Sunday, September 17, 2006

Michigan now ranked #6 (AP)

Earlier today, I wrote my first blog post in months, entitled Instant National Title Contenders. In my posting, I contended that Michigan became instant national title contenders with their 47-21 win over Notre Dame yesterday. My guess is that Michigan and Ohio State will both be 11-0 when they meet for the final game of the season, on November 18th. That game will decide which of those two teams will make an appearance in the national title game in January.

In my post from earlier today, I said:

If it was up to me, Michigan would move ahead of #2 Notre Dame, #9 Florida State, #6 LSU, #7 Florida, #8 Texas and #10 Georgia when they release today's national rankings. That would put Michigan at #5.

My wish almost came true. #2 Notre Dame fell to #12, #9 Florida State fell to #18, #6 LSU fell to #10. Michigan also passed Texas, who moved up to #7 from #8, and Georgia, who moved up from #10 to #9.

I got greedy, hoping Michigan would jump ahead of Florida, who moved up from #7 to #5, after pulling out a tough 21-20 win against #13 Tennessee.

Michigan is now ranked #6

#1. Ohio State
#2. Auburn
#3. USC
#4. West Virginia
#5. Florida
#6. Michigan
#7. Texas
#8. Louisville
#9. Georgia
#10. LSU

My guess is USC is going to lose between now and November, as they have a very tough schedule, with 4 ranked opponents, and they lost two Heisman candidates in Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. Florida and Auburn play each other on October 14th, so one of those teams will fall. Florida also has to play #9 Georgia, #10 LSU, and #18 Florida State, so there is a good chance they will lost at least one. Auburn has a matchup against #9 Georgia on November 25th. West Virginia has only one tough matchup, against #8 Louisville, so they could easily run the table.

If I had to guess, going into the Ohio State/Michigan on November matchup, the rankings should look like this:

#1. Ohio State (11-0)
#2. Auburn (11-0)
#3. Michigan (11-0)
#4. West Virginia (10-0)
....the rest

- I would put Michigan ahead of West Virginia if they both go undefeated up to that point, based on strength of schedule. At that point, a win over Ohio State would all but guarantee that Michigan finishes in the top 2, and heads to the national championship game. There is a lot of football between then and now, and there will undoubtedly be some upsets and surprises. For instance, Ohio State has a road matchup in Iowa in two weeks. It is always difficult to win in Iowa. Two years ago, Michigan snapped Iowa's home winning streak at an amazing 22 games. So far this season, Iowa hasn't looked very impressive, but they should turn things around by that time in order to put up a fight against the Buckeyes.



Instant National Title Contenders

People really didn't know what to expect from the Wolverines this season. After a terribly disappointing 7-5 season last year, and the loss of their go-to receiver, Jason Avant, to graduation, the national media didn't really know where to place the Wolverines in the national rankings. Michigan answered their critics on Saturday, with a convincing 47-21 throttling of the then #2 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Wolverines must now be considered serious national title contenders. Their schedule is not easy, but the road win against Notre Dame was the second toughest game of their schedule, and they pulled out a win with ease.

Michigan has a relatively tough five game stretch coming up, at home against #27 Wisconsin, on the road in Minnesota, at home against rival Michigan State, on the road against #25 Penn State, and finally a home matchup against #16 Iowa. None of these opponents should be taken lightly, but this Michigan lineup looks more prepared than any in recent history. After yesterday's performance, one should expect the Wolverines to emerge through this five games stretch unscathed, with an unblemished 8-0 record.

After that string of games, Michigan can relax a little bit for three weeks against Northwestern, Ball State and Indiana. At that point, if all goes according to plan, Michigan will be 11-0, and conceivably ranked in the top three in the national rankings. (If it was up to me, Michigan would move ahead of #2 Notre Dame, #9 Florida State, #6 LSU, #7 Florida, #8 Texas and #10 Georgia when they release today's national rankings. That would put Michigan at #5) Conceivably, if Michigan and Ohio State both run the tables, we could witness the second #1 vs #2 matchup of the season. Unfortunately, that would likely require losses by Auburn, USC and West Virginia, which is a lot to ask for. Auburn has a very tough schedule ahead of them, and may slip up against Florida or Georgia. USC has 4 ranked opponents ahead on their schedule, and the losses of both Leinart and Bush really hurt their chances of maintaining an undefeated record, but West Virginia has a relatively easy schedule, and will likely remain undefeated. My prediction is that we will see the rankings as #1 Ohio State, #2 West Virginia, and #3 Michigan going into the Michigan/Ohio State matchup.

With yesterday's performance, Michigan became instant national title contenders. By holding Notre Dame to 4 yards rushing, they now have the #1 rush defense in the country, giving up just 20.7 rushing YPG, and are ranked 9th overall on defense. Throw in the 2nd ranked turnover margin, 5th ranked total sacks, 18th rushing offense, and 4th overall in time of possession, and this team is in pretty select company. Manningham is starting to look every bit as impressive as Braylon Edwards did two years ago, and I'd be surprised if Michael Hart doesn't receive at least a little consideration for the Heisman by the end of the season.

Coach Lloyd Carr is finally answering his critics. This team is well coached, and appears better prepared than they have in years. New defensive coordinator Ron English has opposing quarterbacks shaking in their boots. Heisman candidate Brady Quinn was hit more than ten times in yesterday's matchup, resulting in three interceptions.

I'm still waiting for Breaston to become the breakout player that he's capable of. He is the teams leading receiver with 12 receptions, and he continues to make breaking tackles look effortless, but he has a whole lot more potential. Breaston continues to drop a few passes per game. He made a couple amazing receptions in the Notre Dame matchup, but dropped two easily catchable balls, including one that would've resulted in a touchdown. Breaston's opportunities have been fairly limited in his prime roll - as kickoff/punt returner. Through the first three games, Breaston has returned 3 kickoffs for 60 yards (20.0 avg) and 8 punts for 85 yards (10.6 avg). Breaston is averaging 106 all purpose yards per game, which is good for 67th in the nation. Not bad at all, considering the fact that teams are intentionally doing everything they can to keep the ball out of Breaston's hands on kickoff/punt returns. (Michael Hart, by the way, is ranked 28th nationally with 133.0 All Purpose Yards per game) I consider Ted Ginn, Jr, perhaps the nation's most lethal offensive threat, to be the measuring stick for Breaston, which is perhaps a bit unfair as a comparison, but none-the-less, one that I make. Ginn, Jr is ranked 44th nationally with 119.0 All Purpose Yards per game, but has broken out with 6 touchdowns this season, while Breaston has so far failed to reach the end zone.

Overall, Wolverine fans have a heck of a lot to be excited about for the upcoming season. They won their first game on the road for the first time since 1999, and they managed to do it in decisive fashion.