It seems like just yesterday the football season was winding to a close. The Spartans were knocking off Iowa for the Big Ten Championship. The Wolverines were routing the Florida Gators for a bowl victory.
And then it was a long and cold winter. And then it was spring. Now, summer has once again flown by far too quickly and we find ourselves on the brink of another highly-anticipated college football season in the state of Michigan.
Let’s take a peek at how the teams look heading into the opener.
Offense: Let’s start with the good news. Eastern Michigan has an experienced quarterback running the offense, which is more than the heavyweight programs in the state can say. Junior quarterback Brogan Roback threw for 2,285 yards and 16 scores last season, though he also threw 11 interceptions. We’ll chalk it up to another year of learning and maturing in the system, and we expect he’ll come out firing this season.
At running back, the Eagles will miss Darius Jackson’s team-leading 1,067 yards from a year ago. However, Shaq Vann, just a sophomore, also tallied 586 yards and will be ready to assume the full-time ball-carrying duties. The receiving corps will be anchored by sophomore Eddie Daugherty, who led the team with 557 yards in 2015. Paired with senior tight end Sam Browning, who caught 24 passes a year ago, including three touchdowns, Daugherty and the EMU air attack should be solid this year.
Defense: Herein lies the problem. In 2015, the Eagles defense allowed over 42 points and 517 yards per game, and to be blunt, we don’t see much changing.
Outlook: EMU will have another long season. The support at the school is shrinking, and over the off-season there was even talk of dropping the football program altogether. Last season’s team went 1-11, but with some experience on offense we’ll predict an optimistic 2-10 for the 2016 squad.
Offense: Scoring was not a problem for the Broncos in 2015. Redshirt senior quarterback Zach Terrell is returning, looking to outpace his 3,526 yards and 29 scores from a year ago. WMU also returns its top three rushers from 2015, totaling 2,279 yards on the ground, as well as one of the best receivers in the entire nation in Corey Davis. Did we mention scoring wasn’t a problem last season? It won’t be this year either.
Defense: The defense had its moments a year ago, playing both Michigan State and Ohio State tough for much of those matchups, but it also had its lapses — like giving up 41 points at home to Bowling Green. A season ago, the defense gave up over 400 yards and over 28 points per game. Any improvement on those figures and we’d call it a win.
Outlook: An 8-5 team last season, we see this year’s team going 9-3 — and in a bold prediction, the Broncos will take down the Fighting Illini in week 3.
Offense: The CMU offense had its moments in 2015, but heading into a new season there needs to be improvement. The rushing attack was handled by committee last year, and unless one of the several backs battling for the position can separate himself, we see the same for 2016. The good news, though, is that senior quarterback Cooper Rush returns, along with his top three targets in Jesse Kroll, Anthony Rice and Mark Chapman.
Defense: The 2015 defense was overall fairly solid, giving up 22 points and 332 yards per contest. Two of the top three tackle leaders from 2015 return, in Tony Annese and Malik Fountain. The defense will need to hold steady in 2016 if the team wants to see a bowl.
Outlook: The 2015 team showed a lot of grit, barely falling at Western and standing tall against a good Minnesota team in the Quick Lane Bowl. In 2016, in a heart-breaker, the Broncos will outlast the Chippewas once again and Central will finish the season 8-4.
Offense: The offense lost a lot after 2015 — most notably three linemen, its top two receivers and its signal-caller, Connor Cook. The biggest question mark, however, will be how quickly the line meshes, as it needs to replace both tackles and its right guard. If the line can hold up, the running game should be solid with both Madre London and L.J. Scott. At quarterback, we expect Tyler O’Connor to control the pace of the game, hand the ball off plenty, and if he can find some of his talented young receivers — Cam Chambers, Donnie Corley or Felton Davis — the offense will be just fine.
Defense: Stout defense has become a trademark of Mark Dantonio teams, usually anchored by a strong defensive line. However, the line may be the biggest question mark for the 2016 defense, as junior Malik McDowell is the only returning starter (though he’s an outstanding one). At linebacker, senior Riley Bullough will lead the unit, and if Ed Davis can return to his old form the Spartans may have one of the best linebacking trios in the nation. The secondary will remain solid, with all four starters returning, including Vayante Copeland, who missed most of 2015 with an injury.
Outlook: Not many teams can lose as much as Michigan State did following last season and bounce back to compete for another conference title — but never count out a team coached by Mark Dantonio. The Spartans will keep themselves within striking distance in every game in 2016, as they seemed to always do last season, but will be missing too many key players from the 2015 playoff squad and ultimately find themselves at 9-3.
Offense: Similarly to MSU, Michigan will need to fill its vacant quarterback role with an effective replacement — and fast. All eyes are on Wilton Speight and John O’Korn as they battle for the starting job, but knowing Harbaugh’s history of success at coaching QB’s, the winner of the competition will likely shine. The offensive line will see a new left tackle, either Ben Bredeson or Grant Newsome, but all of its 2015 starters at wide receiver, tight end and running back are returning, along with the addition of some highly-recruited freshmen. Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh will lead the receiving corps and De’Veon Smith will lead the running game — though look for Ty Isaac and Drake Johnson to get their share of touches as well.
Defense: This team’s defense will be special. Not only did they add Don Brown as defensive coordinator, who ran the nation’s top defense a year ago at Boston College, but they’ve also added the unanimous No. 1 overall recruit in Rashan Gary. With Jourdan Lewis in the secondary, Jabrill Peppers moving to a hybrid linebacker position and a defensive line that goes eight or nine deep, opposing teams will have a difficult time moving the football.
Outlook: This could be the year for Michigan. Sports Illustrated has them at No. 4 and in the playoffs. The AP has them at No. 7 to start the season. Other than three tough road matchups at MSU, Iowa and Ohio State, the schedule is favorable, beginning with five-straight home games. After so many seasons of unrest in Ann Arbor, coach Harbaugh and the Wolverines will find ways to win big games and land themselves at 11-1 — and keep themselves in the College Football Playoff conversation.