Tag Archives: Jabrill Peppers

Jabrill Peppers Is Not a Heisman Candidate

Enough with the “Jabrill Peppers for Heisman” talk.

A lot of media members peg Michigan’s “do-it-all” super (red shirt) sophomore as one of the best players in the nation.

There are likely two reasons for that:

  1. Beyond Lamar Jackson, there aren’t many other worthy candidates out there. As a result, the media needs someone to help them create a compelling “Heisman Race” story.
  2. People are too blinded by the fact that he can play 10 different positions that they fail to recognize that he is only good, not great, at each of those positions.

The first reason is a topic for another day.  I’d like to paint a better picture of just how “good” Peppers really is at each position he plays.

His impact at each position is no greater than the impact of any other teammate that plays that position.

Peppers is not a Heisman-caliber player.

People like to compare Peppers to Charles Woodson, who became the only defensive player to win the Heisman in 1997.  Woodson played defense, offense and special teams, just like Peppers does.  However, Woodson was at the top or near the top of most defensive categories that season, both on his team and nationally.

Woodson led the team with seven interceptions (including a few very acrobatic picks), which was good for second in the nation. He also finished the ’97 season with 11 receptions for 231 and a receiving touchdown, as well as a touchdown on the ground.

My Campus Pressbox colleague Mitch Gatzke thinks these comparisons have only been drawn because Woodson also played at Michigan.  That’s really the only comparison that can be made.

Defensively, Peppers (listed as a linebacker on the depth chart) leads the team in solo tackles, but is third in total tackles behind fellow linebackers Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray.  Both Gedeon and McCray have .5 sacks more than Peppers.

Peppers does have more tackles than each defensive lineman on the team, but there are four defensive linemen with more sacks than him.

How about defending passes? Peppers is eighth on the team in passes defended and doesn’t have an interception.

On the offensive side of the ball, Peppers is fifth on the team in rushing yards (163) and rushing touchdowns (3).

Peppers does do a nice job returning punts. His 15.2 yards per return average is good for seventh in the nation. He, like Woodson in ‘97, has returned one for a touchdown.

Peppers’ all-around effectiveness is definitely a big part of Michigan’s success, but remember last season when Christian McCaffrey led his team in rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns, as well as kick and punt return yardage, and still finished second in the Heisman voting results?  No, he didn’t play defense, but he was the best player on the team in several categories.

Without McCaffrey, Stanford would not have had nearly as much success as they did. Without Peppers, Michigan would still have players to fill those voids.

So, go ahead — try to convince me that a defensive player that doesn’t lead his team in total tackles, sacks, passes defended, interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries should win the Heisman, especially when he also doesn’t lead his team in a single offensive category either.

An invite to the ceremony due to the lack of other dynamic players this year? Maybe.

He wouldn’t make my invite list, though.

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Maize & Blue Nation, Flickr

 

It’s Time To Respect Wilton Speight

Jabrill Peppers gets a lot of attention when people discuss the University of Michigan and that’s fair. When a player can play eleven positions well, he should get some kind of attention. ESPN also has something to do with that as it feels the need to hype up a defensive player to make the Heisman race that much more interesting. The way they talk about him, you’d think that he was the only story going on at Michigan.

Sure, Peppers can make the flashy plays but he isn’t exactly the guy that runs the show.

That title goes to redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight.

No one really is talking about Speight much because he isn’t putting up video game numbers like Lamar Jackson in Louisville, but what Speight is doing for the Wolverines needs to be appreciated.

To really appreciate it, you have to understand that Wilton Speight had almost given up on football. He was basically lost to the point of Harbaugh telling him to get off the field in 2015. You’ve got a kid who was unfocused on football and not even sure if he could play at the collegiate level. He took over for an injured Jake Rudock against Minnesota and engineered a game-winning drive.

Fast forward to this year and you wouldn’t even know it’s the same guy.

Completion percentage-wise, his worst game was 46% but that’s because he threw only 13 passes in an absolute destruction of Rutgers. Even with that game, Wilton Speight is averaging a 64.5% completion rate. He just cracked the 2000 yard mark last week against Maryland as his performance continues to improve each week.

Possibly the most impressive part of Wilton Speight’s game is his decision making. In 231 passing attempts this season, Speight has only thrown three interceptions. That’s really incredible care of the ball for someone who is really just getting his first taste of playing.

Look, I’m not trying to sell you Wilton Speight as a Heisman candidate (maybe next year). He’s been a very good player but you don’t win awards for ball security.

What I’m trying to sell you on is that the quarterback spot for Michigan is not the liability that we all kind of secretly thought it was going to be. It’s OK, we can all admit it now. We all thought it.

Don’t believe me? Even head coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t think he was going to be this good. Harbaugh’s not a guy to pull punches and is going to tell it how it is. If he says he expected Wilton Speight to have a rocky season, then that’s what he expected. No one expected much from the kid and he won the starting job anyway.

So what does this all mean?

It means that Michigan’s offense is on the verge of becoming as dominant as the highly touted defense it boasts. Don’t believe me? Michigan ranks 20th in total offense with the only other projected playoff team ahead of them being newly anointed no.4 Washington, ranked at 19. The greatest team to ever play, Alabama, ranks 30th. So the 20th best offense and the best defense in the nation and that offense keeps getting better each week. Michigan has scored 31 more points than the next closest team in Ohio State and allowed 28 fewer points.

Look, there are a lot of haters out there but it’s time for them to just accept it. With Wilton Speight at the helm, the Michigan Wolverines are very much legit and very much a threat to win the National Championship.

