It started snowing again in Ann Arbor today. The Polar Vortex is relentless.
So now, on to better and brighter subjects: the mailbag. Whenever you have a question, send it over to me (@ChantelJennings, jenningsESPN@gmail.com) and check for it in the next week’s edition.
Mikey, Dearborn: What's the leash on Brady Hoke if he doesn't at least compete for a B1G title next year?
That’s no easy task. But before even getting to the championship, let’s focus first on what the Wolverines would have to do in their division, which holds Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. I think next year the Nittany Lions might still be going through growing pains but over the next three years, they’re going to be competing at the top of the conference. But still, I don’t know if the Wolverines will be better than third in the division next season. Michigan plays on the road against Ohio State, Michigan State and Northwestern (who will be eager to pay back the Wolverines for this season). MSU, while it has a tougher nonconference schedule (Oregon, Wyoming) will only have to play away from East Lansing for games at Purdue, Indiana, Maryland and Penn State, which is a very favorable road schedule for the Spartans.
So that brings me to your question -- how short is the leash? If Michigan doesn’t beat MSU or OSU next season (I don’t think the Wolverines will), I’d say the 2015 season better be a championship season or else Dave Brandon really won’t be able to do anything else. Even after three years at Michigan, Hoke is 1-2 in bowl games (and yes, I know the one win was a BCS win), but he’s also 1-2 against MSU and 1-2 against Ohio State (with the one win coming against an interim coach, the Hoke-Meyer rivalry still stands at 0-2 for Michigan). That’s nothing to hang a hat on, and if next season doesn’t improve, I don’t know how long Hoke can really stay.
Andrew, New York: Will [offensive coordinator Doug] Nussmeier be able to help the Wolverines when it comes to recruiting?
He was the primary recruiter on the last two high-profile QBs that the Crimson Tide signed -- Cooper Bateman (2013) and David Cornwell (2014). He was also the primary recruiter for Bo Scarborough, the No. 2 athlete in the country and the No. 1 recruit in Florida, as well as four-star outside linebacker Keith Holcombe and four-star athlete Ronnie Clark. So clearly, Nick Saban trusted Nussmeier on the recruiting trail. Obviously, having the recent track record Alabama has makes it an easier sell recruits when it comes to the football aspects, but from everything else we’ve seen, Nussmeier seems like he’s going to be a good recruiter in Ann Arbor. The staff had their first recruiting meeting last Friday when Nussmeier was in town but he said that they hadn’t made any final decisions regarding which region or areas he will be recruiting. However, the dead period ends today so recruits will be able to visit campus and coaches will be able to be out visiting kids. So it’ll be interesting to see if we see any movement in the recruiting classes based on Nussmeier.
Mike, Ann Arbor: Which freshmen are most likely to have the opportunity to step in and make an impact next year?
If we’re talking true freshmen, the most obvious one would be Jabrill Peppers. They could literally play him anywhere on the field -- receiver, defensive back, on special teams. But outside of Peppers, I think wide receiver Drake Harris might be given a shot to see some time next season. He enrolled early so he’ll have that jump on other freshmen. Plus he’s a tall receiver who the Wolverines can use in jump ball situations, so I think Devin Gardner might find in Harris a target he really likes. Defensively, Bryan Mone is another early enrollee who could have a shot to find time on the defensive line.
Dominic Ciantar, Detroit: both offensive and defensive lines struggled this season. Which unit has the most upside for next season? And why?
Great question. I’m going to say that it’s the offensive line by a hair. I think the D-line will show growth, especially with Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer both returning and bringing a fair amount of leadership, but I think the O-line is going to really build on the experience that several players gained this season. There was a lot of shuffling, but that shuffling meant that young guys got reps and that will pay dividends in the future. I think it also helps that a lot of those guys were in the same recruiting class (Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Ben Braden), so they already are really close. Plus, I think it’ll be easier to see the offensive line’s growth, because on that side of the ball we’re literally talking about a half a second’s difference between them holding a block and not, and what that could mean for Gardner. This year, more times than not, they didn’t hold that block. Next season, I think they could. And that’s going to result in bigger plays for the Michigan offense.