ANN ARBOR With eight games to be played at the Big House, Michigan appears to have a favorable schedule for the 2007 season. But the Wolverines are wary of two formidable three-week stretches early and then late in the year.
Michigan faces a gauntlet of Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State on consecutive Saturdays early on in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines then must get through a wicked three-game string to end the season when they play at Michigan State, at Wisconsin and then host Ohio State on three straight weekends.
We do have the benefit of being at home, but we ve got two teams [Oregon and Notre Dame] that are among the better teams in the country, said coach Lloyd Carr at the team s annual Media Day on Monday. It still comes down to the preparation and using the home field to our every advantage.
Michigan plays host to the Ducks and the Irish in the second and third weeks of the season. Both received votes in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, but are not in the Top 25. The Wolverines then open the Big Ten schedule the next week when they host 18th-ranked Penn State.
This is the best schedule I ve ever seen, said senior linebacker Chris Graham. This type of schedule is just back-to-back-to-back. That is the reason why I came to Michigan. The rivalry games are just amazing and I love playing against the big schools.
To close the season, Michigan plays at in-state rival Michigan State before traveling to Wisconsin the next weekend. The Badgers, who are ranked No. 7 in the preseason poll, were picked by some prognosticators to win the Big Ten title.
Those two road battles take place just before the annual showdown with Ohio State. The Buckeyes, who are ranked 10th in the preseason, have handed the Wolverines three straight losses. Michigan last defeated OSU in 2003 in Ann Arbor, where this year s tilt takes place Nov. 17.
We ve got a nice start with Oregon and Notre Dame, and then open the Big Ten with Penn State, said senior linebacker Shawn Crable. Then we ve got a rocket finish with Minnesota, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. It s a nice schedule.
Even the season opener against apparent lightweight, Appalachian State, could present a challenge, according to Carr. The Mountaineers are the two time defending Division I-AA national champions.
Junior defensive tackle Terrance Taylor said the schedule ensures there are no guaranteed wins.
That s exactly why you come here for schedules like this, Taylor said. You have a lot of powerhouses, back to back to back. In the Big Ten, the schedule is always tough, but we re ready to go through it. People will be aiming for us. We just want to play at the highest rate.
At the midpoint of the season, the Wolverines appear to get a bit of a breather going to Northwestern before hosting Eastern Michigan and Purdue followed by a road trip to Illinois. But Carr said the Big Ten will be extremely competitive.
We have to play eight of them, and I know one thing, there s not one of them that s going to be easy, Carr said.
PLACEKICKING: Replacing place kicker Garrett Rivas, who left as Michigan s all-time leading scorer, is a top priority, Carr said.
The one thing that we have to do is to settle on a field goal kicker and that s a big decision, Carr said. We ve got three guys that are competing.
The candidates are freshman Bryan Wright, junior K.C. Lopata and junior Jason Gingell. Carr said that Wright will handle the kickoff duties. Wright, who is from Salem, Ohio, kicked the second-longest field goal (57 yards) in Ohio high school history.
He s got a great leg, probably as strong a leg we ve had since I ve been here, he said.
Carr must also find a replacement for kick returner Steve Breaston, who is the school s all-time leader in return yardage. The top candidates are: running back Carlos Brown, safety Stevie Brown, running back Brandon Minor and receiver Greg Matthews.
BASS SIDELINED: For the second straight season, promising speedster Antonio Bass will not take the field.
Bass injured his knee in spring practice in 2006. The quarterback/receiver from Jackson appeared in six games as a freshman, but may be finished with football.
Antonio is not giving up, Carr said. He will not play this year. As I ve said many times, I m not counting Antonio out of football until he counts himself out.
RIDING SHOTGUN: Quarterback Chad Henne said he would embrace the use of the shotgun formation, a system he often used in high school.
The shotgun definitely buys the quarterback a little more time, said Henne, who was sacked six times in the loss to USC in last year s Rose Bowl. It gives offensive linemen a better pass set and makes them comfortable. It definitely can be a big help.
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