E-mail Tim at .

Image courtesy Flickr via Creative Commons

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Playoff or Bust for the Wolverines

I’m in my car on my way home from work Wednesday afternoon, listening to Valenti and Foster, a sports talk show on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit.  Mike Valenti, my favorite sports talk show host, asks a crucial question of Michigan fans.  At this point, should the expectation be Playoff or bust for the Wolverines this year?

At 6-0, fresh off an 11-touchdown, shutout conference road win (somebody get Pat Hobbs a beer, please), currently ranked fourth in the nation, yes, it most certainly is Playoff or bust for the Wolverines in 2016.  That’s not me being a fan.  Truly, I will be just as happy watching Nick Saban lift another trophy this January.  No, this is me looking at the position Michigan is in and recognizing this could be the year.  Here’s why:

As Valenti pointed out on the show, this is a talented team.  Brady Hoke was a clown of a coach but for whatever reason, kids 17-23 love this guy.  Jim Harbaugh inherited a stacked roster.  Hoke recruited better than most could have and he left a cupboard full of top talent that’s coming of age in Harbaugh’s second season in Ann Arbor.

The Talent is There

Jourdan Lewis is the best cover corner in the country and it’s not because of this slick pick.  He’s been locking down his side of the field for the past two years.  That’s one of Hoke’s guys.  Taco Charlton is a force on the defensive line, another Hoke guy.  Jabrill Peppers is Jabrill Peppers.  He’s also a leftover from Hoke.  These are just a few examples.

No matter whose recruits they are, they’re all Harbaugh’s players now.  He doesn’t have to wait for his guys to get to campus.  It doesn’t seem like he’s having a hard time fitting the ones he’s got into his system.  Harbaugh has the talent he needs right now and he’s clearly the man better suited to elevating their game.

The Schedule Opens Up

Take a look at the remaining schedule.  It looks much easier than originally anticipated, doesn’t it?  Let’s be honest: Illinois is terrible, Michigan State is reeling, Maryland lost to the only decent team it’s played, Iowa has returned to its usual form, and Indiana isn’t nearly as scary away from Bloomington.  There’s one more game left on the Wolverines’ schedule, too.  I just can’t place it.

Look, The Game is going to be the toughest test of the season every year for the rest of eternity.  It doesn’t matter where it’s played or how good either team is.  Everybody brings their best when the Wolverines and the Buckeyes clash.  Blowouts are not common.  In the past 20 years, only four meetings have been decided by more than 14 points.  You better come to play two days after Thanksgiving or you might not finish the game.

The Big Ten Difference

I’m safely assuming the Big Ten East teams with only one conference loss (Penn State, Maryland, Indiana) will all lose at least once more, leaving the Wolverines and Buckeyes to figure it out themselves.  Even if one of them takes a loss before the November 26 matchup, a win there would end up being the tiebreaker.  Plenty of Michigan fans would tell you it’s a failure of a season if you don’t beat Theee Ohio State University anyway.  This year, just add a Playoff spot to the stakes.

That’s my point. That, more than anything is why it’s Playoff or bust this fall for Harbaugh and his Wolverines.  Beating the Buckeyes secures you a spot in the Playoff.

Really, the Big Ten Championship Game won’t matter at that point.  Obviously, a win would boost your resume but a loss wouldn’t ruin it.  Think about it.  Wisconsin has lost to Michigan and will lose to Ohio State this weekend.  Nebraska will lose this weekend at Indiana, at Wisconsin in a couple weeks and probably at Iowa to end the season.  Forget the Badgers.  Forget the Huskers.  A Big Ten championship won’t be enough of a boost for either of them.  And there’s a zero percent chance the Big Ten gets locked out of the College Football Playoff this fall.

There are higher powers at work here.  Despite the total mediocrity of the mid- to lower-tiers of the conference, the Big Ten is getting a lot of hype nationally, this season.  There are currently four Big Ten teams in the top 10 for the first time during a season since 1960.  People are sick of the SEC and they want a replacement.  Unfortunately for them; the Big 12 is absolute garbage, the Pac-12 can’t keep its average teams from devouring its good teams, and the ACC’s best three teams are clustered in the Atlantic division, preventing its biggest game from featuring its best matchup.  That leaves the Big Ten, which might actually sneak two teams into the Playoff.

It all comes down to The Game, as it should.  Since that’s the case, it might as well be Playoff or bust for the 2016 Michigan Wolverines.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image: Wikipedia

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Jabrill Peppers is Not a Serious Heisman Contender

As the 2016 season unfolds, players are making their case for the Heisman Trophy with Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson currently emerging as the frontrunner with Clemson’s strong-armed leader Deshaun Watson and Ohio State’s signal caller J.T. Barrett right behind him.

It’s no secret to college football fans that when it comes to the Heisman Trophy being a quarterback makes you much more likely to be voted the winner than any other position. 13 of the last 15 Heisman winners were quarterbacks.

It may seem unfair and I understand why defensive players get sick of seeing those who play offense get to continuously take home college football’s most prestigious award. I mean if the Heisman states it awards, “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity”, shouldn’t a defensive player be able to occasionally take home the honor?

With this in mind, many fans have been saying the same thing ever since 1997 when Michigan’s Charles Woodson took the Heisman as the only defensive player to win it.

