2006 Michigan Football Preview
Aug. 29, 2006
2005 Record: 7-5 (5-3 Big Ten) T-3rd
Standards derive from past experiences and/or accomplishments. Forget about the pressure to live up to these standards and start thinking about how these standards ultimately gauge our success. For the Michigan Wolverines, standards are 42 conference football titles, first in all-time Division I-A victories (849) and all-time winning percentage (.744), 11 national titles, appearing in 31 consecutive bowl games, naming 261 players All-Big Ten Conference first team, and boasting 73 consensus All-American selections.
It is the Michigan tradition that has shaped their standards and while Michigan's tradition is difficult to live up to, it is that same tradition that carries the Maize and Blue. The 2005 season is a testament to this resiliency. When they dropped their Big Ten season opener to Wisconsin-and consequently their Big Ten opener streak (23)-they came out the next week and overcame red hot No. 11 Michigan State in overtime. When a home loss to Minnesota moved them to 3-3 and out of the top 25 they rebounded by beating then undefeated No. 5 Penn State in the final play of the game. The following week the Wolverines handed the Hawkeyes a heartbreaking 23-20 loss that snapped the Hawkeye's 22 home game winning streak and supplied Head Coach Lloyd Carr his 100th victory.
Behind predicted national champion Ohio State, Michigan is the next ranked Big Ten team slotted at No. 14 in the preseason AP poll and No. 15 in the USA Today coaches' poll. A schedule that includes seven home games, five road games and no week off will test the Wolverines. However, a 3-1 away record last year with wins over Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern should be a cause for concern for this year's road opponents, most notably No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Notre Dame. The Wolverines will get there revenge on the Fighting Irish in their third week of the season, still stinging from the 10-17 loss a year ago. This year the conference title game may come down to a classic on the edge of your seat thriller when Michigan travels to Ohio State in the very last game of the season. Despite playing a tough 12 game schedule pitted against the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation it would be wrong to set a standard lower than what the Wolverines have already made for themselves.
After a stellar freshman season, quarterback Chad Henne continued to put up numbers in his sophomore year. Henne matched much of his impressive numbers that garnered him Freshman All-American status but did so a lot less quietly. Headed into the 2006 season, Henne has completed 463-of-781 passes (59.3 pct.) for a total of 5,269 yards with 48 touchdowns. He already ranks third in school history in career passing attempts and completions, fourth in touchdown passes and sixth in passing yards. Michigan has always been rich in quarterback talent and Henne is no exception, "Chad Henne is ready to take another step this year. I think at some point he'll be a great quarterback. He's got everything it takes to be a great quarterback," adds Carr.
Despite missing four games to ankle and hamstring injuries, running back Mike Hart led the team in rushing, carrying the ball 150 times for 662 yards including four touchdowns. One of six true freshman to see game action last year, Kevin Grady adds a 1-2 punch to a backfield that should be among the nation's best. Grady was second on the team in rushing with 121 carries for 483 yards (4.9 avg.) and led the team with five rushing touchdowns. His break out game came against Notre Dame leading the team in rushing with 18 carries for 79 yards.
Wide receiver Mario Manningham blew away coach's expectations last year, snagging 27 passes for 433 yards and six touchdowns. As a true freshman, Manningham was second on the team in every receiving category behind All-Big Ten performer Jason Avant. Although with the departure of Avant this year, Manningham will have to battle for position with fifth year senior Steve Breaston who returns leading the team in career receiving as well as punt and kickoff returns. Another viable target is tight end and four year starter Tyler Ecker. The big man can catch and then run you over evident by his 21 receptions (fourth on the team) for 285 yards and 13.6 yards a carry average.
Five seniors return to anchor an offensive line that lost three starters. While time was split between the center and fullback positions most of last year, the constant will be Jake Long who will start at left tackle this year. Long, a two year starter has appeared in 17 games and made 14 starts at right tackle for the Wolverines.
The focus will be on the Wolverine red zone defense that ranked 10th in conference last year. Crucial fourth quarter points hurt the Wolverines, who only lost by a total of 20 points in their five losses.
Despite losing three defensive starters the Wolverines will be anchored by hard hitting defensive ends LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch. Woodley led the team in tackles for a loss (16) and sacks (7) while Branch amassed five sacks and was awarded the Richard Katcher top defensive lineman last season.
In addition, Prescott Burgess, Chris Graham, and David Harris all return to led the linebacker attack. Harris contributed a team high 88 tackles last year.
The secondary will be strong once again with 2005 second-team All-Big Ten selection, Leon Hall at cornerback and free safety Ryan Mundy back from a shoulder injury. Last year, Hall led the team in interceptions (4) and pass breakups (9). Mundy returns after being sidelined all of last year, however, the senior has the most experience starting 12 games his sophomore year as free safety.
Garrett Rivas converted 19-of-26 field goals and 33-of-35 PATs to lead the team in scoring with 90 points. His clutch 35-yard game winning field goal attempt in overtime sealed Michigan State's fate.
Senior punter, Ross Ryan earned his first varsity letter last year. Ryan averaged 38.3 yards per punt and recorded 40 touchbacks. Sophomore Zoltan Mesko will challenge Ryan for the starting job this year.
"I'm very excited about this Michigan team. We have an excellent nucleus of returning players offensively, defensively and in the kicking game. I think we have a great attitude, a strong nucleus of leaders and our goals are extremely high," sums up Carr.