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Michigan Wolverines Football Preview: Lessons from the 2016 season

What did Michigan’s oh-so-close 2016 season teach us going forward? We look at the lessons learned from last season.

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All throughout the summer here at talking10 we’ll be previewing every team with a week-long look at every team. Up this week are the Michigan Wolverines, one of the Big Ten’s most talked about programs.

However, before we look forward we have to take a step back and figure out a starting point. That means understanding what took place last season and the lessons learned.

For Michigan, it was another season of double-digit wins and crushing defeats as well. But, the lessons learned may be important to what is ahead…or not. We’ll take a look at those lessons here.

 

We Know the Wolverines Are Going to be Different

The simple truth is we really don’t know what to expect from this team going forward in to 2017. Anyone telling you otherwise is just giving you a best guess. It isn’t just that there are big names gone, it’s that nearly every single starter is gone. As in just five of 22 starters from last season are returning.

No team in the country will return fewer starters than Michigan and that makes predicting this season a tough task for even the coaches who are there every day. The good news is that recruiting has been going well under Jim Harbaugh and we may see a lot of the plug-and-play that has been on display at Ohio State (oh oh, I said the naughty word) the past few years.

If that is the case, there are some people who got valuable snaps like Chase Winovich, Maurice Hurst and Brian Mone along the defensive line. Even Ian Bunting and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. got good looks at tight end as well. Oh and Wilton Speight is a year wiser and hopefully a year better with his passing ability.

However, the biggest difference in this team is going to be at the skill positions. Cornerback, wide receiver and running back are certainly going to look different. Can young players step up to the challenge left behind to them. After all, the bar has been set pretty high the first two years of the Harbaugh era.

Michigan Still Has an Ohio State Problem

Ohio State has won 13 of the last 15 matchups between these two historic rivals. That includes five-straight as it stands right now. These games have been close, with only the 2015 game being a blowout in the current streak.

But, this is year three and if Jim Harbaugh can’t get past Ohio State, how is he ever going to win a Big Ten championship game? That was never more on display than last season. A Michigan win and they were in the title game, an Ohio State victory meant nothing due to its loss to Penn State earlier in the season.

Instead of rising to the occasion and beating the streak, Michigan lost a two-overtime thriller and was left sitting on the outside looking in at the Big Ten title game and the College Football Playoff as well.

Last season was supposed to be the year the streak stopped and Maize ‘n Blue took over the series. After all, Ohio State was the one coming in with a ton of holes to fill and Michigan was the senior-laden team with all the experience ready to win it all.

If ever there is a lesson to learn from “The Game” last season, it was that you never want to feel that feeling again. Personally, I lost count of how many chances the Wolverines had to win that instant classic, but you can bet the younger players around saw the disappointment on the faces of the seniors. No doubt that will be a nice little motivating factor, but until Michigan can prove it can beat Ohio State, it just simply isn’t ready for the big time national stage.

 

You Must Play For 60 Minutes

No lesson is likely bigger than the one that was learned the hard way in losses to both Ohio State and Florida State to end the season. That lesson? YOU MUST PLAY FOUR QUARTERS.

In the Ohio State game, the Wolverines controlled the clock and grounded and pounded the Buckeyes in to submission. However, they led by only three points and that’s when things went haywire.

OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett was bottled up and as SBNation’s Bill Connelly pointed out:

Over the first 50 minutes, he (Barrett) had managed just 71 rushing yards and 57 passing yards. In these two possessions, he rushed eight times for 65 yards and completed five of eight passes for 59.

Even the veteran defense couldn’t overcome the magic of a three-year starting quarterback. It cost the Wolverines dearly as they couldn’t hang on to a lead they had worked so hard for and eventually lost in overtime.

Fast forward a month or so and Michigan found itself ahead in the Orange Bowl after a furious comeback. What was a 20-9 deficit became a 30-27 lead with 1:52 to play. Michigan’s defense got its crap together for most of the second half and the offense finally came alive.

However, just as the offense decided it wanted to win, the defensive effort gave out after being asked to do a lot of heavy lifting.

In the end, the lesson that the young players should be able to take away from last season is that the big games take a full 60 minutes of everything you have got to win. You can’t come out flat on one side of the ball while the other goes nuts and expect to win. It has to be a full team effort for a full 60 minutes.

This probably isn’t lost on any Harbaugh-coached team ever, but there’s a difference between having it preached at you and getting past that hurdle for yourself. Ultimately, Michigan may be defined by its abilities in close games under Harbaugh. So far…not so good.