Well, low and behold, almost 20 years later, Michigan is in a similar situation as they are undefeated, poised to make a run at a national title, and have the second coming of Woodson in the form of junior Swiss Army knife Jabrill Peppers. Though his default position is linebacker, Peppers also switches to safety in addition to fielding punts and making time for offense as running back, wide receiver and even wildcat quarterback. No one can deny the impact he makes as he is typically the best player on the field, making offensive lines weary of his pass-rushing abilities as he has accumulated 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble and putting pressure on defenses as he lines up on offense even as a decoy.

Due to all of this excitement, many of the Michigan faithful have jumped aboard the Peppers hype train and have proclaimed him to be a serious Heisman contender but I’m here to tell you, he isn’t.

Sorry to burst your bubble Michigan. I mean as a Big Ten fan, I wish I could agree but he was never a serious contender.

Now, I’ve definitely seen some of the plays Peppers has made and he is undoubtedly one of the most electrifying players out there with his pure speed and quickness. In fact, Peppers apparently clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.34. In the past 10 years, the fastest time any linebacker has run in an NFL combine is 4.40. That’s incredible and word spread quickly after he showcased his sick athleticism in all facets of the last season so I get why fans were excited.

At the same time, just because you have incredible skills and can play multiple positions, doesn’t automatically make you a Heisman trophy candidate. Also, when you look at the numbers, Woodson still has an all-around better stat sheet. Now I know the season is still young and anything can happen but the prospect of Peppers outshining Woodson is not high.

Woodson had 44 tackles and Peppers has 36 already but by today’s standards, Peppers doesn’t even crack the top-100 in total tackles. Also, Woodson had three offensive touchdowns with 238 receiving yards and right now, Peppers has zero receiving yards and no touchdowns. Peppers has more tackles for loss(9.5-5), more sacks (2.5-1), will likely shatter Woodson’s punt return yardage of 283, and probably break his 529 all-purpose yards as he has 365 already but the one statistic that jumps out in Woodson favor is his 9 pass breakups and 8 interceptions and Peppers has zero breakups and zero interceptions.

The numbers are one thing but the other part is Michigan needs to somehow go undefeated, beat Ohio State and win a national title. Easier said than done. And even if Peppers breaks all of Woodson’s numbers and gets a title, would Heisman voters really cast their ballots for him when Jackson is on pace to score 60 touchdowns?

I feel he really is in a no-win situation unfortunately and some even say he isn’t the best player on defense but that shutdown corner Jourdan Lewis is more effective.

To me, Peppers is fantastic and fun to watch but as long as the current system is in place, it’s hard to see any defensive player being a true Heisman candidate.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ken Lund

Predicted: New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff National Championship

This is the third and final part of my 2016 College Football Preview. The picks in this article directly reflect my first and second article, so check those out before reading this one.

Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND) 12/31/16

Miami (9-4) vs. LSU (10-2)

The Matchup: Miami will get the automatic ACC bid, as the Hurricanes are the best ACC team not in the CFP. LSU squeezes its way into the New Year’s Six over the likes of Notre Dame, the second team in line who just misses the New Year’s Six due to their indecisiveness at the QB position early in the season, which cost a few games. Other teams who are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Orange Bowl spot are Michigan State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but none of them finish over 9-3.

The Game: This is Leonard Fournette’s final game in an LSU jersey. He will eat up the Miami defense, which will have to deal with a bit of Les Miles madness. LSU will come out passing early and often, as the Miami defense gets weaker the further away from the line of scrimmage you go. Once the Tigers expose Miami’s pass defense, LSU will catch the Hurricanes on their heels by simply letting Fournette run over the competition. Fournette’s early season injury may keep him out of the Heisman Race, but he will sure look like a Heisman winner after this game is all said and done. LSU will simply put up too many points for the Hurricanes to keep up with.

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

Cotton Bowl (At-Large vs. At-Large) 1/2/17

Michigan (11-1) vs. UH (12-1)

The Matchup: Michigan is not happy to be here. The Wolverines believe that it belongs in the CFP. However, it ends up playing in Dallas facing off against a Houston Cougars squad whose excitement to be in this spotlight inversely mirrors the Wolverines.

The Game: The team’s respective enthusiasm for this particular game reflects into the matchup’s first half to a large degree. Michigan comes out uninterested and sluggish, which a Greg Ward, AAC player of the Year, powered Cougar offense heavily exploits. The First Half ends with the Cougars up 14-10. The Wolverines swing back in the second half, and take a three-point lead over UH with just over a minute left in the game. Greg Ward leads a final charge down the field into the red zone with time winding down. However, after two incomplete passes, Jabrill Peppers fools Ward, after Peppers fakes a blitz before dropping back into coverage. The strong Wolverine defensive line forces Ward to rush a decision, and he overlooks Peppers before throwing a pass which Peppers intercepts.

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) 1/2/17

Iowa (9-4) vs. Stanford (11-2)

The Matchup: Iowa, who lost the Big Ten championship to Ohio State, gets the automatic Rose Bowl bid. Stanford, meanwhile, wins the Pac-12 and because no Pac-12 team gets into the CFP, are the other automatic bid, which makes the 2017 Rose Bowl an identical matchup to the 2016 game.

The Game:  This game will have a similar outcome as the matchup the previous year. Stanford will let Christian McCaffrey run free, and he will single-handedly slaughter Iowa. Iowa, in all honesty, does not belong in the Rose Bowl, and once again, the game’s result shows that. This one is not even close.

