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January 17, 2014

The Week That Was

With the 2013 college football season completely in the past, many media outlets have taken out their crystal balls to look ahead to 2014. Among the four major sites that unveiled a Top 25, Michigan, however, does not rank in one.

Top 25 polls for 2014 do not include Michigan

Michigan did not make ESPN.com's, SI.com's, USA Today's or AthlonSports.com's Top 25. The closest the Wolverines came was being ranked No. 28 by Athlon.

Three of U-M's 2014 opponents rank among the consensus top 25: Ohio State at No. 4, Michigan State at No. 8 and Notre Dame at No. 17. Big Ten West Division teams Wisconsin (No. 12) and Nebraska (No. 24) also rank in the collective poll, giving the Big Ten four teams in the early top-25 forecasts.

Not surprisingly, the SEC leads the pack, with eight programs projected to start the year in the top 25, followed by the Pac 12's six, and then the Big Ten (four), ACC (three), Big 12 (two), AAC (one) and independent Notre Dame.

What They're Saying

AthlonSports.com does not think Michigan is far off: "The bad news: Michigan underachieved in 2013. The good news: There's enough talent to rebound back into the top 25 in 2014," Athlon wrote.

"Quarterback Devin Gardner returns, but the Wolverines have to get more help around him. Most of the defense returns, and another solid recruiting class will help Brady Hoke get Michigan back on track."

BTN.com's Tom Dienhart, responding only to ESPN.com's poll, said there is a good reason the Maize and Blue are not included: "Where is Michigan? Too many questions need to be answered to include the Wolverines, I'm assuming. The defense was a mess at season's end. And the offense? Well, I think you know the story."

My Take: It shouldn't come as any surprise the Wolverines are not regarded as a top 25 team for next season. So often these early forecasts take into account the momentum a program is carrying with it into the offseason, and the Maize and Blue have very little after going 1-5 in their final six games.

About the only positive Michigan has right now is hiring a new offensive coordinator, but Doug Nussmeier cannot erase what was a brutal close to the 2013 campaign by the Wolverines.

By name recognition alone, Michigan could find its way into the AP and Coaches Top 25 polls to start the 2014 season, or at least jump into the poll with a win in week one, and especially with a victory in week two at Notre Dame, but it's all for naught if the Maize Blue flounder in the stretch run again. After all, U-M was as high as No. 11 nationally in 2013, but everyone can agree they were never the 11th-best team in the country.

Michigan's challenge next fall is the same as it is every year - beat the best teams on the schedule. Do that (coupled with the likelihood that U-M will be beating the weaker teams too), and the Wolverines will rank in a top 25 when it matters - at season's end.

The BCS Era ends without a Michigan appearance

The 16 years of BCS Championships has now come and gone, and the Wolverines never made an appearance from 1998-2013. Ohio State was the lone Big Ten team to go, appearing three times, with a win in 2002, while Nebraska played in the title game once, in 2001, as a member of the Big 12.

With the era of the BCS Championship concluded, ESPN.com unveiled its Big Ten All-BCS-Era Team, and included Wolverines Braylon Edwards at wide receiver, offensive tackle Jake Long and defensive end LaMarr Woodley.

Meanwhile, BTN's Dienhart ranked the 10 best Big Ten teams of the BCS era, putting Ohio State's 2002 national championship No. 1 with Michigan State's 2013 team No. 2. He did not list a Michigan team among the 10, instead bestowing that honor on four Ohio State teams, three Wisconsin teams, two Michigan State teams and a lone Iowa representative.

What They're Saying

In its rationale for including Edwards, Long and Woodley, ESPN.com wrote: "The Big Ten's most recent Biletnikoff Award winner, Edwards holds the league record for career touchdown receptions (39) and ranks fourth in career receiving yards (3,541). He's the only Big Ten receiver to record 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

"Although Long didn't win the Outland, he twice earned consensus first-team All-America honors (unanimous selection in 2007) and twice earned Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors. Long was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.