What it Means for 2017?

All the hype of the Harbaugh era has kind of worn off. His shtick isn’t exactly new or shiny anymore. So, as the team buckles up for a lot of change heading in to the 2017 season, perhaps a little less attention and a little more of the fundamentals is going to do the trick.

What 2016 taught us about Michigan is that despite all the brand-name recruiting success it is having, championships are still elusive for the Maize ‘N Blue. The hunger created by being so close to both a Big Ten and Orange Bowl victory have to weigh heavily in to building towards a successful season ahead.

Don’t let coaches fool you — past seasons hardships can lead to new seasons of success. That’s the same for successful seasons breeding complacency. The hope has to be that the hunger and work ethic is around this program now that Harbaugh is basically only dealing with people he brought in to the program moving forward.

It feels much like this season and next are put up or shut up time in Ann Arbor.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Dantonio, Harbaugh jab at each other after bowl game selections

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Rivalries have no offseason, and that certainly is the case for Michigan State when it comes to in-state rival Michigan. That’s especially the case when bowl season rolled around in 2017.

That’s because Michigan is headed to Tampa Bay to play in the Outback Bowl, while Michigan State is off the…gasp…horrific site of San Diego for its bowl game.

No. 16 Michigan State is slated to play No. 18 Washington State in easily the best non-New Years Six bowl game the Big Ten has, while Michigan gets South Carolina. Despite the disparity in location and quality of opponent, some felt the Spartans were slighted.

Dantonio was asked if the program felt slighted by not playing on New Year’s Day, and this was his response:

It was a clear dig at the Wolverines, whom the Spartans have owned since Dantonio took over as head coach at Michigan State.

Harbaugh just couldn’t let that go, responding back on Twitter on Monday.

Backhanded compliment much?

It’s clear these two don’t get along much, because usually these things get settled behind closed doors. Instead, Harbaugh took a very public jab at Dantonio and all the off-field issues that took place over the last year and a half.

Who will get the ultimate last word? Well, this season that was certainly Michigan State. Not only did the Spartans beat Michigan, but they finished second in the East division, while Michigan faltered to an 8-4 finish in the regular season.

If anything, this should fuel an offseason of rivalry fun between these two programs.

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Michigan fans respond to John O’Korn with death threats following loss to OSU

John O’Korn leaves heartfelt message following loss to Michigan and some fans respond with death threats and more.

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Michigan was supposed to be an East division contender and a national power this season, but that didn’t happen the way some in the media thought it would. Instead, Michigan lost for the seventh straight season to hated rival Ohio State on Saturday to cap off a disappointing 8-4 regular season.

Naturally, the worst in Michigan fandom came out following the 31-20 loss. The biggest target of their ire? Backup quarterback John O’Korn, who had to fill in for an injured Brandon Peters.

A late interception by O’Korn didn’t help in a close game at home against the Buckeyes. It also led to some rather horrible abuse on Twitter — including advice to “kill yourself” and death threats due to this loss.

It couldn’t get much worse than this nugget:

Keeping it classy as always happens on Twitter, Michigan Twitter fans also went with the classic burn of “Yo Momma”

Then of course there were the more mild and idiotic Tweets. You know, things like the classic “you blow” burn and the like.

Sometimes Twitter really is the worst of humanity. Luckily, these tweets were a small sampling compared to the overwhelming group that showed support and thanks for the efforts of O’Korn and the Michigan team despite the loss.

Yes, losing to your arch-rival in a football game doesn’t feel very good. Yes, fans are going to get riled up continually losing those kind of games.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time this season something like this has happened to a Michigan quarterback. It all started with the vocal criticism and threats made to former starter, Wilton Speight.

Here’s a small piece of advice — if you feel the need to tell someone to kill themselves or to threaten them with death — put the Twitter machine down, walk away and don’t ever come back to it. Seriously? As much as we all love football, it is just a game at the end of the day and wishing death on someone because they didn’t play the way you wanted them is about as low as it gets.

O’Korn clearly left everything he had on the field for the Wolverines. Was it good enough to win this game? No.

But, what more can you ask for from any player other than to give it all for their team.

While O’Korn and the Wolverines lost the game, those who threatened him and the team following it are the ones losing at life.

Get over yourselves and move on with life. One loss by a team you support shouldn’t define your life. If so, it’s truly a sad one and we feel sorry for you.

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Michigan, Michigan State embracing importance of in-state rivalry

Michigan and Michigan State at least agree that this rivalry game is an important one.