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) 1/2/17

TCU (10-2) vs. Tennessee (10-3)

The Matchup: I’m going to be honest. Even though I picked them to be here, I would be surprised if Tennessee can win the SEC East and get the automatic bowl berth. The Volunteers’ inconsistency over the last several years makes I hard to believe that it can string together a solid season and take the East over Georgia and Florida. But, that’s what my mind believed when I wrote last week’s prediction article, so here we are. If the Volunteers manage to make it to the Sugar Bowl, it will face off against TCU, winners of the lackluster Big 12.

The Game: Despite the fact that I don’t think it will make it to this game, I think the SEC will prove too much for TCU. Tennessee, behind powerhouse running back Jalen Hurd and a Joshua Dobbs who develops into a great passer throughout the season, are able to out muster the Horned Frogs offensively. Tennessee’ defense, which nine starters, will shut down the Horned Frogs’ offense. This will be a defensive battle between these two teams, but the Volunteers prevail.

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)  12/31/16

#1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 FSU (11-1)

The Matchup: Ohio State, still riding off “The Game of the Century” Part 2, in which the Buckeyes beat #2 ranked Michigan, gets the #1 overall seed for the third annual College Football Playoff. FSU, meanwhile, campaigns hard for its spot, which the Seminoles fight Michigan, Stanford, TCU and Houston for. However, dominating wins late in the season after a close defeat to Clemson allow FSU to squeeze into its second College Football Playoff appearance.

The Game: Lead by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner, J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes get off to a quick start, scoring quickly on a pass over the middle against the weakest part of the Seminole defense. However, the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense will struggle to do anything to stop the Dalvin Cook Seminole offense, and FSU goes up by 10 heading into halftime. Coming out of the half, Dontre Wilson brings the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making the Buckeyes deficit only three. Both defenses then hunker down, with the likes of Raekwon McMillan and DeMarcus Walker dominating for the Buckeyes and Seminoles respectively. Late in the 4th, J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State down the field, but Urban Meyer has to settle for a field goal. However, with two minutes to work with, Dalvin Cook is able to take his time and rush the Seminoles into Field Goal position with only a few ticks left. Ricky Aguayo gets a perfect hold ad knocks home a 52-yard field goal as time expires to allow the Seminoles to win.

Final Score: Florida State Seminoles 23 – Ohio State Buckeyes 20

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) 12/31/16

#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-1)

The Matchup: Winners of the ACC and SEC respectively, Clemson and Alabama both come off monster season to qualify as the middle seeds for the College Football Playoff. Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, Clemson finished undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss came to Ole Miss early in the season.

The Game: This game will ultimately come down to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense. The Alabama offense will struggle with Cooper Bateman at the helm, but Clemson’s defense will not be nearly as dominant as years past, allowing the Crimson Tide to find holes to score both on the ground and in the air. However, the issue for Alabama is that Clemson’s offense simply has too many pieces, as if the passing game to wide outs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott struggles, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, both of whom were 1000 yard rushers in 2015, can simply push Alabama back behind the Tigers’ O-Line. Though Alabama remains in the game in the first half, Clemson comes out firing in the second and breaks the game wide open. Alabama, though talented, won’t have an answer for Clemson, and the Tigers win the game by a fairly wide margin. The Crimson Tide’s shot at returning to the College Football National Championship is cut one game short.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

 College Football Playoff National Championship 1/9/16 (Tampa, FL)

#2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles (12-1)

The Game: This game is going to be a rematch of possibly the best offensive matchup of the 2016 season. Earlier, Clemson beat out FSU in Tallahassee, and that is why the Tigers remained undefeated the entire year. The National Championship, featuring two teams less located less than 600 miles from the game’s location, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be an offensive bout the likes of which we haven’t seen in man years. While both teams have competent defenses, Clemson and FSU will look to win the National Championship with offensive firepower. This game will actually not be as much of a nail-biter as their first matchup, as Deshaun Watson, in his second straight title game, will come out firing on all cylinders. FSU will stay in the game, but the Clemson offense will prove to be too much, and keep a constant lead over the Seminoles the entire game. The Clemson Tigers will have its first National Title since 1981.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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Image Courtesy of Counse – Flickr

Surprises and Disappointments for the Big Ten in 2016

As every season approaches I have this little tradition where I like to make predictions about the upcoming college football season. I also have a tradition that I’m a little keener on breaking where I get most of my predictions wrong. I think predicting that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz would be fired halfway through last season is my peak. Although to my credit, I nailed that Wisconsin wouldn’t have a thousand-yard rusher.

So in an attempt to be a little less terrible at the advice of the big boss man Seth, I’m going to focus things down a little bit. Instead of wild, ranging predictions I’m going to focus on what I expect to be the surprises and the disappointments of the 2016 season both at an individual player level and at the team level as well. To save time, let’s assume I’m going to be disappointed by Purdue and not put them on here.

Player Surprise

There’s a lot of buzz coming from the national media about Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and the Heisman trophy. He’s currently got the most preseason hype for a defensive player that I can remember in quite a while. I’ve got news for you, though: if Ndamukong Suh didn’t win the Heisman, no other defensive player is going to either unless they are literally the best defensive player ever. Like the LeBron James of linebackers or pick your defensive position.

That’s not the surprise, though. The surprise is that the Heisman contender and maybe even Heisman finalist is going to come from a different Big Ten school.

Now without having to look over his shoulder or wonder if he’s going to be splitting time with a less efficient player, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett reverts back to his freshman form and airs it out for an absurd touchdown total. Peppers is the one on the lists now but that’s for the September Heisman. When they’re making the final list come November and December it’s going to be Barrett that people are talking about.

