to them either. U of M can still win a Big Ten title and make a run at the playoffs if they were to win out.

But if they want to accomplish those things, they will need both sides of the ball, especially the offense, to step up and improve before Big Ten play starts in a few weeks.

The first player they will need to see improvement from is quarterback Shea Patterson. In the season opener he completed 20 passes on 30 attempts for 227 yards. He also had two turnovers as he threw an interception and lost a fumble near the end of the game. While I know the offensive line was not very good and needs to improve as well, many were hoping that Patterson would be able to make plays regardless of the situation in front of him and that was not the case against the Fighting Irish.

The next player that needs to step up as the season progresses is senior running back Karan Higdon. He led the team last week with 72 rushing yards on 21 carries and also found pay dirt in the fourth quarter. But he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry and that will need to improve if this offense is going to be successful.

The final piece to this offensive puzzle, I believe, is Donovan Peoples-Jones. The sophomore wide receiver was highly touted coming out of high school and had a rather sub-par freshman season. Patterson needs play makers on the outside, especially with Tarik Black out for most of, if not all, the season and DPJ can be that guy. He caught six passes for 38 yards in the opener and that 6.3 yards per reception has got to be higher as the season advances.

But even the offense does improve, the defense will have to follow suit and show why they were so highly talked about before the season began. The vaunted front seven was gashed by the likes of Brandon Wimbush and the rest of Notre Dame for 132 rushing yards in the opener. Rashan Gary, Devin Bush and Co. will have to be a lot better against the run moving forward.

But anyway, onto the prediction for this week. Western Michigan’s defense, which surrendered 55 to Syracuse last week as I mentioned earlier, should be no match for Michigan’s offense despite their struggle.

The offense could possibly give Michigan’s defense some fits. They have a few weapons on the offensive side of the ball that could come out and have good games. Junior running back LeVante Bellamy ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries. Junior wideout D’Wayne Eskridge had an even bigger game. He had 240 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions on his way to being named MAC West Offensive Player of the Week.

But even with those offensive threats, I think Michigan should win this one handily. The current line is the Wolverines by 28 and I think it will be pretty close to that. U of M is 6-0 all-time against WMU and should easily improve to 7-0.

Michigan 45, Western Michigan 20.

Game Prediction: Michigan @ Notre Dame

Michigan and Notre Dame are two of the winningest programs in the history of college football. The first ever meeting between the two teams came all the way back in 1887 with Michigan prevailing. The latest game between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish came in 2014 with Notre Dame coming out victorious 31-0.

In that game, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner threw for 189 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Notre Dame QB Everett Golson, on the other hand, passed for 226 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

But a lot has changed since then. That was Brady Hoke’s last season in Ann Arbor as Jim Harbaugh was hired in 2015. U of M also changed athletic directors in that time with Warde Manuel replacing Dave Brandon. Both coach and AD were instrumental in renewing this storied rivalry after a three-year hiatus.

As for the upcoming game Saturday, both teams have high expectations heading into the 2018 season. Notre Dame is ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll while Michigan is ranked 14th.

I think there are two keys that will decide the winner Saturday in South Bend. The first is the play of the quarterbacks. While most would say that QBs are almost always instrumental in the success of their team, both of these squads will ride or die with the play of their signal caller throughout the season.

I’ll first start off by looking at Shea Patterson, the Ole Miss transfer, who was named Michigan’s starting quarterback by Harbaugh recently. Patterson, a junior, had mild success last year in the Southeastern Conference. In seven games (he missed the rest of the season due to a knee injury), he threw for 2,259 yards with a 64% completion percentage. He also threw for 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Not the greatest stats, but respectable in his conference.

Next comes Brandon Wimbush, the senior for Notre Dame. In 12 games last year, Wimbush passed for 1,870 yards while completing 49.5% of his throws. But he is also a threat on the ground as well. Last season he rushed for 803 yards and ran for 14 touchdowns. But the thing many Notre Dame fans will remember about last season is Wimbush getting replaced by Ian Book, who led the Irish to a win over LSU, in last years Citrus Bowl.

Both of these quarterbacks come into this game with something to prove. Patterson wants to prove to himself to the university and fans that he can be “the guy” for Michigan as many believe the quarterback play has been what has been holding them back the last couple years. Wimbush wants to show that coach Brian Kelly made the right decision by naming him the starter and that the Citrus Bowl performance was a fluke. It’ll be interesting to see what QB out-duels the other come kickoff.

