Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison (Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Michigan Football’s upcoming schedule is littered with roadblocks, barricades, and cause for real concern. The Wolverines are sitting on a 5-1 record, but are very fortunate to not be 3-3. In the following, I will explain what the root of the problem is and how long we will have to wait until it is fixed. First let’s take a look at what lies ahead for the Wolverines this season.
10/19 vs Indiana
11/2 at Michigan State
11/9 vs Nebraska
11/16 at Northwestern
11/23 at Iowa
11/30 vs Ohio State
There are three tough road games on the docket and none of the home contests can be circled as wins at this point. Of immediate concern is Indiana this week. The Hoosiers have long been a Big Ten doormat, but are making strides and will march into the Big House full of confidence, looking to slay the Wolverines. Assuming, and that’s a stretch at this point, that Michigan defeats Indiana, can they steady the ship enough during the bye week to challenge Michigan State?
The Spartans defense will give Michigan’s offensive line fits and that brings us to the area of greatest concern surrounding this team.
Where’s the beef?
From the moment he was introduced as Michigan’s head coach, Brady Hoke has preached that you win in the trenches. He has done a stellar job recruiting a bushel full of blue chip offensive linemen. Yet, here in year three of the Hoke era, the offensive line has seemingly regressed. Prized recruits remain on the sideline while walk ons are plugged into the rotation ahead of them. I’m not taking anything away from Graham Glasgow or Joey Burzinski, they’ve worked hard and earned the chance to play.
What concerns me is why aren’t some of these elite recruits starting to rise to the top? So I went back and checked the first three recruiting classes under Hoke. The first Brady Hoke recruiting class at Michigan was 2011 and was a compilation of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke recruits. Keep that in mind as you look at the break down below.
This class featured just two offensive linemen; Chris Bryant and Tony Posada, who is no longer with the team.
Michigan picked up some key offensive line recruits in this class; Blake Bars, Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Eric Magnuson. All four of these players redshirted during the 2012 season. Kalis is now a starter and Magnuson has played quite a bit.
This class was loaded with blue chip offensive linemen, six in all. So far, none of them have played in 2013. However, Kyle Bosch is in the mix at left guard, a position that Brady Hoke says is wide open. He could very well play this week. The other linemen in this class are David Dawson, Chris Fox, Patrick Kugler, Dan Samuleson, and Logan Tuley-Tillman.
That breakdown, specifically the 2011 class, is why Michigan’s offensive line has struggled. The normal cycle of bringing in and developing linemen has been disrupted. It will be slightly more on track in 2014, but not completely back on the rails until 2015.
Fast forward to next season and Michigan is going to be starting an extremely young group on the line. It’s possible that the group could consist of 1 or no upperclassmen.
This breakdown in the rhythm of cultivating an offensive line can be directly attributed to the struggles the 2012 Wolverines are enduring. As good as Taylor Lewan is, he can’t push back an entire defensive line on his own. I know people aren’t going to want to hear this, but the jury is going to be out on this matter until order is restored in the natural progression of recruiting and developing an offensive line.
Take a look at Michigan’s roster and you will find 20 offensive linemen, including walk-ons. Of those 20, 12 are freshmen (redshirt or true). That is a monumental discrepancy and until those players are fully developed, at what is probably the most difficult position in college football, Michigan will struggle in the trenches.
My advise to Michigan fans across the globe, is to temper expectations and swallow a full dose of patience. Brady Hoke and his staff are building something special. This program was set back several years during the tumultuous RichRod era, but if you have a little vision and look at the players that this staff has brought in and are bringing in, you will see good things on the horizon. By the time elite 2015 recruits like Damien Harris and George Campbell arrive on campus, the offensive line woes will be a distant memory.
The good news is, the defense, especially with the return of Jake Ryan, is better than people think. Devin Gardner, despite the turnovers, is a dynamic playmaker who will win some football games for the Wolverines. Devin Funchess is a rising star and a match up nightmare for every team left on Michigan’s schedule.