Player Disappointment

Iowa had a magical season last year. There’s really no other way to put it. The Hawkeyes will still probably win the West but they’re going to come back down to earth a little bit. That decline is going to be lead by none other than starter quarterback C.J. Beathard.

It’s not going to be Beathard’s fault completely, though. The departure of Iowa’s two best linemen including Brandon Scherff who went 5th overall to the Washington Redskins is really going to hurt them. It’s going to hurt the run game and it’s going to hurt the passing game. Lead rusher Jordan Canzeri is also gone so that’s an outlet that Beathard no longer has. You don’t lose that kind of supporting staff without taking a step back.

Beathard’s going to have to force a couple more throws and take a few more hits. Look for the completion percentage to drop from 2015’s 61% and the interception total to jump to the double digits. They’ll still win their division but with less comfortable wins.

Team Surprise

You wouldn’t guess it by their 6-7 record in 2015 but Indiana was actually a pretty good team. They scare Ohio State and Michigan who they took to double overtime and then lost an overtime barn burner against Duke in the Pinstripe Bowl. The score doesn’t reflect it but they were taking it to Michigan State for all but about seven minutes of that game too.

The Hoosiers brought in the 52nd overall recruiting class in 2015 which was fairly heavy on defensive players. There are no projected studs in the class but they’re all 3-star recruits. The Hoosiers were only a couple stops away from finishing the season 9-4 and maybe some of these recruits are those missing pieces.

Now I’m not going to say that Indiana is going to run the tables right to the Big Ten Championship game. I’m just saying they’re going to be better than anyone expects. They’ve got a chance to be 4-0 as they head to Ohio State in week 5. Don’t be surprised if the Hoosiers end up with eight wins in 2016.

Team Disappointment

This one was hard but based on what they’ve done in the past and the precedent that they’ve set for themselves now, Michigan State is going to be the team to disappoint the Big Ten in 2016. I don’t care that he wasn’t the captain and all that junk, Connor Cook was essential to the Spartans success in the past few years. Losing him is a huge hit. Replacing him and a number of players on both sides of the ball is going to be incredibly difficult.

The Spartans are never going to slide back into their basement-dwelling ways as long as Mark Dantonio prowls the sidelines but they’re not going to finish the season with one loss and a trip to the playoffs. I peg them with at least three losses. One to each member of the Hate Triangle, Ohio State and Michigan, as well as one to Notre Dame. They get BYU, Wisconsin, and Northwestern at home but there’s a chance to drop one of those too. Dantonio is one of the best coaches in college football and he’s not going to allow for much more than that.

Bonus Prediction

ESPN is going to have to fire up the slogan generator and hire some graphic artists because the Big Ten is going to come down to the final day of the season. It’ll be the “Day of Disaster” or “Saturday Showdown” or something like that as Nebraska and Iowa play to win the West and Ohio State and Michigan play to win the East. Give me Brent Musburger and “This is for all the Tostitos” but it’s going to be a great day of football for Big Ten fans.

E-mail Tim at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @TBach84.

Photo courtesy YouTube

What is Don Brown doing with Jabrill Peppers at Michigan?

I’ll admit it, at this point I’m confused about what Jabrill Peppers is.

He arrived at the University of Michigan with tremendous hype when then-coach Brady Hoke brought him in as one of the most highly sought after recruits in 2014. Of recruits that year Peppers was ranked as the second best player at any position with only Leonard Fournette being ranked higher.

In 2014 Peppers was a corner in that injury-shortened season.

In 2015 Peppers was the starting safety.

Now coming into 2016 Peppers is going to start… as a linebacker?

New defensive coordinator Don Brown has installed Peppers as his strong-side linebacker because… reasons. You’ve got a guy who was regarded as one of the best defensive players in the country and you move him to another another position. This isn’t one of those cases where there was someone even better coming in to take his spot either. If I could photoshop I’d be putting Don Brown’s face onto the “Because aliens” guy because this idea in many aspects makes no sense.

As far as Peppers goes, what exactly is Jabrill Peppers?

We all know that he came in with a ton of hype but that doesn’t always mean anything. Michigan fans might remember the hype around Sam McGuffie who did literally nothing and Wisconsin fans will remember the absolute lack of hype around a fellow named J.J. Watt. More often than not, especially these days, the hype is justified but not always. However it’s hard to shake that hype. Once branded a star you’re pretty much a star until you epically flame out.

Is that what Jabrill Peppers is? Is he a guy that’s being carried by his hype and good enough to play but not good enough to keep a job? Let’s be real too. The Harbaugh train creates a lot of hype for pretty much everyone on his team, or in this case keeps the hype train going. If Peppers is really that good, that much of an impact performer at his position why does he keep changing it? Maybe Don Brown already has someone that they view as being better than Peppers at safety. Peppers already got shifted in the defensive backfield once, why not again?

Maybe we’ve all been fooled by some highlight reel plays and Jabrill Peppers is only just above average. He couldn’t keep up at corner so they moved him to safety. He couldn’t keep up at safety so now he’s a linebacker. What happens in 2017? Back the weight on him and move him to running back? It’s just so odd to move a guy around that much.

Then… there’s the flipside.

What if Jabrill Peppers really is just that damn good?

If this is a kid that can excel at three different positions on the football field, we are looking at an athlete we haven’t seen the likes of in a long time. Guys get shifted around sometimes when there’s a need, going from defensive tackle to defensive end or inside linebacker to outside linebacker. Usually that change is on the same level of the defense though. Moving a guy to the most important position on the field when he’s never played anything like it is pretty bold.

