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August 23, 2013

The Week That Was: U-M receives favorable reviews

Tom Brady visited Ann Arbor for the first time since 2007, Amara Darboh was lost for the year with a foot injury, and SI.com predicted Michigan to play in the Big Ten title game. We recap it all in The Week That Was.

Tom Brady stops by Michigan for a visit

The three-time Super Bowl champion has not been a frequent visitor to Ann Arbor, ruffled feathers keeping him away, but with the New England Patriots in town to play the Detroit Lions Thursday, Brady stopped by Schembechler Hall, addressing the Maize and Blue and telling them the greatest honor he's ever received was being voted captain his junior and senior year by his Michigan teammates.

What They're Saying

Brady has said repeatedly he didn't care for the way he was handled in 1998-99 as a junior and senior, when phenom Drew Henson was given some of his game reps to appease the five-star QB recruit. So what changed? Why did Brady make his first return to school since 2007? Two words - Brady Hoke, said MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner.

"Brady's visits to Michigan have been few and far between since he began his NFL career in 2000. But there's no secret that he's extremely close to Hoke, and has been since his college playing days. Hoke helped recruit Brady to the school out of California in the mid-1990s. And while most of the world knows Brady as a superstar NFL quarterback with a Hall of Fame career, Hoke knows him simply as 'Tommy.'

"Hoke said he made the invitation to Brady when he met with him over the summer in Boston, and was obviously thrilled that the entire situation worked out so well."

My Take: It's been too long. Certainly, I can't pretend to understand what Brady felt like during his college days, and the anger and frustration he must have felt knowing he was producing at an extremely high level and yet he was still having to give up snaps to Henson. However, I do know what it was like to go to college and to have feelings of regret and annoyance, and at some point you just have to move on, putting the past in the past. Hopefully with his friend and mentor, Hoke, at the helm of the program, Brady has finally done that and can be a more frequent visitor.

Brady doesn't owe Michigan anything more than any other former Wolverine does, and that's simply respect for the program. He doesn't need to recruit for the Maize and Blue or donate money (though plenty of alums do). He doesn't need to be a fan if he doesn't want to be, but having been through the trials and tribulations of a U-M student-athlete, he gets it and he certainly could be of service he chooses to be.

Thursday's meeting was a highlight for the players (and many of the coaches too), and regardless of what transpires between Brady and Michigan going forward, it was nice to see him with a smile on his face inside Schembechler Hall. Life is too short to hold an eternal grudge.

SI.com picks U-M to win the Legends Division

In its Big Ten preview, unveiled earlier this week, SportsIllustrated.com forecasted a Michigan-Ohio State rematch in the Big Ten Championship, while predicting a 10-2 mark for the Wolverines (6-2 in the Big Ten) and naming three U-M games as must-see affairs: against Notre Dame Sept. 7, Nebraska Nov. 9 and Ohio State Nov. 30.

What They're Saying

Stewart Mandel lays out the scenario many are excited to see, at least once: "The Game is an annual fixture in this category, but this fall's installment could be the biggest in years if the Buckeyes and Wolverines both live up to their preseason billing. With the Big Ten realigning its divisional format next season, this is also the last year in which it's possible the two teams could stage a rematch in Indianapolis a week later -- the exact scenario predicted here."

USA Today also had its Michigan preview this week, ranking U-M No. 18 as Paul Myerberg writes: "Michigan goes no worse than 9-3 in the regular season but no better than 10-2, losing at least twice from the group of Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State. While there's tremendous potential nearly throughout the roster, I'm not overly confident in UM's ability to factor into the championship race. But Pasadena is very much in play, with that coming down to two factors: one, whether UM can take care of business against Nebraska, and two, whether OSU runs the table. The team has that ability; Michigan might also be a year away."

Beat writer Angelique Chengelis from The Detroit News predicted every one of Michigan's games and has the Wolverines at 10-2, losing to Michigan State and Northwestern on the road. On the two losses, she wrote:

"This one is tough to call, primarily because the Spartans' big, bad, menacing defense will be defending home turf. Devin Gardner and his receivers can't afford any mistakes. To win this game, Michigan's defense will have to rattle whoever is under center for MSU."

"Under Pat Fitzgerald, the confident Wildcats are 50-39 and are coming off a rare bowl victory. There is a lot of talent on this team, particularly tailback Venric Mark and quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. This could be a slip-up game."

My Take: I've been holding at 10-2 for months now and I'm still committed to losses to Notre Dame in week two and at Northwestern the third weekend of November. I do think it's possible the Wolverines lose to Michigan State, Nebraska and/or Ohio State, but I like where the MSU game falls on the schedule, coming off a bye and most certainly with SAM linebacker Jake Ryan back in the fold.

I like the Nebraska game because U-M will want revenge after last season's inexplicable loss in Lincoln (and because QB Devin Gardneer wants it even more), and I like the Ohio State game because the Maize and Blue are extremely motivated to shut up the Buckeyes (and Urban Meyer), especially after giving away the second half in Columbus in 2012.

This team goes 10-2 this year and meets Ohio State in the Big Ten title game for a rematch. If this scenario plays out, U-M fans should be delighted that in year three, with the Hoke transition in full swing and young players in key roles, the Wolverines are on the path back to the pinnacle of the conference and soon enough (2014 or 2015) the peak of college football.

Wolverines lose receiver for the year

Sophomore wideout Amara Darboh was expected to be Michigan's No. 2 receiver this fall, opposite fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, but during last Saturday's scrimmage, he hurt his foot, leaving the practice early. On Wednesday, U-M announced that the injury would end Darboh's season.

What They're Saying

Does the injury severely handicap the Wolverines? That's the question Baumgardner tried to tackle.

"The injury is devastating for Darboh, no doubt. But is it equally debilitating for Michigan? Actually, we really don't know.

"Darboh played last season as a true freshman, lining up at wide receiver and pitching in on special teams. But he never made a catch. He had the look, build and speed to be everything Michigan's new pro-style offense wanted, to fill a need most recently filled by Junior Hemingway in 2011. Borges, Hoke and Gardner all said -- multiple times -- Darboh was exactly where he needed to be to make an impact.

"They just needed to see what he could do in a game to be sure. So while this injury hurts, it's nowhere near as severe as Jake Ryan's knee injury was this past spring. Ryan was a proven commodity. He was an All-Big Ten performer. You knew what you were getting.

"With Darboh, we could speculate until we were red in the face, but we really wouldn't know until he lined up as a first-string wideout on Aug. 31."

My Take: I wrote about this when it happened and I'll repeat something I penned on Wednesday, it is a blow, both to the kid and to the team, but there are players in place to step up. Will Darboh be missed? Absolutely, even if we never saw him catch a ball and did plenty of forecasting. He was a big, physical receiver that drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates. There was no mistake he would have impacted this season.

However, with the tight ends expected to play a bigger role, fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon a likely 1,000-yard candidate, and an improved running game, Michigan can survive this injury, especially if some of Darboh's potential replacements can pick up the slack. What U-M cannot afford is another major injury, to say Gallon or Funchess. That would adversely affect the production and potential of this year's team.


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