Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.
Last year: 9-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten (T-2nd)
Postseason: Beat Florida, 41-35, in Capital One Bowl
In good shape
Defensive line. The Wolverines weren't awful up front last year, but they were cover-your-eyes bad at various points of the season. For example, in allowing 491 rushing yards over those disastrous first two losses. Oh, and there's the 661 yards rushing they allowed over the last three games (two losses). But new coordinator Scott Shafer has some talent to work with. Senior tackles Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson bring a ton of experience and a combined 604 pounds to the middle of the defense. Then you have ends Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison (in the photograph). Jamison is a beast who comes to camp in the best shape of his Michigan career. Graham is no slouch, having led the Wolverines with 8.5 sacks last year. Expect a great improvement in this area, and there had better be one, because Michigan can't afford a dropoff at their most experienced - and arguably most talented - position.
Offense. This isn't because of a talent deficiency. In fact, Michigan has quite the opposite. Guys like RB Carlos Brown, WR Greg Mathews, TE Carson Butler, and OLs Tim McAvoy, Cory Zirbel, and Stephen Schilling were all highly-recruited athletes, and guys like Schilling and Butler have plenty of experience in the Big Ten wars. However, this unit is extremely short on skill-position experience, and new coach Rich Rodriguez is overhauling the offense. Expect Michigan to field a freshman starter at QB, and only Mathews, Butler, and Schilling will start this year after being regulars a year ago. Rodriguez should have no trouble getting his spread offense implemented because of the number of new faces, but how long will it take them to get accustomed to this high a level of football?
It's all about your faith in RichRod. You could believe that this offense will struggle to score points, and the schedule to open the Big Ten season - Wisconsin and Illinois both visit the Big House - will be too tough to overcome. Or you might think Rodriguez will do well getting this offense in place because he doesn't have to cater to very many veteran players on that side of the ball. Michigan's defense struggled mightily against spread-type attacks early a year ago, as both Appalachian State and Oregon used the spread to gain a combined 1,000-plus yards over the first two games.
I tend to think the most likely finish is somewhere around the middle of the pack. I can see Michigan finishing as high as third and as low as seventh or maybe eighth. I'll pick them fifth, because I do think the Wolverines will have some problems with the new system at first. Even with new starters almost all the way across the board, this new offense represents culture shock in this program compared to what they've run in the past.