If you remember the 2010 Rutgers football season, you might remember pretty darn awful offensive line play (coupled with a terrible play-caller in Kirk Ciarocca). The line was tinkered with all season, and then-head coach Greg Schiano could never find the right combination of linemen to build an effective unit, despite good talent on the roster. Michigan suffered from a very similar problem in 2013. Despite an All-American left tackle, the Wolverines struggled all year with pass protection and run game support, leading to an extremely inconsistent offense. There's nowhere to go but up for the beleaguered unit this season, but they'll have to improve quite a bit in order to compete for the division title.
Head Coach: Brady Hoke (4th year)
Key returning players: QB Devin Gardner, WR/TE Devin Funchess, LB Jake Ryan
2013 Record: 7-6 (3-5 B1G)
If you take a look at some Michigan previews, you'll either read that the Wolverines were a couple of bounces away from somewhere around 4-8 or the exact opposite in 10-2. So it makes some sense that they fall nicely in between at 7-6. The question is, can new OC Doug Nessmeier improve the offense enough to get closer to 10-2, as opposed to 4-8? Line play can't get much worse, but it was really bad to begin with last season, garnering negative rushing yards in some games. QB Devin Gardner is the leading returning rusher with 748 yards in 2013, and if he continues to take a beating that modest total could be even lower. As a thrower, Gardner wasn't a world-beater by any means, with just a shade under 3000 yards passing and 21 TDs to 11 INTs. He is the leading player in the conference in terms of yards per game though, so any improvement on the O-line could mean even better results for Gardner. But for a hungry Rutgers defense eager to prove that they can hang with the bluebloods in the conference, Michigan could be unpleasantly surprised by a talented and deep Scarlet Knight defensive line.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is entering his fourth year under Hoke, and by all accounts has improved the program's defensive identity since the Greg Robinson debacle. The highest-profile player might be a freshman cornerback, but the defense brings back plenty of veteran names at several positions. LB Jake Ryan was injured for five games in 2013, but still had 4.5 TFLs, only one less than anyone else who played all 13. And of course, there's Jabrill Peppers, who might not even see the field this season except for special teams (there are five cornerbacks with plenty of game experience ahead of him on the depth chart).
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After getting Penn State at home on September 13, the Scarlet Knights welcome another team with potential offensive line issues heading into the season. If that issue is fixed, Rutgers could find themselves struggling to keep up with the talent assembled by Hoke, as the Wolverines have recruited as good as any SEC team the past couple of years. But recruiting is only potential, and as last year showed, not a lock for future success. If RU can disrupt the Michigan offense behind a stalwart of defenders in Darius Hamilton and Steve Longa, then this year's Blackout could continue well after the final whistle blows.