The next key to the game has got to be the defensive units for both teams. They are both projected to be some of the top defenses in the country this year, and with good reason.

Michigan returns nine starters on the defensive side of the ball that ranked 3rd overall in total defense. Players like defensive tackle Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush, and cornerback Lavert Hill are expected to lead the charge for the maize and blue. All three are potential All-Americans and NFL players.

Notre Dame returns nine starters on defense after ranking 31st in the nation in scoring defense last season. Their leaders include junior cornerback Julian Love and senior lineman Jerry Tillery.

This game will answer a lot of questions for one fan base and leave the other asking even more. Is Shea Patterson the answer? Should Brandon Wimbush be the starter? Is this Michigan defense as good as advertised? Can Harbaugh win a rivalry game? A big game?

So now for the prediction. I think this game will be a close one, a lot closer than some think. I believe Shea Patterson struggles early on and is rattled by the fans in South Bend. But, ultimately he will find his groove late and lead a scoring drive or two in the second half. I think Gary, Bush and the rest of that tenacious defense for Michigan will come to play and force Wimbush into a turnover or two late in the game as U of M starts the season 1-0.

Michigan 24, Notre Dame 17.

 

 

Jim Harbaugh has named his starting quarterback

For the first time at Michigan, head coach Jim Harbaugh has made a decision for who will be his starting quarterback.

How obvious could this one have gotten? It’s Shea Patterson, and I’m quite sure that it’s been his job since he announced his transfer decision.

Patterson’s Michigan debut will take place in South Bend on September 1 against rival Notre Dame.

Reports came out this afternoon of the decision to start the Ole Miss transfer was revealed to a group of university alumni during a luncheon in Ann Arbor. Michigan football spokesman Dave Ablauf confirmed the news.

Patterson was able to beat out redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffery, and true freshman Joe Milton for the job.

This being the first time for Harbaugh’s quarterback decision to come prior to the season opener surely brings insight to his confidence in his quarterback.

Details on who will backup Patterson are not certain.

The former Ole Miss Rebel has thrown for over 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in his career.

He will look to win a national title this season in Ann Arbor.

Will Jim Harbaugh Return to Michigan in 2019?

In his head coaching career, current Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has yet to exceed a four-season tenure.

Prior jobs at San Diego, Stanford, San Francisco, and now Michigan have all lasted just four or less seasons. Harbaugh is now going into his fourth season at his alma mater with a lot of weight on his and his team’s shoulders. The pressure to win is imminent.

One question that comes to mind for Michigan fans: is this job special to Jim? Is this any different from his previous stops? Does he see Ann Arbor as him and his family’s permanent home?

NFL teams have and will continue to offer head coaching positions to the former Michigan quarterback. The rumors spiral, the Twitter bloggers with “sources” claim it’s a done deal time and time again.

Harbaugh has addressed these rumors in the past. Following the 2016 regular season, the talk of his departure was atop many headlines. At Michigan’s annual football bust, he was blunt in his words.

“I can speak for myself,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not leaving Michigan, I’m not even considering it.”

Harbaugh continued to refer to the rumors as lies that were made up by their enemies.

At that point in time, Michigan had been coming off a 10-2 regular season getting ready to play Florida State in a NY6 bowl game. Since those comments, Michigan has gone 8-6, beating just one team with an above .500 record.

We can talk about how disastrous the 2017-18 football season was for Harbaugh and Michigan. However I believe that by now everyone, especially Michigan fans, have heard about it more than they want to. Time to win.

Which brings us to today, Harbaugh is 28-11, 1-2 in bowl games, 1-5 against chief rivals. Does a specific outcome for the 2018 season decide whether or not Harbaugh leaves?

Michigan has a tendency to run coaches out of town if they fail to win, Harbaugh should get no special treatment. If he loses to two or even all three of his rivals this season, does he survive the criticism and return with a potential 1-8 rivalry record? Or does he finally bite some onto of the NFL job offers?

What if the 2018-19 season is a major success for Michigan in every category? Beating their rivals, winning the Big Ten, and cracking the playoffs? Does Harbaugh dust his hands off, consider it a job well done and take off to his next head coaching stop?

