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August 23, 2014

Roundtable: How does Miller's injury impact Michigan?

Two of Michigan's biggest rivals, Notre Dame and Ohio State, have suffered significant personnel losses this August. Will that be enough to change the favorite in meetings with the Wolverines?

With Notre Dame losing players to suspension and Ohio Sate's Braxton Miller out of the season, have you changed your prediction on Michigan's record this season?

Chris Balas: Nope. I'm still sticking with 9-3, though not sure which three they'll drop. The game in Columbus looks easier on paper, but that's a tough place to play. We'll know more about all Big Ten teams after the non-conference portion of the season, but it's possible the Wolverines win in East Lansing and lose in Columbus but drop two others. They'll still be underdogs in South Bend, and there are enough capable teams on the schedule where they could drop one they shouldn't.

Michael Spath: Yes, but only slightly. I've gone from 8-4 to 9-3, including Notre Dame in the 'W' column. The Irish's losses, at the key positions of defensive end and cornerback, will be too much to slow Michigan's offensive attack as U-M picks up a much-needed road win. However, by the time the Wolverines arrive in Columbus, OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett will be an 11-game starter, and the Buckeyes still have a better team than the Maize and Blue (at least looking at both squads 13 weeks out).

I see Michigan losing in East Lansing, in Columbus, and then to either Northwestern on the road or to Minnesota at home.

Tim Sullivan:I've held since last season that a weakened Notre Dame - minus three front-seven starters to the NFL Draft alone, to say nothing of graduation losses at other positions - would not be Michigan's biggest test of the year. Should the Irish be even more short-handed, it merely confirms my position.

Miller's injury boosts my impression of U-M's chances to beat Ohio State, making it closer to a toss-up. The Buckeyes lost plenty on offense in four starting linemen and Carlos Hyde, and Miller's absence leaves a gaping hole when it comes to proven talent. Still, I am a believer in Urban Meyer's ability to recruit, develop, and scheme on that side of the ball, and the Buckeyes should be just fine. It's the train-wreck defense (also down some talent) that needs to be fixed. If Michigan wins, it'll be in a shootout.

Brandon Brown: I'm going to stick with my original prediction of 9-3 but change the reasoning just a bit. I had Michigan losing on the road in East Lansing and still do. I originally had the Maize and Blue losing in South Bend but I now think they will win there. It definitely wouldn't shock me if that was still a loss though. I also originally thought at Ohio State would be a loss and it probably still will be. I agree with Mike about Barrett. He will have a season's worth of starts under his belt by the time the Wolverines roll into Columbus and Ohio State is still more talented than Michigan top to bottom.

I think there will be one loss in there that shouldn't happen. Penn State managed to win last year and they should be improved. Northwestern will scrap at home as well.

Freshman Jabrill Peppers is starting at cornerback against Notre Dame in week two: true or false?

Balas: False. Experience is big in rivalry road games, and are you really going to keep the others off the field? Who plays nickel, then? Countess? Maybe, but that's not the game to start a freshman corner, no matter how good he might be. It's possible he'll be there by the start of the Big Ten season, but not in Week Two.

Spath: I'm going to say no only because I believe that the nickel back position is so critical to what the Wolverines want to do defensively, especially in games where they face consistent three- and four-wide receiver sets, which they will see in South Bend and all four of the non-conference contests. Peppers could eventually be this team's starting cornerback opposite sophomore Jourdan Lewis but if he's a difference-maker at nickel, and U-M is getting strong play from redshirt junior Blake Countess or senior Ray Taylor, it might make more sense to leave him over the slot.

Brown: I also don't think he'll be starting at corner. The coaches have explained how important the nickel position is going to be in this defense. Peppers will be on the field a lot, but it won't be as a true corner.

Sullivan: I guess I'm painted into a corner of being the contrarian here, so I'll say Peppers is starting at corner against Notre Dame. That allows Michigan to play Blake Countess in the slot more easily against the spread offense of the Irish, cutting down on the short passing game that Brian Kelly has long favored.

The good news, of course, is that there's a wealth of talent in the secondary, so if it's not Peppers, it can be Countess, or Raymon Taylor, or Jourdan Lewis... the list goes on.

With Csont'e York's dismissal this week, Michigan has three available scholarships to offer in the 2015 class. In an ideal world, how would U-M fill those three slots?

Sullivan: I think the specific players are less important than filling the needs positionally. The only thing unaddressed in this class is defensive line, and two defensive ends would fit the bill. Then it's a toss-up between a second linebacker or a third defensive back. I'll go with the corner, allowing a finish of all Rivals100 prospects: No. 30 overall defensive end Keisean Lucier-South, No. 42 overall defensive end Darian Roseboro, and No. 90 overall cornerback Marcus Lewis.

Brown:Darian Roseboro, Keisean Lucier-South, and Iman Marshall. Roseboro and Lucier-South are both pretty realistic, while Marshall is more of a long shot. Him taking an official visit for the Penn State game is big, but I still think he stays out west.

What was the most promising news to emerge from the Wolverines' overseas basketball trip to Italy?

Balas: The freshmen all looked good. Their numbers were ridiculously similar, all between 9.5 and 11 points per game, and they all looked like they could contribute at a high level. None of these guys appear to be in a hurry to leave, either (though Chatman, at least, is a future pro), and they'll grow together. The future is bright.

Spath: It has to be the play of the freshmen overall. Whether it was guards Muhamma-Ali Abdur-Rahkman or Aubrey Dawkins, or forward/wing Kam Chatman and forward/center Ricky Doyle, the rookies rose up, showing they were not intimidated by their first taste of action, and that they can and will play key roles this season.

The Big Ten campaign will be far more difficult than this Italian exhibition tour, but if the freshmen can combine for 30 points and 20 rebounds per game, there are enough veterans on the roster to pick up the rest of the scoring and defensive needs for Michigan to be a conference contender.

Sullivan: John Beilein may just be on to something (raise your hand if you've heard that phrase before) with his big men. Wolverine fans have been skeptical that U-M would be able to bang in the pain, especially with the departure of Jon Horford after Mitch McGary went pro. Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal may not be all-league - and the Big Ten will be tougher competition than most of the Italian squads they just saw - but they are pieces for Beilein and his assistants to work with.


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