Mailbag: National titles, OSU, Jake Ryan

Why are you smiling?

‘Cause I love football. Football is fun.

A midseason “Remember the Titans” viewing is always necessary. And since Petey told us how fun football is, let’s discuss some fun topics in Michigan football this week. Remember, I’m here every Wednesday, so send in your questions (@ChantelJennings, jenningsESPN@gmail.com).

Q: Kevin Henderson, via Twitter: Michigan needs (blank) to win the 2015 national championship.

A: Oh, this is a fun game. And while it’s not technically a question, I still love it. And if ever there were a mailbag prompt that required a multi-pronged answer, it is this.

  • Very good offensive and defensive lines. Presumably, during the 2015 season, Michigan could have huge playmakers on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Devin Funchess and Amara Darboh would both be seniors and the junior class would be stacked with Jake Butt, Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Jehu Chesson. Defensively, CB Blake Countess will be the redshirt senior leading the way, but he’d have help from juniors Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas, Ben Gedeon and Joe Bolden. And the sophomore class -- assuming all the current commits sign -- you’d have Jabrill Peppers on the defensive side of the ball and Ian Bunting and Drake Harris on the offensive side. That’s a lot of talent. But at the end of the day, those players will never be able to live up to their potential if the offensive and defensive lines don’t deliver.

  • There can’t be hiccups. The 2015 schedule is conducive to winning. The Wolverines only away games are at Utah, Maryland, Minnesota, Indiana and Penn State. Obviously, starting the season on the road in Utah isn’t the best thing, but it’s an opportunity to make a statement on the road. The next hardest away game is in Beaver Stadium, so the Wolverines will have time to learn how to play on the road before they have to go there. At home, they’ll have UNLV, Oregon State and BYU in the non-conference season and Northwestern, Michigan State, Rutgers and Ohio State in the Big Ten schedule. It’s hard to say two years out that these will all be winnable games, but it is easy to say that if Michigan loses games that it shouldn’t then it won’t be a title contender.

  • A quarterback who’s ready to control the game. This will likely be Shane Morris (who’d be a junior) and Wilton Speight (who’d be a redshirt freshman or sophomore). I think both are solid options. Speight will be enrolling this winter, so he’s really only going to be a few months behind Morris in terms of team development and working with Al Borges. But either way, Michigan will need one of these two guys to be ready to take over games. Playmakers don’t make plays if the QB can’t get them the ball (even if the offensive line is good), and the Wolverines avoiding turnovers and hiccups largely falls on the signal-caller.

Q: Sportshutch via Twitter: What did we see Saturday from Northwestern that Michigan can replicate?

A: Well for starters, Northwestern won the turnover battle. They forced the Buckeyes into three turnovers and that was huge. Michigan’s defense would need to the same. The Wildcat defense also rattled Braxton Miller. He rushed for only 68 yards (a season low) and completed just 57.7 percent of his passes (another season low). Michigan’s defensive line would have to really put together a solid performance and Greg Mattison would have to make sure his group executes some blitzes that would get to Miller. Northwestern couldn’t stop Carlos Hyde -- which is something the Wolverines can learn from. The running back carried the ball 26 times and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Offensively, the Wolverines need to execute. Northwestern threw for 343 yards against Ohio State … and still lost. Now, the Wildcats had only 94 yards rushing and Michigan would probably want a more balanced attack. And Michigan would also have to be good on third downs. Ohio State is very good at getting off the field on third downs: They allowed only five third-down conversions on 14 attempts against NU. Devin Gardner would need to keep his team on the field in those situations.

Q: Dave Conlon, Ann Arbor: Does Jake Ryan play or sit another week? I figure he needs a couple of games before the November run.

A: I can’t imagine Ryan going into a game before he has been doing everything in practice. Because while Hoke did say that Ryan was medically cleared, he also said that they’re holding him out of parts of practice. Now, I know that Michigan has very physical practices, but I also feel like if Ryan isn’t ready for practice, he’s not ready for games. I think the most reasonable bet for his return at this point would be the Indiana game.