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Michigan and Michigan State couldn’t be more different. It’s in their DNA as universities really. But, that stark difference really hasn’t been seen much on the field.

Off the field, these two teams treat this game in vastly different manors.

Publicly, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has tried to play down the bitterness of this game. He’s of the “this is the game on our schedule this week” camp, but does at least acknowledge the fact that this game does matter.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is the second-longest serving head coach in the Big Ten, but his stance on the game with Michigan hasn’t changed. He’s not afraid to call it a rivalry, nor shy away from the importance of this in-state matchup.

“I think coaches know what games are important, they understand,” Dantonio said on Tuesday, via MLive.com. “They can stand up here and say, ‘well, it’s just another football game,’ but it’s not.”

It’s not a surprising stance, given Dantonio is the one who has made this game in to a real rivalry on and off the field.

I mean, there’s the classic, “pride comes before the fall” moment…

…and who can forget his comments on Mike Hart calling Michigan State “little brother?”

Then there’s the fact that Michigan State has taken advantage of Michigan’s downturn on the field. Dantonio backed up any talk so far, owning a 7-3 record against the Wolverines.

Going from after thoughts to College Football Playoff participants speaks volumes, and making the Michigan game in to a true rivalry helped get the Spartans to where they are today.

“I have a great amount of respect for what they’ve accomplished down there – always have had that,” said Dantonio, via MLive.com. “My goal when I came here was to make that a rivalry. I think it’s a rivalry. We’ll leave it at that.”

As for his counterpart…well, Harbaugh is heaping praise on the opponent and downplaying the talk of the bitterness of this game.

If that isn’t the classic rope-a-dope tactic of a head coach, I don’t know what is.

At least one of his players isn’t afraid to talk about the bitterness and importance of this game. Defensive end Maurice Hurst let us know this game’s importance isn’t just on the field, its in the battles for recruiting as well.

“Everything really matters about this one because the recruits care about it, the people in the state care about it a lot and you hear about it for the entire year,” Hurst said. “It is something that brings the best out of people, just because a lot of these guys know each other and a lot of them are from the same area.”

With Michigan again getting all the national attention and Michigan State coming off a brutal 2016 and 2017 offseason, it’s understandable for Dantonio to want to play this game up.

Can his team show that the emphasis on this game can translate back to winning results? Let’s not forget that the Spartans have won three of the last four in this series.

But, this is a vastly different year in the rivalry. There are a lot of young players on both sides of this thing, and that could make for some interesting moments on Saturday night under the Michigan Stadium lights.

It may just be whomever can get the emotional aspect of this game right that will win.

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talking10 Power Poll: Surprises galore in Week 1 poll

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We’re back…after a long offseason, the staff is finally back to watching football, crunching numbers and giving you our opinions on all things Big Ten football.

It also means our weekly staff Power Poll is back as well.

This season we’ve got five staff members voting every week. That includes the following names:

Andy Coppens@AndyOnFootball

Phil Harrison@PhilHarrisonCFB

Philip Rossmann-Reich – @RiseNU

Dave Fitzgerald@BuckeyeFitzy

Zach Worthington@Worthyton

Normally the opening week of the season provides little in the way of knowledge, but that certainly wasn’t the case in 2017. Dare we say the first week of action for the Big Ten was highly entertaining?

You can say that, and we did over at the #B1GRewind Show.

But, how did all of that excitement shake out when it came time to vote? Let’s take a look at the official poll for Week 1:

Let’s just say things were a bit wackier than usual, huh?

Takeaways:

  • Only three teams lost this week, yet it was a winner, Illinois, coming up dead last and it wasn’t even close. The Illini’s unimpressive three-point win was also our winner for “Disappointment of the Week” on the #B1GRewind show…so perhaps their last place finish in the power poll this week was really warranted. It also appears that hanging tough with ranked teams meant a lot to our voters.
  • While the rest of the college football world is in love with Ohio State…our staff is much more in love with the Nittany Lions…well not “much more” but they won out with three first place votes and OSU falling outside the top two in one voters mind.
  • It appears there is going to be an interesting battle for the middle of the pack over the next few weeks. Michigan State was No. 7 in this poll, but had just a three-point lead on No. 10 Nebraska. Let’s just say the next few weeks should shake out the middle a bit more.
  • Speaking of close fights…the battle between Michigan and Wisconsin for the third spot should be an interesting one indeed. Can Wisconsin’s offense keep up the high-scoring and keep UW ahead or will Michigan’s exciting youth movement grow up fast enough to challenge for the top of the East division and thus our poll as well?
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