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June 7, 2013

The Week That Was: Odds makers don't favor Michigan

The odds makers aren't as convinced as many Michigan fans that the Wolverines are set for a successful 2013 campaign while one ESPN.com blogger asked if U-M would have the best QB-RB-WR trio in the Big Ten in The Week That Was.

Odds makers expect Michigan to lose at least three games

The Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas issued its first set of odds for the 2013 college football season, and it has U-M as an underdog to Michigan State (three points) and Northwestern (three) on the road and to Ohio State at home (six). The casino didn't offer a favorite in the Michigan-Notre Dame game, and had the Wolverines the favorite against Connecticut (12 points), Minnesota (15), Penn State (2.5), Nebraska (four) and Iowa (10.5).

You can see all the odds here.

What They're Saying

MLive.com's Kyle Meinke notes that what stands out to him is how little faith the odds makers have in Michigan winning on the road: "Perhaps the most surprising of the three lines is the game against the Spartans, who were just 7-6 last year and didn't win a Big Ten home game. But that defense should again be a monster. And considering Michigan also is a three-point underdog at Northwestern, it's clear the Vegas odds makers -- who, let's be honest, are some of the best at projecting results -- don't like the Wolverines as a road team.

"They were just 2-5 away from Ann Arbor last season, and are 5-7 under third-year coach Brady Hoke. They are 4-5 in true road games under Hoke. That includes a 28-14 setback at Michigan State in 2011, Hoke's first season. Michigan hasn't won in East Lansing since 2007."

My Take: I don't take any issue with the odds makers except for one game - Ohio State. Michigan's road woes are well-documented and winning in East Lansing will be a challenge. Winning in Evanston, even though it's a quasi-home game, will also present some problems because the Wildcats should be an improved team from last year, and last year they were one desperation Hail Mary away from beating the Maize and Blue.

It seems to me too many folks are caught up in the Buckeye mystique. They went 12-0 last season but could have lost (and probably should have) to Michigan State and Purdue, while surviving close calls with California, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Give them credit for finding a way to win, but they weren't as good as their undefeated record leads you to believe.

Yet, because of that mark, and because of the presence of Urban Meyer, so many media experts (and clearly the odds makers) believe OSU is on the precipice of another juggernaut. Ohio State is recruiting at an elite level, one only matched in the Big Ten by the Wolverines, but like U-M, the Scarlet and Gray are probably a year away from becoming a dominant program in the conference.

This season, the two rivals are on equal footing, and The Game will be a classic. That it takes place in The Big House, Michigan should actually be the favorite. But that goes to show you that national prognosticators are not yet ready to buy into U-M completely.

Perhaps they will look like prophets, but it says here that the Maize and Blue beat OSU this season and win one of the other two in which they currently find themselves in an underdog role.

Michigan among best trios in the Big Ten

ESPN.com blogger Adam Rittenberg asked fans which conference team - among Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State - will feature the best quarterback-receiver-running back trio in the Big Ten this season. With 4,626 votes counted, Nebraska leads with 37 percent of the vote while OSU is in second with 25 percent and U-M sits third with 20 percent.

What They're Saying

Rittenberg writes that in 2012, only one triumvirate - Penn State's Matt McGloin (3,266 yards passing), Allen Robinson (1,013 yards receiving) and Zach Zwinak (1,000 yards rushing) - achieved 3,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving, but that U-M's Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon and Fitzgerald Toussaint could do it this fall.

"Although the Wolverines lose a record-setting individual offensive performer in Denard Robinson, they could have a deeper arsenal of weapons this fall as they transition to a more traditional pro-style system. Devin Gardner averaged 243.8 pass yards as Michigan's starting quarterback for the final five games last season. If he keeps that up for an entire season, he could reach the 3,000-yard mark.

"The Wolverines receivers also benefited from Gardner's presence, and a guy like Jeremy Gallon could approach 1,000 receiving yards if things go well. The bigger question is running back and whether Fitzgerald Toussaint, coming off of a broken leg, or dynamic incoming freshman Derrick Green could approach 1,000 rush yards. Michigan hasn't hit all three statistical milestones in the same season since 2003."

Meinke added a little more depth to the achievement, noting only 12 teams in college football reached the feat last season, and that those programs combined for a 100-48 mark.

While difficult, he believes it could be done at U-M: "That's three admittedly arbitrary milestones -- 3,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving -- but milestones that do bear some prestige. And Michigan has logical candidates to make some combination of them happen.

"The rushing mark seems most attainable, as it happens almost every year and Michigan plans to feature a single back. The passing mark seems the least likely, because it's only happened once in school history.

"Hitting all three plateaus could be difficult. It's happened at Michigan only in 2003, when Navarre had 3,331 yards passing, Braylon Edwards had 1,138 yards receiving and Chris Perry had 1,674 yards rushing."

My Take: What would it take for this to happen over, say, a 13-game schedule (12 regular-season contests and at least one postseason game)? Gardner would need 230.8 yards passing per game while a runner and a receiver would need to average 76.9 yards per game.

Only one player in school history (Navarre in 2003) averaged better than 230 yards passing (256.2). On the ground, countless have, with 15 averaging better than that during their careers. U-M has had 12 1,000-yard receiving seasons, so again, it can be done.

Each milestone comes with its challenges, especially under center, but a year ago, in five games, Gardner averaged 243.8 yards per game, which comes out to 3,169 yards for a season. Gallon, meanwhile, was on pace for a 1,300-yard campaign with Gardner as his QB.

Those numbers don't always translate over a full year, but they proved just how capable both men are of significant production, and with Michigan set to run the pro-style offense, there will be plenty of opportunities.

In my opinion, the biggest question mark is in the backfield because Toussaint is coming off injury and Derrick Green is a freshman, and also because the offensive line has to prove it can open up the consistent holes it could not a year ago.

Gardner will eclipse 3,000 yards. Gallon will break the 1,000-yard plateau, but Michigan's two running backs will each finish between 800-950 yards, keeping this rare accomplishment from occurring.


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