It still seems pretty crazy but Don Brown had Boston College playing some serious defense last season. They were the number one defense in the nation in yardage allowed. You’d like to think that he knows what he’s doing. No offense to Boston College either but the University of Michigan probably has better recruits on its defense too.

If Jabrill Peppers excels at linebacker to the level that everyone seems to assume that he will like with every other position, he could be attending the Heisman ceremony as the first defensive player invited since 2012. Will it happen? I don’t know. The Michigan fan in me says yes but the realist in me says let’s not place any bets just yet.

E-mail Tim at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @TBach84.

Photo courtesy of Brad Muckenthaler via Flickr and is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Michigan Wolverines Early Football Preview

The Michigan Wolverines have seemingly always been a national powerhouse and a respected program but it wasn’t that long ago that the team was struggling. From 2006, the last time it contended for a national title, to the end of the 2014 season, the team was a shell of its former glory, compiling a pedestrian 55-46 record. The program didn’t win anything of consequence and didn’t deserve to be mentioned among the other titans of the national landscape. Boy, have things changed since Jim Harbaugh has taken the head coaching position. With his illustrious coaching resume, flamboyant sideline antics, hard-nosed personality and khaki pants, he has reinvigorated Michigan and almost overnight, brought the team back to the national conversation. Now this team is poised to make a run at a Big Ten title and a college football championship.

2016 Schedule

As far as the schedule is concerned, getting off to a 3-0 start shouldn’t be too difficult for Michigan as it takes on Hawaii and Central Florida, both of which are coming off disappointing seasons with new coaching staffs, and a Colorado club that accumulated four total victories. The Wolverines will then face Penn State and Wisconsin, but will be within the friendly confines of the Big House. In fact, Michigan leaves the state just once before November 12. After a trip to Rutgers and a bye, the Wolverines will host Illinois before venturing into East Lansing, where they will be hungry for revenge after last season’s devastating loss in the waning seconds. After that battle for state pride, there is a winnable matchup versus Maryland and a tough trip west to Iowa. To close out the year, Indiana, who nearly pulled off the upset in 2015, comes to town, then the grand finale will be a ferocious battle with the Silver Bullets down in Columbus. It’s not inconceivable to see the Wolverines to rack up 9-10 wins this season as they most likely will be favored in most of their matchups. Two possible hiccups are undoubtedly Michigan State and Ohio State, where they have had trouble playing at in the past few years. Iowa will also be fully loaded and Wisconsin is no slouch either but it helps having eight home games.

Offense

Michigan is looking for a replacement under center and a competition has been brewing between John O’Korn, Wilton Speight and Shane Morris.

O’Korn was named the American Athletic Conference’s freshman of the year in 2013 at Houston and was sidelined last season due to NCAA rules after transferring to Michigan. He has the most experience out of any of the quarterbacks with 34 career touchdowns and showcased his athleticism as the starter for the Blue team in the spring game, scrambling for three first downs and a rushing touchdown.

Speight has limited experience as he appeared in only five games in 2015 and completed just nine of 25 passes, though he did help Michigan secure a victory against Minnesota. He was the signal caller for the Maize team in the spring game and led two drives that resulted in touchdowns for a 14-13 victory. As for Morris, he saw action in his first two seasons but opted to redshirt and watch from the sidelines after falling behind Jake Rudock in last year’s quarterback competition. Known for his strong arm, the lefty still has yet to throw a touchdown in his career.

It’s a long time until the start of the season but if the spring game was any indication, O’Korn and Speight have pulled ahead of Morris and both look like viable, solid options to run the offense.

Fortunately, whoever quarterbacks the team will have a bevy of options to choose from as Michigan returns virtually all of its offensive production from last season with seniors Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and Jake Butt leading the way. All three combined for 159 catches, 2,145 yards and 19 touchdowns and each one is a downfield threat defenses must account for. Butt (51 catches for 654 yards) is arguably the nation’s top returning tight end. If that isn’t enough, a player to watch out for is Grant Perry, who had a breakout game against Florida in last season’s Citrus Bowl with five catches, 51 yards and a touchdown.

For the past several seasons, the offensive line has been an area of concern for Michigan but in 2015, particularly after the Utah game, the line seemed to rebound mightily with better pass protection. Much of that success was due to the strong play of center Graham Glasgow. The Wolverines will no longer have the services of Glasgow but are very high on his potential replacement Mason Cole, a starter for two years at left tackle who moved to center this spring. Sophomore Grant Newsome looks like the most likely starter at left tackle as its three other starters, tackle Erik Magnuson and guards Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis, are all fifth-year seniors, making Michigan one of the most experienced lines in the conference.

Last, it remains to be seen if any of the running backs can break the 1,000 yard mark, something that hasn’t happened since Fitzgerald Toussaint gained 1,041 yards in 2011. They have the personnel to do so but it all comes down to execution. De’Veon Smith accumulated 753 yards and six touchdowns while backup Drake Johnson performed well in a limited role, gaining 271 yards and four touchdowns. Notable departures from last year’s team are Derrick Green, Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma. They combined for 403 yards and eight touchdowns while Houma led the group with 184 yards and five touchdowns.

