The Wolverines haven’t been national champions or played in a
Rose Bowl since 1997, when they did both. Since that season,
heartbreaking losses and disappointing performances have prevented
Michigan from getting back to the pinnacle of college football.
What will it take for Michigan to once again get back to the top?
What are its keys to unlocking a championship?

Chris Perry

Chris Perry staying healthy could be the biggest key for the
Wolverines this season. The running back is poised for a huge
season, evident by his career-best 22-carry, 232-yard performance
against Central Michigan this past weekend. He also ran for a pair
of touchdowns. Backup running back David Underwood also ran well in
the opener, and will be getting some significant playing time this
season if he keeps it up, but losing Perry could put an end to a
very promising season for the Wolverines. After the departure of
the “A-train” Anthony Thomas in 2000, Michigan turned into a
one-dimensional offensive football team. Although Perry was waiting
in the wings, he did not make an immediate impact and doubts arose
about who would emerge as a solid running option. Last season,
though, Perry answered all the questions. He finished the season on
a very high note at the Outback Bowl against Florida, and entered
this season wth very high expectations.

Braylon Edwards

It’s only been one game, but Braylon Edwards has already had a
couple dropped passes and is “not on the same page” as coach Lloyd
Carr. But just how important is Edwards this season? Desite his
limited playing time against Central Michigan, he still had two
touchdown catches, and is the most talented receiver on Michigan’s
roster. Disagreements with Carr, though, could cost Edwards
significant playing, that which would put a major dent in the
Wolverines’ aerial attack.

The key for Edwards is to stay out of trouble and to hold onto
the ball. Along with several amazing catches last season came the
occasional dropped pass. Edwards says he has corrected that
problem, though, and is ready to wear the No. 1 jersey with
pride.

With receivers such as Calvin Bell and Jason Avant, John Navarre
has many options out of the huddle, and doesn’t always need to look
in Edwards’ direction. But in key situations, Edwards must be the
main option because he is the big-time playmaker. He’s the one who
will pull in the impossible catch, or turn a no-gain situation into
positive yardage.

He needs to be in the games to be the man, though. If he can
resolve his issues with Carr, Edwards could be catching touchdown
passes in the national championship game.

Run defense

Two words: Maurice Clarett. Remember him? He’s not playing now,
but he will be Nov. 22 when the Buckeyes come to town. You can bet
on that. Clarett is the most explosive tailback in college
football, and last season, he abused the Wolverines for 122 yards
on 20 carries, and the kid only had half his body to work with.
This season, Clarett will be well-rested and ready to pick up where
he left off last season in Columbus.

That means Michigan’s run defense must improve from what was
seen Saturday at the Big House, when the Wolverines gave up 218
yards on the ground to Central Michigan. They made three Central
tailbacks look like Clarett, Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross of the
Buckeyes, missing crucial tackles and not filling their gaps.

Michigan will count on its linebacking corps, most of which is
coming back from injury, to get back to full game speed. Carl
Diggs, Zach Kaufman, Lawrence Reid and Roy Manning are all
returning from season-ending injuries last season, and the rust
showed Saturday. The Wolverines should have more speed than last
year’s ‘D,’ as athletes Alain Kashama and Pierre Woods should log
significant time throughout the year. Kashama made two run stops in
a row against the Chips, showing that he isn’t just a pass-rushing
threat.

The Wolverines will get some prep for Clarett against Notre
Dame’s Ryan Grant, Northwestern’s Jason Wright and Iowa’s Fred
Russell.

For Michigan, it’s either buck up, or get bucked by Clarett.

Nonconference season

The past three years, the Michigan football team appears to have
started a new tradition: Lose a nonconference road game, wiping
away the hopes of a national championship by the beginning of
October.

The Wolverines will have ample opportunity to extend that streak
Sept. 13 when Notre Dame rolls into Ann Arbor and Sept. 20 when
they hit the Oregon Trail for a road clash with the Ducks. Those
games won’t be easy, and the first key to unlocking a championship
for Michigan will be to enter Big Ten conference play unscathed for
the first time since 1999. It’s something this senior class hasn’t
seen yet, and if Michigan was able to accomplish this feat, the
hype on campus would reach an all-time high.

These are the games where Michigan fans will find out if the
“Navarre for Heisman” talk is really legitimate, or just that,
talk. Navarre has the ability to lead Michigan to victory, but can
he do it on the road in Autzen Stadium, one of the most ferocious
places to play in the country? Navarre played the best game of his
Michigan career on the road in Columbus last season, but he didn’t
do one thing: Win the game.

Of course, none of this matters for the Big Ten title, but this
team talks like it has bigger goals. Like walking away with the
national championship. With an early season loss, it is possible
that Michigan could crawl back into the picture by the end, but
odds are, one loss will keep the Wolverines from taking over
Bourbon Street.

Marlin Jackson

Marlin Jackson has a new role in the Michigan defensive
backfield. After a tremendous season, in which Jackson broke the
Michigan record for pass breakups, Carr has decided to move his top
defensive player to safety where he can anchor the Michigan
secondary. But the key here is how quickly Jackson can adjust to
his new role, and if he can be a leader out there.

Jackson was tabbed as the preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of
the Year. But off-the-field issues over the past couple of weeks
have caused problems for Jackson, and he did not play in the season
opener against Central Michigan. But he will be playing this
weekend, and most are anxious to see how the star will do in his
new role.

Everyone knows Jackson is not afraid to talk on the field, as
his tendency to trash talk to his opponents was a defining
characteristic of his last season. If he can transfer these same
“communication” skills to talk to his own teammates, Michigan could
have its most cohesive secondary unit in several years.

Jackson is a confident and aggressive player, and he seems to be
a natural leader. But he must embrace this role, or Michigan will
have nothing but a mediocre secondary once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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