"Woodley claimed the Rotary Lombardi Award in 2006 as the nation's top lineman. A first-team All-American that season, he finished his career with 10 forced fumbles, tied for seventh on the Big Ten's career list."

Dienhart goes case by case here.

My Take: A list like Dienhart's is impossible to compile because someone is always going to be annoyed their team was excluded (and the point so often of these stories is to create debate), however, there are three teams that appear to have a legitimate beef and three teams that probably don't belong.

The 1999 Michigan team went 10-2 and finished fifth in the country, giving U-M a higher final rank than four teams in Dienhart's top 10 -- 2002 Iowa, No. 8; 2010 Wisconsin, No. 7; 1998 Wisconsin, No. 6; and 2010 Michigan State, No. 14. The Wolverines bested No. 5 Alabama in the Orange Bowl, and of their two losses, fell by just nine combined points during the regular season.

The 2005 Penn State team may have an even bigger argument. The Nittany Lions went 11-1, earning their first Big Ten title since 1994 while besting Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Perhaps they're not included because the wins from that season were vacated as part of the punishment from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but if so, that should be explained.

Finally, the 2009 Iowa team probably has a right to push the 2002 Iowa team out of its place. That first Hawkeye iteration put the program back on the map after UI went 14-32 from 1998-2001, however the 2002 Hawkeyes were obliterated 38-17 in the Orange Bowl whereas the 2009 Iowa team, which also went 11-2, won its Orange Bowl matchup with Georgia Tech.

To put Michigan and Penn State on the list, the 1999 Wisconsin team, which went 10-2 and won a Rose Bowl but lost to 3-8 Cincinnati during the regular season, should vacate its spot while the 2010 Michigan State team should also give up its inclusion. That Spartan cohort went 11-2 after a 6-7 season, but was annihilated in its two losses, going down 37-6 to Iowa and 49-7 to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.

To include a team that finished No. 14 in the polls, with so many qualified top-10 teams (14 that were not included on this list), is egregious.

Gallon to participate in East-West Shrine Game

Michigan fans looking to catch one final glimpse of Jeremy Gallon wearing a winged helmet can watch the East-West Shrine Game Saturday at 4:00 pm on NFL Network. Meanwhile, right tackle Michael Schofield will participate in the Senior Bowl Jan. 25. They are the only two Wolverines that will play in post-season all-star games, and will join Taylor Lewan at the NFL Combine Feb. 22-25.

What They're Saying

Gallon measured in at 5-7 , the shortest player at the Shrine Game, and has had his work cut out for him all week as he tries to prove himself worthy of a draft pick, SBNation.com's Trevor Woods writes: "he has been used as a slot receiver this week in practice, and he will have to have a good game to show teams he can contribute from that position at the next level.

"The thing going against him is he isn't exceptionally fast, he doesn't have the small size and freakish speed such as Tavon Austin. A team will certainly take a flier on him, but he will have to show his toughness, good route running, because he isn't a speed demon."

All it takes is one team to like Gallon, though, and there are those out there that already do, including RantSports.com's Rick Stavig: "I think the Baltimore Ravens would be wise to focus on adding a game-breaking slot receiver like Jeremy Gallon (Michigan) in the 4th or 5th round."

Meanwhile, Schofield, who sat down with DraftSeason.com for a recent interview will play both guard and tackle at the Senior Bowl (also at 4:00 pm on the NFL Network).

My Take: Gallon will likely get drafted and he will likely stick with a team because he's willing to work with dogged determination to prove himself.

The rise of slot receivers over the past five years has opened a door for players like Gallon that don't fit the "pro-style" mold but can catch passes in traffic, beat nickel backs, safeties and linebackers that are assigned to defend slots and make plays after the reception.

The young man did everything that was asked of him for five years, rising from a fourth or fifth option, to third, to second and eventually to the No. 1 target on the team. And with that opportunity, he produced the greatest single-season receiving total in Michigan history.

A player like that should make a team and burrow his way into playing time, and U-M fans will gladly be rooting for him every step of the journey.


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