Defense

It’s no secret that Michigan’s defense was one of the best in college football last season and a big reason for that was the excellent guidance and tutelage from former defensive coordinator, DJ Durkin. But Durkin left to become the head coach of Maryland and many wondered who could replicate his success. Well, the Wolverines made a nice pickup by luring Don Brown away from Boston College. Time will tell if the hire was right and he will undoubtedly be heavily scrutinized if the defense struggles. If numbers are any indication (Boston College defense allowed the fewest yards per game in college football last fall at 254.3), it could be a scary unit for opposing offenses to face.

After finishing fourth nationally in yards allowed per game (280.7), the defensive line has the potential to be even more outstanding if not the best in the country period.  Yes, Willie Henry left for the NFL draft but Bryan Mone, who was slated to be the starter before breaking his leg last fall, is already back. Joining him will be senior defensive ends Chris Wormley, who led Michigan with 14.5 tackles for loss a year ago, and Taco Charlton, as well as the top-ranked recruit in America, five-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary. The Wolverines also have Ryan Glasgow, Matt Godin and Maurice Hurst to add to the mix. All of this means that Michigan is fully loaded with talent, experience, depth and versatility up front.

One of the big changes the Wolverines have to deal with is player turnover at linebacker. There is a sizable hole as starters Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden as well as James Ross have graduated. To compensate for the loss, highly-talented sophomore Jabril Peppers has made the transition from safety to strongside linebacker and is a virtual lock for the spot.  If the versatile Peppers improves upon a stellar freshman year, he could be a coveted prospect for the 2017 NFL draft. Throughout spring, seniors Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon have been lining up beside him but will have to hold off junior Noah Furbush and a handful of promising underclassmen, including highly touted early enrollee Devin Bush.

As for the secondary, Michigan ranked first in the Big Ten in pass defense last season and should be even more fundamentally sound as it returns shutdown cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Lewis, a fantastic athlete with solid speed, was second in the conference with a school-record 22 passes defended, which earned him second-team All-American honors. Delano Hill is the current starter at the strong safety position and Dymonte Thomas, who has played four different positions at Michigan, including cornerback and linebacker, has settled in at free safety as team leader Jarrod Wilson (61 tackles and two interceptions) has moved on. Cornerbacks Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark, a fifth-year senior, provide even more experience and will be battling for the other corner position.

Bottom Line

I had a hard time predicting what record this team will end up with. There’s a ton of hype and extremely high expectations surrounding this team this season. They have the potential to win a conference title and make a playoff appearance but could also easily fall short like they did last season especially with their quarterback situation. However, I’m a big proponent that defense wins championships and they will boast one of the top units. Plus, following the results in the spring game, I’d be optimistic because both O’Korn and Speight looked like capable starting quarterbacks. Moreover, they have Jim Harbaugh, who has a proven track record and last season, you could definitely see an improvement as the team epitomized the grit and toughness he exuded. Yet, even so, I still think the Buckeyes are the team to beat and, I believe, will win the Big Ten. Michigan will finish 11-1, 8-1 conference.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Another Beating from the Buckeyes

To beat Ohio State you have to shut down its dominant rushing attack.  If you can’t, you’re doomed.  Ezekiel Elliot ran for 214 yards and two touchdowns against the Michigan Wolverines to prove the theory.  And that’s pretty much the lasting narrative from “The Game” this year.

Ohio State’s behemoth offensive line was too much for Michigan’s defense to handle on Saturday afternoon.  They opened up holes in the interior, held blocks on the exterior and led the Buckeyes to a 42-13 victory in the Big House.

For the second time in three weeks the Michigan defense was trampled.  Last time it was against Indiana, and the Hoosiers don’t play much defense so it wasn’t such a big deal.  The Wolverines went out and won the game with offense.  Ohio State’s defense is not Indiana’s defense.  This time allowing 300+ rushing yards made for an impossible mountain to climb.

While no one will say the Michigan offense played a good game, I’m not sure we can blame them for that.  The Wolverines went down early and were never really able to establish the way they wanted to play.  They do not fare well when having to chase the game.  The offense isn’t built to overcome leads.  It’s built to protect leads.

That brings me to the reason why the Buckeyes took that early lead.  On its second possession of the game Ohio State lined up to punt from its own end zone.  Michigan rushed the punt and was flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Buckeyes 15 yards and a first down.  They got it right, don’t get me wrong.  In a season full of officiating blunders, particularly in the Big Ten, this game was free of them.

My beef is with the guy who dove at the punter’s leg.  That’s just a boneheaded play.  Your team just forced an offense that was struggling at the time to go three-and-out deep in its own territory.  Trying to make the game-breaking play is understandable, but you have to do it within the rules.  You have to know better, or else you end up hurting your team.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in this case.

Two plays later Ezekiel Elliot took a handoff around the left edge for a 66-yard gain.  Two more plays later JT Barrett punched it in for six.  At that point the tone was set and there would be very little deviation from it.  Barrett had 139 yards and three scores of his own.  He and Elliot both averaged north of seven yards per carry.

Michigan’s leading rusher on the afternoon managed 29 yards on seven carries.  Not great, but not bad considering it was a defensive back.  That’s right.  Jabrill Peppers led the Wolverines in an offensive category for the first time in his career.

Jim Harbaugh’s offensive play-calling collaborative tried to confuse the Ohio State defense by getting the ball in Peppers’ hands early.  On the first drive of the game he caught a pass, got a carry out of a singleback set, ended up throwing the ball away after looking to pass on an option pitch from Jake Rudock (talk about trust), and was targeted for another pass.  On the second drive he got two more carries.  Six of the Wolverines’ first 13 plays were designed to go to Jabrill.

