In 2009, Michigan and Michigan State football went through what I would call a stage of rebuilding. Neither team walked away from the season being able to call it a successful year. MSU, despite making a bowl, ended with a 6-7 record, finishing sixth in the Big Ten at 4-4. UofM, although improved from a 3-9 record in 2008, failed once again to wow boosters with big pockets, with a 5-7 overall record and 1-7 Big Ten standing.
Thankfully for both programs, a 2010 season of high hopes has already begun this spring. Each team needs to put in a lengthy amount of work to return to where they want to be in the college football realm.
Spartan fans can hang up their hoops dreams until, by the looks of it, next season’s Final Four and get back to focusing on the gridiron. Spring practice opened March 23 and will conclude with the spring game on Saturday, April 24. A positive MSU has heading into the 2010 season is the experience at quarterback in junior Kirk Cousins. Cousins was in a battle in 2009 against junior Keith Nicole and rightfully won it throughout the year. Now, with a year of starting experience under his belt, Cousins can take the spring to polish the tools instead of worrying about who’s nipping at his heels.
At wide receiver, the Blair White project has come to an end for MSU and, although it may not have the same ring to it, the Keith Nicole project has begun. Nicole, a quarterback last season, moved to wideout fulltime this spring after experimenting at the position late last year while starting the bowl game. Nicole opened spring in the number one slot followed by a lengthy list of other excellent pass catchers, including Keshawn Martin, Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham.
Defensively, the Spartans are led by a duo of linebackers, who combined for 246 tackles last season. Seniors Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. Jones was a unanimous All-American selection and Big Ten defensive player of the year winner last season. A player in the mold of New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Jones should have just as productive a year as 2009, if not better. The defense will need to find playmakers in a nonexistent secondary which walked away with just six total interceptions.
If players can refrain from beating up frat boys for one season and focus a bit more on the football field, the Spartans could be in for a big 2010 season.
Where to start with UofM football? One more dismal season for head coach Rich Rodriguez, and he may be asking himself where to go. Fans have had it out for Rich Rod and his West Virginia spread since the day he arrived. He’s sent players transferring from the program like a going out of business sale, which is ironic because that’s exactly how UofM has played the last two seasons.
Another losing record in Ann Arbor won’t cut it. The 2009 team looked to have promise after opening up on a four game win streak, only to drop the rest of its Big Ten schedule. Freshman sensation quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson appear to be in a tighter competition than originally thought this spring according to Rodriguez. Tate should walk away with the nod, but the team needs to find unique ways to let “Shoelace” Robinson touch the ball, as he is one of the fastest and most dynamic players on the roster.
The key for the Wolverines will be defense. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson is implementing a 3-3-5 scheme. Whether the secondary has five capable starting defensive backs now comes into question. The defense will see a lot of young new faces come fall. Two of those new faces that may surprise are the likes of true freshman safeties Demar Dorsey and Marvin Robinson. Both are Florida products who bring excellent speed and size: Dorsey runs a 4.35 40-yard dash, and Robinson is 6’1’’ and 205 pounds. Sophomore defensive end Craig Roh and junior end Ryan Van Bergen will be counted upon to bring up a pass rush that will be replacing All-American Brandon Graham.
Depth is and has been UofM’s largest concern for while now. With so many players transferring out because of Rich Rod’s system of play, which is apparently a little too much practice, it has been hard for the team to build depth. I finally think the defense has caught up to where the team needs it to be, though.
The season for the Wolverines will once again come down to the play of the quarterback position as it so often does in the spread system. Whether it is Forcier, Shoelace or incoming five-star recruit Devin Gardner, better play out of one of them is a must. At least for the sake of Rich Rodriguez’s job security.