The 2018 college football season is rapidly approaching! This is the time of the year that many of you are returning to your favorite sites to learn more about how your football teams are going to do this season, so welcome back!
Part of understanding where Nebraska stands as we enter the 2018 season is having a good understanding of our beloved Huskers’ opponents. I’ve reached out to our Big Ten opponents for some question and answer sessions to find out what they’re thinking about their favorite teams.
The first is from Josh LaFond from our SBNation Michigan site Maize N Brew.
I know many of you feel like Nebraska could go into Ann Arbor and sneak away with an upset; that the Wolverines aren’t that good. I might re-think that if I were you... their defense is... well, I’ll let Josh tell you.
CN: Let’s start off the right way. Nebraska beats a #3 ranked Peyton Manning led Tennessee team 42-17 and Michigan beat a #8 ranked Ryan Leaf led Washington State team 21-16. Those are the most important facts about the 1997 teams, right?
Josh: Ryan Leaf, Schmyran Leaf, Michigan had beaten #4 Ohio State the game before right? Oh, and also beat 6 other ranked opponents -- including Washington State throughout the season. Nebraska was a good team and was deserving... of the #2 ranking and having the right to hang an “Orange Bowl Champions” banner, just not a “1997 National Championship” banner.
CN: What is the temperature of Jim Harbaugh’s seat? We also have a former player coming back to restore the program so maybe we can learn from what you guys do. Nobody wants to fire a former player.
Josh: Ice cold. Former lineman, Warde Manuel is Michigan’s athletic director and is fully backing Jim Harbaugh come hell or high water. Much has been made of the lack of success beating rivals. The fact is, however, that when Harbaugh got to town, the roster was not only in shambles for the most part, the culture was so far removed from Michigan standards it might has well been New Hampshire. It’s been a massive rebuilding and retooling process and it’s one that fans haven’t been the most patient with.
After this season, should the Wolverines under achieve and post a record like they did last season (8-5) then maybe the talks of looking for another messiah like savior get louder but the fact is, Jim Harbaugh is Michigan’s plan A-Z and if he can’t restore the Maize n’ Blue back to their former glory, then who can?
CN: Michigan’s defense has the potential to be one of the top two or three in the nation this season. There seem to be stars in every position group. Is there anyone you expect to win major awards, i.e., Outland, Lombardi, etc?
Josh: You’re right. They are LOADED. Just to give you a few names, I would definitely keep my eyes on linebackers Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush Jr. Both of these guys, especially Khaleke are due for a great year. The way that (defensive coordinator) Don Brown uses these two guys constantly, puts them in a position to make plays, and put up gaudy stats. That should lead them to at least finalist discussion.
On the defensive line, look for defensive ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich to be in conversations for all of your defensive lineman awards. Gary is a projected high first round pick in next years’ NFL draft, and Chase Winovich has put up better stats than Ohio State’s star, Nick Bosa. The way that these two dominate opposing tackles and compliment each others game it doesn’t matter who you double team, one of them is getting home on nearly every down.
CN: What is up with the offensive line? While there are many complaints about lack of a great quarterback, it seems like Michigan’s offensive line has under performed greatly over the past few years. Will there be a solid running game to take pressure off Patterson (assumed starter) this season?
Josh: Ha... Michigan fans have been searching for an offensive line to tread water and not get their quarterback killed since Lloyd Carr walked out the door, and Rich Rodriguez *gag* came in. The fact is Brady Hoke -- while somehow being a tremendous recruiter and Chris Christie’s identical twin, whiffed on nearly every offensive lineman recruit. Couple that with less than adequate development and coaching by former OC & O-Line coach, Tim Drevno (now USC Trojan RB coach) you find those concerns there.
I do think this year however will be different. Michigan has brought in arguably the best offensive line coach in the country in Ed Warinner (former Ohio State OC & O-Line coach), and by all accounts it’s paying dividends. The Wolverines are solid at running back with Doak Walker Award hopeful, Karan Higdon, and returning fan favorite Chris Evans. The guards and center are set and the boys in blue should be able to run through the tackles well, the question will be how the competition during fall camp winds up for the left & right tackle positions.
If Harbaugh and Warinner can find two tackles who can just tread water, the ground game should explode with the ability to now bounce it outside, and to answer that last part of the question, should take pressure off of the assumed starter Shea Patterson.
CN: Jim Harbaugh has his quirks; milk, the trips overseas, but his recent performance at Big Ten Media Days where he repeatedly answered “”Improvement will lead to success and lead to championships” and showed up in his coaching attire seems to raise more questions about him than ever. What do you and/or Michigan fans think of Harbaugh’s personality? Is it something you feel you need to apologize for constantly?
Jon: I don’t want to speak for fans as a whole, but the ones I do know -- and myself included, don’t apologize for his quirks or personality or feel the need to, to be honest. Jim Harbaugh by all accounts is a genuine man -- not just coach. He really cares for his players and despite the way he can interact with local and national media, he doesn’t come across that way to fans.
CN: What is the best thing about a game at “The Big House?” We complain about our food choices at Memorial Stadium all the time. What’s the best thing to eat at Michigan Stadium?
Josh: Whew, that’s tough, Jon. I’ve been going to games since I was a little guy and there’s a lot to pick from. For you and for our Nebraska readers, I would definitley recommend making the trip up this season for the Nebraska/Michigan game if at all possible for you. The Big House is a bucket list venue for college football fans being that it’s the second largest stadium in the world, only behind North Korea’s cricket venue *eye roll*.
Personally, my favorite thing is the fan fare performance by the band, followed by ‘The Victors’ fight song, and then the players running out and tapping the “M Go Blue” banner. That experience alone has been enough alone for friends of mine who are not Michigan fans to make the trip to Ann Arbor.
Best thing to eat on the other hand? That’s tough. Honestly, it’s not an elite selection by any means. Being that it is Michigan, try the bratwurst, it’s always good in my opinion. The cinnamon sugar roasted almonds on a cold fall Saturday aren’t too bad either.
CN: What would make for a successful season in 2018? Number of wins? Or just continued improvement?
Josh: Readers will probably snark and laugh at what I’m about to say but I will say it anyway. 2018 is Big Ten Championship or bust. Michigan returns it’s best defense since the 97’ and 06’ season (06’ was the year of #1 Ohio State vs #2 Michigan game dubbed “The Game of the Century”). It is loaded at skill positions, has a plethora of tight ends which are red zone weapons for sure, they look to have their best QB in Shea Patterson since Chad Henne took his last snap in the winged helmet.
As we mentioned earlier too regarding the offensive line, that situation looks to be handled. And even if it isn’t, when you have a defense as good as this, you just need your offense to tread water. Should they only do that, this is easily a 9-3, 10-2 season. However, if the offense can actually take a little pressure of the defense and score let’s say 25, 26 ppg, then you’re looking at a Michigan team that will be in fantastic shape to make a run at the Big Ten East title.
Michigan fans are trying their dangedest to not give their hopes up as we all have for the last millennia, but this is the most talented team in years and wins over Notre Dame, Michigan State, and yes, Ohio State are within sight, as is a potential trip to Indy and to the college football playoff.