It’s been interesting watching Harbaugh gradually open up the playbook to accommodate an exciting playmaker like Peppers.  I think Saturday’s display was Harbaugh’s way of declaring that he’s totally comfortable using Jabrill Peppers in every way possible.

Despite the ugly loss, Michigan exceeded my expectations for the 2015 regular season.  I thought it was realistic to expect a 7-5 record and an invite to a bowl game we’d rather not bother with.  I would’ve been thrilled with 8-4 and the Outback Bowl, to be honest.  Instead we’re looking at 9-3 with a shot at the Citrus Bowl if Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State all get their expected New Year’s Six bids.

Of course, the Citrus Bowl is not the ultimate goal, or even a secondary goal.  But it’s a decent bowl game that promises an intriguing matchup against a second-tier SEC team like Ole Miss.  It’s always fun to see how you stack up against one of the best teams from the other power conferences.

All things considered, I’m not sure how you couldn’t be pleased with the way the Wolverines’ season went.  Don’t think of them as being one normal punt away from 10-2.  Even that shouldn’t get you down.  That’s football and that win wouldn’t have gotten Michigan into the Big Ten Championship Game anyway.

Don’t be a poor sport this weekend.  Root for Sparty.

Go Green.  Go Blue.

Wolverines Eyeing Tenth Win against Buckeyes

Before we begin I’d like to send my condolences and well wishes to the entire Carr family.  Former head coach Lloyd Carr’s grandson, Chad Carr, passed away on Monday after battling an inoperable brain tumor for 15 months.  Chad was only five years old… #ChadTough

The Michigan Wolverines bounced back nicely last weekend, winning in a tough environment at Penn State.

The most important takeaway is that the defense looked like itself again.  The secondary locked up the Nittany Lions’ receivers and there wasn’t much quarterback Christian Hackenberg could do since the front seven recommitted to stopping the run.

Penn State’s only touchdown drive came after a blocked punt that set them up at the Michigan 43.  For the first time this season Jabrill Peppers was actually made to look bad.  Peppers got turned around somehow and Hackenberg burned him with a back-shoulder throw from 25 yards out.  I’m still not sure what exactly he was trying to do while that pass was in the air.  Other than that brief lapse, Peppers played a tremendous game.

Every time Penn State gained some momentum Michigan was quick to answer.  Unlike their nerve-wracking trips to Minnesota and Indiana, the Wolverines kept this game in front of them, and in doing so were able to avoid another close call.

Now, we could spend the remainder of our time together going through a solid, uneventful win at Penn State, or we could dive right into the best rivalry in sports.

Yeah, I figured you’d choose the latter.

For many reasons I hadn’t given this game much thought prior to this week.  Looking ahead doesn’t do much good in the ever-changing landscape of college football.  As soon as you think you’ve got a team figured out they remind you they are, after all, a group of unpredictable 18-22 year olds.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure the Wolverines would have much of a chance in this one.  Now that rivalry week is upon us though, it’s safe to say the Wolverines certainly do have a chance against the Buckeyes this Saturday.

This will be Harbaugh-Meyer Part One, a coaching matchup people started looking forward to the day Jim Harbaugh announced he would be coming to Michigan.  Considering their fiery demeanor, many will concentrate on the coaches’ behavior as much as the game itself.  Sideline antics are an entertaining sideshow, but don’t let them distract you from the feature presentation going on in-between the lines.

Watching the Spartans upend the Buckeyes had to be a bittersweet experience for the Wolverines.  The result means Michigan now needs a win and a State loss to clinch the East division.  In the process of putting a likely end to the Wolverines’ playoff hopes however, the Spartans laid a blueprint on how to beat Ohio State.

Michigan State’s front seven hit the Buckeyes in the mouth and they didn’t know how to handle it.  JT Barrett and Ezekiel Elliot couldn’t find any running lanes because there weren’t any running lanes to find.  If there’s one thing we learned on Saturday it’s that Ohio State is not the same physically dominating team that won the national championship last year.

The Buckeyes boast a ferocious pass rush led by Joey Bosa.  That cannot be denied.  But it’s almost like they don’t know how to play defense if they can’t pin their ears back and hunt the quarterback.

State ran the ball as much as possible and drew up quick, easy completions when they needed to throw it.  In executing that gameplan the Spartans, behind two rarely-used backup quarterbacks, were able to neutralize a defense that is defined by its pursuit of the passer.

At this point it’s fair to say that Michigan poses more of an offensive threat than State does.  Harbaugh’s pro-style offense has evolved over the course of the season, as has his quarterback, Jake Rudock.  The graduate transfer has been getting better each week.  The playbook has expanded because of his progression and the increased usage of the electric Jabrill Peppers.

Harbaugh and his coaching staff have probably watched the tape of Michigan State’s offense from last week dozens of times already to see what worked and why.  Expect to see them incorporate a lot of the same schemes the Spartans utilized even though they’ll be operating a much different offense.

Most importantly, the Buckeyes know they can be beaten now.  A loss can be motivating, yes, but when you have your 23-game win streak snapped, that loss can also really shake a team’s confidence.

Unfortunately this year’s clash won’t be for all the Big Ten East marbles like we had hoped.  Even so, how could you not recognize the immensity of this game?

It’s Harbaugh versus Urban for the first time.  It’s Michigan finally looking like it belongs on the same field as Ohio State.  It’s a chance at a ten-win season in Harbaugh’s first year.  It’s a shot at possibly receiving a bid to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

It’s “The Game.”

So work your way out of that Thanksgiving food coma and plant yourself in front of a television at noon on Saturday.