Or has Harbaugh had his taste of the NFL and now prefers coaching at the college level? His situation with 49ers GM Jed York was likely a frustrating one for a head coach that resurrected a dead franchise.

At Michigan, Harbaugh has an opportunity to be worshiped if he is able to bring home a national championship. His salary is about as good as it gets, making nine million annually which makes him one of the highest paid coaches in all of football.

Harbaugh is something of a wildcard, no one really knows what he’ll do following the 2018-19 season. His relationship with the University of Michigan, his players, the community, and the fans for the most part is seemingly good.

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel has recently said that he wants both Jim Harbaugh and basketball head coach John Beilein to coach in Ann Arbor until they both retire. Despite all of the criticism from the public eye, Manuel still believes that Harbaugh is a lifer.

The ex-49ers head coach turns 55 years old in December, still relatively young in the world of coaching. It’ll be interesting to see if his tenure at Michigan will become his longest one to date.

One last question is if results are still scarce by the end of the 2018-19 season, will NFL teams still be willing to pay an arm and a leg for Harbaugh? The bottom line is that no matter what his intentions beyond this season are, it is in the Michigan head coach’s best interest to win and win something meaningful this season.

Michigan fans would like to believe that this is a special place for Harbaugh, he is in control of his legacy at his alma mater.

 

 

Would more be better for the CFP format?

On Monday afternoon in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days, Jim Harbaugh was asked regarding his thoughts on the current CFP format.

“More would be better,” Harbaugh said. “Let’s go to eight, and eventually get to 16.”

Would more be better? The Michigan head coach was not the only one who gave opinions on the topic Monday.

Former UCF head coach, current Nebraska head coach Scott Frost is also in favor of expansion. Likely due to his experience with his 2017-18 UCF team who Frost felt was worthy of a shot at a national championship.

This isn’t the first time Frost felt he was robbed of an outright national title, or at least a shot at one. The Nebraska head coach was the team’s starting quarterback in 1997-98 who had to split a championship with Lloyd Carr’s Michigan team who was named the AP national champion.

“Four was an improvement,” Frost said. “But it’s hard to look at last year’s college football season and not feel like an eight-team playoff isn’t where we should go. I think that’s my opinion. I think it should be five conference champions and three at-large teams. That would give a surprise conference champion that plays well at the end of the season a shot. It might give a team like we had at UCF last year a shot.”

Harbaugh wants a 16-team playoff, but for this topic in particular I personally have to agree with the former Nebraska quarterback. The argument against 16 teams is allowing several teams with a potentially an unworthy resume to have a chance they simply don’t deserve. Eight teams are perfect, in my opinion.

Eight teams that consist of five conference champions, and then three bubble teams with well worthy resumes. This limits the committee debate to just three teams, and yes much like the current format, there would still be an angry fan-base or two.

This would, as Frost said, allow for a team like 2017 UCF to have a shot in which they deserve. Going undefeated is impressive, even if it’s not in a power five conference schedule. However, with just four teams it’s close to impossible to let every worthy team have a chance to win it all.

Last season, it was a coin-flip decision between the Big Ten champion Ohio State and one-loss divisional runner-up Alabama for the four seed in the playoff. The committee had to have a debate in this scenario, and they concluded with selecting Alabama. Ohio State’s loss to an unranked Iowa team was their “deciding factor”, which is fair depending on who you ask.

Is it fair though? Did Ohio State not win the arguably most competitive division in college football and also beat an undefeated Wisconsin team in the conference title game? Did they not deserve a chance? They did deserve a chance, but this system will always have issues like this until it is resolved with an expansion.

This is what the 2017-18 season would’ve looked like had it been an eight-team format.

  1. Clemson (ACC champions)
  2. Oklahoma (Big 12 champions)
  3. Georgia (SEC champions)
  4. Ohio State (Big Ten champions)
  5. USC (PAC-12 champions)
  6. UCF (12-0)
  7. Wisconsin (12-1)
  8. Alabama (11-1)

This is what round one would look like:

  • Clemson vs Alabama
  • Ohio State vs USC
  • Georgia vs UCF
  • Oklahoma vs Wisconsin

As I said earlier, this is just my opinion. I believe this gives everyone who is truly worthy a real shot. Winning a power five conference is impressive, and teams who do so should be rewarded with this opportunity. Besides, an extra week of college football is something I think we can all get behind. We need expansion, or the debate will continue.