September 12, 2012

Mailbag: QB time versus UMass

It's Wednesday, and that means the mailman has made his rounds. A dip into the bag reveals a whole lot of football talk, starting with a key question regarding the quarterback position.

If Michigan gets up big, like we expect, we should see backup quarterback Russell Bellomy in the second half. My question is how many series does he get and should the coaches play junior Devin Gardner at QB also in this game, if the opportunity allows for it?

This is all predicated, of course, on the ability to handle UMass. But when Indiana knocks off a team, 45-6, competent programs ought to be able to name their score.

So it would help the Wolverines to get Bellomy a full quarter of action. The initial thought on Gardner precluded him from quarterback play in this game. One, because he needs all the development he can get at wideout right now, and two, because at least in this season, his focus shouldn't be divided.

Forget that. He's worked extremely hard, he's helping the team in an important way, and yet he still carries QB dreams. A little reward - in terms of a couple of series at quarterback - would be fully in order.

We always talk about the 'best' non-conference schedules Michigan has played but this year's has to go down as one of the most bizarre. U-M opens with the reigning national champion in a game it was clearly not ready for; then takes on a team with a funky offense difficult to prepare for; and now sees an overmatched opponent that is so bad Vegas has dubbed the Maize and Blue a program-record 46.5-point favorite.

What have been some other non-conference schedules through the years that you now look back on and scratch your head like we will almost certainly be doing with 2012 in the years to come?

First off, there is nothing close to this one. It's good Michigan has UMass this week, because it has plenty to work out before taking on Notre Dame and the Big Ten schedule. But this has been the strangest non-conference slate in memory.

That said, 2007 comes to mind as well. Michigan schedules a no-win game for an opener, against an Appalachian State team lightly regarded as an FCS school but in actuality better than a host of non-conference opponents (and some Big Ten teams) the Wolverines have played down through the years. And Michigan doesn't win.

That's followed up by games against Oregon and Notre Dame, the latter cooperating by not being any good, allowing the Wolverines to avoid an 0-3 start.

And the '91 non-conference slate is only head-scratching from a standpoint of amazement, but Boston College, pre-plunge Notre Dame and '90s-era Florida State was a real eye-opener. Michigan could schedule that way back then, with a roster built up to take on all comers … like it's attempting to create again.

It's way early but when you look at the performances of the two Devins last week - Gardner and Funchess - could you see the two of them finishing as Michigan's top pass catchers this season?

Gardner, definitely, and Funchess certainly looks like he could become a prime target. Certainly, though, future opponents will be keeping a closer eye on the rookie tight end, and the fact that he has a lot of learning to do in terms of blocking, etc., could factor into his actual time on the field.

That said, for a team wondering about having a big receiver coming into the year, Denard Robinson's twin 6-4 targets provide more than a little comfort zone. It says here they both finish in the top four among the wideouts in catches and yards.

As much as they've played prominent roles this season, no freshman has started a game yet. That could change this weekend with tight end Devin Funchess. Who else among the rookies do you think will be starting by season's end?

I wouldn't count out either of the linebackers who have played extensively - Joe Bolden and James Ross III. They might not take over the positions, but they could certainly start a game under the right circumstances.

Here are a couple more to keep an eye on: the "big" tight end, A.J. Williams, if Michigan wants to come out and start running the ball with a huge offensive front; and Mario Ojemudia, who saw significant action off the edge at defensive end in the Air Force game, and who has serious pass-rushing potential.

The Big Ten didn't look sharp last weekend with both Wisconsin and Nebraska suffering surprising upsets to Oregon State and UCLA, and Illinois getting rolled by Arizona State. Looking at the rest of the country, do you think the Big Ten has fallen to fourth or fifth among the BCS conferences?

That's such a cyclical matter, but sure, the Big Ten is taking its lumps right now. Look at it this way - two of what would normally be the standard bearers (Ohio State and Penn State) are in the clink, NCAA-wise, the latter going away for a good, long while.

Nebraska now isn't '90s Nebraska, and Michigan is still transitioning to what it will be under Brady Hoke, last year's unexpected run notwithstanding. Michigan State has risen up, but only within the conference, not nationally, and that in large part because it filled a void.

This will be a year in which the egg throwers have free reign regarding the Big Ten, especially if the bowl match-ups prove unfavorable. But that's not going to last, because even nationally, the recognition that the "Big Two" are on their way back will drive the narrative.

Another number, Ron Kramer's 87, becomes a "Legends Jersey" this weekend. Now that U-M has shown the jersey doesn't have to go to a senior, any best guess on who it might be? Also, what did you think of Jake Ryan earning Bennie Oosterbaan's No. 47?

As to the latter, it obviously worked. Oosterbaan helped Ryan shut down Air Force in the final drive, and everybody went home happy (except for the non-commenting Falcons).

Seriously, Ryan looks good in 47, and had obviously been well prepped in his Oosterbaan history before being asked about the switch. The jersey patch program is, in my opinion, significantly better than retired jerseys, where the numbers just disappear and nobody thinks that much about the ones that go missing.

As for Kramer's 87, why not Funchess? He'll be around a good long while, and it's pretty obvious he's going to do some damage before all is said and done.

Hoke might want someone more seasoned in the Michigan system, but it's obvious he trusts Funchess to perform on the field. This could mark the next step.

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