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2008 Team Preview: Michigan Wolverines

New Coach, New System Could Make for Tough Year in Ann Arbor

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By the time Michigan was upset by Appalachian State in their 2007 season opener, Wolverine fans had long since decided that they were tired of coach Lloyd Carr. But after the off-season Michigan has just endured, it's likely many of the Big Blue faithful are realizing just how good they had it under the embattled -- but pretty successful -- Carr, who retired at the end of last season.

The Spring Scene

A tumultuous and mildly embarrassing search for the man who would replace Carr finally ended -- after many fits and starts -- when former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez took the Michigan job late in 2007.

But then the trouble really began: Rodriguez was roundly criticized for the abrupt manner in which he left West Virginia, his alma mater, just one year after receiving a new contract. Now the coach is enduring a legal battle with his former employer over a disputed $4 million buyout clause. Rodriguez also says his family has faced ill treatment back in West Virginia, where he remains persona non grata.

Poor Rodriquez hasn't even been able to escape his troubles during spring workouts. Since arriving in Ann Arbor, he's seen one Michigan player after another jump ship -- good players, too. Highly touted quarterback prospect Ryan Mallett left town because he didn't believe his drop-back style would fit Rodriquez's spread offense attack.

More recently, starting offensive lineman Justin Boren -- whose father was a Michigan linebacker -- announced he would also leave Michigan because of what he termed a declining sense of "family values" in the program. Then Boren poured salt on Michigan's wounds when he hinted he would transfer, of all places, to Ohio State.

All of these troubles are compounded by the fact that Rodriguez will enter his first season in the Big House with a team that has holes all over the roster -- most especially on offense.

Biggest Challenge

The offense. Last season Michigan came into the year with four of the best offensive players in the country and hopes of scoring 40 points a game. This year, with the departure of NFL-bound offensive tackle Jake Long, quarterback Chad Henne, tailback Mike Hart and receiver Mario Manningham, among others, Michigan fans are rightly wondering if the team will be able to score at all.

The biggest question mark may be at quarterback. Rodriguez saw top quarterback prospect Terrelle Pryor choose Ohio State instead of Michigan, and with the departure of Mallett, Michigan is left without a single experienced quarterback. The battle figures to boil down to Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet and sophomore Nick Sheridan. Neither seems likely to strike up visions of Rodriguez's brilliant quarterback at West Virginia, the fast-striking Pat White (although some say incoming freshman Justin Feagin might). And even if Threet or Sheridan were to surprise, it's unclear who they will be throwing to. Along with Manningham, second receiver Adrian Arrington has also turned pro.

Biggest Strength

They're still Michigan. Though the talent level on offense takes a dip from 2007, the fact is, few schools recruit as consistently well as the Wolverines. There are good players on this team. There will be a tough adjustment period while the team learns Rodriguez's system, but the coach's record speaks for itself. He won at Tulane. He won at West Virginia. And, eventually, he'll win at Michigan.

Prediction

A Week Three match-up against an improved Notre Dame team could be the key to the season. Win that one, and Michigan can probably get to eight wins and a decent bowl. Lose it, and a bowl-less year seems to be a distinct possibility. A record of 6-6 -- with yet another season-ending loss to rival Ohio State -- seems about right.
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