Brandon Minor (4) finds it heavy going through Ohio State's line. He led Michigan's season with 533 yards and nine TDs.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said following the Wolverines' season-ending 42-7 loss to Ohio State on Saturday that he wished he could have all of his seniors back.
But, rules are rules, so Rodriguez has to say goodbye to UM's 15 or 16 seniors (the number seems to change weekly) and challenge those who remain to take giant steps forward from what was already the worst season in school history before the Buckeyes delivered their crushing blow.
Rodriguez already has warned that some underclassmen won't return in 2009 and has promised to upgrade through recruiting. He'll meet with the media today to further examine what went wrong this year - although junior Brandon Minor saying some players didn't play hard and others didn't believe in themselves basically covered that - and possibly lay out some of his plans for improvement.
"I have a pretty good idea of the areas we need to work the hardest on to get better at," Rodriguez said Saturday after the Wolverines finished the year 3-9 and out of a bowl for the first time in 34 years. "We surely got to get more explosive and faster and our coaches find more things our guys can do well. The silver lining for us is I'm excited about the players we have coming back."
The only senior on offense was backup tight end Mike Massey, so barring transfers UM will return all of its major ball-handlers.
Quarterback Steven Threet (1,105 yards, nine touchdowns, seven interceptions) was the Wolverines' starter for much of the year, but gave way to Nick Sheridan (613 yards, two TDs, five INTs) the final three games because of injuries. The top two returning quarterbacks may have to compete with recruits Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier to start.
Minor led the team with 533 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and is the lead horse in an impressive stable of returning running backs. Freshmen Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie (rumored as a possible transfer) saw ample playing time and senior-to-be Carlos Brown came on late after a season plagued by injuries.
Freshman Martavious Odoms (49 catches, 443 yards) was UM's top receiver. Greg Mathews will be a senior wideout, while receiver Darryl Stonum and tight end Kevin Koger will be sophomores. Junior Hemingway, Terrence Robinson and Justin Feagin didn't play much due to illness, injury or the team's needs at quarterback, but could all be factors as receivers.
The starting offensive line of freshman center David Molk, guards David Moosman and John Ferrara, and tackles Stephen Schilling and Mark Ortmann began to jell as the season progressed. Guard Tim McAvoy and tackle Perry Dorrestein also saw significant time.
The defense will surely lose three of its top players in end Tim Jamison (5 1/2 sacks) and tackles Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson to graduation and could lose junior end Brandon Graham (team-high 10 sacks) to the NFL.
UM's top two tacklers should return in linebackers Obi Ezeh (98 tackles) and Jonas Mouton (76 stops), as should starting safety Stevie Brown and cornerback Donovan Warren.
Incoming sophomores Boubacar Cissoko (corner) and safety Mike Williams (safety) could step into vacancies at those positions.
Punter Zoltan Mesko, one of the best in school history, has a year of eligibility left. Kicker K.C. Lopata does not.
It was also unknown as of yesterday whether all of Rodriguez's assistant coaches will be back.
"I'll evaluate everything and see how we can improve," Rodriguez said.
"You do that any way, even after a successful year, but there's certainly more of a sense of urgency now."
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