Team preview: Michigan

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(All information as of July 1, 2006)


Talking about hard times at Michigan is like talking about a bad haircut on Angelina Jolie -- eventually, you know everything will work itself out and get back to normal.

But for the time being, the angst level has reached unprecedented levels in Lloyd Carr's tenure as head coach. The Wolverines' seven-win season in 2005 represented a low-water mark under Carr -- their fewest wins since 1984, when they went 6-6 under Bo Schembechler, a slip to the Alamo Bowl after eight straight January bowl games, and a freefall out of the final Associated Press poll after a preseason ranking of No. 4.

And it probably could have been worse. It took a pair of overtime road victories -- at Michigan State
and Iowa -- just to get to seven wins, or else the Wolverines would have posted their first sub-.500 record in 38 years. A few of their losses were understandable -- they lost three games by a total of 14 points against January bowl participants Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Ohio State. And the Badgers and Buckeyes scored touchdowns in the final minute to erase late Michigan leads.

But the Wolverines' homecoming game against Minnesota crystallized in one game the problems that dogged them all season. They rushed for just 94 yards and passed for only 155 against an erratic Gopher defense, gave up three sacks, were 3-for-14 on third-down conversions, and allowed 264 yards on the ground. The Gophers were just trying to run out the clock and force overtime when Gary Russell broke off a 61-yard run on third-and-10 in the final minute. That set up Jason Giannini's game-winning 30-yard field goal with one second left, giving the Gophers a 23-20 win and possession of the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 1986.

That loss left the Wolverines reeling at 3-3, but did set up one of the most important games of the season, as freshman receiver Mario Manningham caught a 10-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game, giving Michigan a 27-25 upset of No. 8 Penn State. It wound up being the only loss of the year for the Nittany Lions, keeping them from a potential berth in the national title game and launching a four-game winning streak for the Wolverines.

No matter how many games Michigan wins, a loss to Ohio State represents a failed season, and the regular-season finale against the Buckeyes fit right in with the rest of the disappointing campaign. Michigan held a 21-12 lead in the fourth quarter -- and the Wolverines never blow leads like that at home. But the Buckeyes stormed back with two touchdown drives, including a 12-play, 88-yard march capped by Antonio Pittman's 3-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds left to give Ohio State a 25-21 win.

Almost an afterthought, the Wolverines' 32-28 loss to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl was a fitting coda to the year, as Michigan blew a 28-17 fourth quarter lead, then came within an eyelash of the craziest multiple-lateral kickoff return since the Stanford-Cal game, only to fall short when Tyler Ecker was tackled at the Huskers 13-yard line.

The rash of losses, including three in the Big House, after just six home losses in the 10 previous seasons combined, as well as some dismal statistical rankings -- ninth in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total offense; eighth in red zone offense, 10th in red-zone defense -- spurred some personnel changes in the coaching staff.