Coach:Rich Rodriguez (3-9 in one season; 108-71-2 overall in 16 seasons). | Staff In 2008: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in Big Ten (tied for ninth in league).
Returning starters: Offense: 7. Defense: 5. Special teams: 1. | Depth Chart Final 2008 Rivals.com ranking: 85th. | Complete Final 2008 Rankings Past four Rivals.com national recruiting rankings: 8th in 2009, 10th in '08, 12th in '07, 13th in '06.
THE SCHEME: Coach Rich Rodriguez is the modern-day pioneer of the run-heavy version of the spread offense. It's a scheme he began honing as a coach at Glenville State in West Virginia. The attack has worked at every stop since – as an assistant at Tulane and Clemson, and as coach at West Virginia – and there's no reason to think it won't start humming now as he further blends personnel with scheme.
STAR POWER: Senior RB Brandon Minor looks primed to be one of the Big Ten's top backs this fall. Minor (6 feet 1/216 pounds) is an explosive combination of size and speed who can run inside and outside. While he's no Steve Slaton, Minor should eclipse his career rushing total (1,156 yards) this season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: True freshman QB Tate Forcier graduated high school early, took part in spring drills and has the starting job headed into fall practice. Forcier impressed coaches as a runner and passer in the spring. He'll be pushed by fellow true freshman Denard Robinson, a terrific athlete who, like Forcier, is built for this attack. Rodriguez loves the promise of both, but worries about their youth and inexperience. Still, each is a better fit than holdover Nick Sheridan.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee was a starting tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1980s, so he knows a good tight end when he sees one. And Magee thinks highly of sophomore Kevin Koger. He caught just six passes last season, but look for those numbers to grow rapidly this season.
STRONGEST AREA: There is an impressive collection of wide receivers. Rodriguez's attacks at West Virginia never featured deep receiving corps, but look for him to take advantage of the talent on hand. The group will be led by senior Greg Mathews and sophomores Martavious Odoms and Darryl Stonum. If the quarterbacks can deliver, these guys are ready.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The line needs to step up. The unit struggled last season when adapting to new blocking schemes and techniques. Bodies also had to be reshaped to fit Rodriguez's style. With five players back with significant experience, staffers feel this could end up being a strong area now that everyone knows what's demanded of them.
THE SCHEME: Former coordinator Scott Shafer was … ahem … asked to leave and Michigan scored a coup by landing former Syracuse coach Greg Robinson, who also has coordinated NFL defenses. Look for him to employ a lot of 3-4 sets. It's all about scheming and playing to the strengths of the personnel, which includes a load of speedy athletes in the back seven (or eight). A hybrid linebacker/safety spot has been incorporated. And don't be shocked if Robinson unleashes myriad stunts and blitzes that haven't been seen in these parts … ever.
STAR POWER: Senior E Brandon Graham is a pass-rushing demon (10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last year). He also is a big play waiting to happen, as 40 percent of his career stops have been behind the line of scrimmage. Graham's presence will create opportunities for others, as opposing lines will needs to make sure they know where he is.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Mike Martin is slated to start at nose tackle, but don't be shocked if massive true freshman William Campbell ends up playing a big role. Campbell (6-5/330) enrolled early and impressed during spring drills with his strength and quickness. It's just a matter of Campbell giving a steady effort.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Now is the time for sophomore E Ryan Van Bergen. He should benefit from the attention that Graham will draw on the other side. Van Bergen is an underrated athlete who plays like his hair is on fire. It's time for him to get after it.
STRONGEST AREA: The linebacking corps should be one of the Big Ten's best. The leaders are Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton. Keep an eye on Stevie Brown. He will occupy the "spinner" spot, a hybrid linebacker/safety. Brown will cover slot receivers and tight ends while also supporting the run. Ezeh, who has lost weight and is quicker, has to be a productive leader after battling inconsistency last season.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: While Graham is an undeniable star up front, he'll be surrounded by youngsters who have a lot to prove. That's a major reason the Wolverines likely often will employ a three-man front.
Zoltan Mesko may be the top punter in the nation. He averaged 43 yards per boot in 2008 and combines power and finesse. K.C. Lopata is gone, so keep an eye on the kicking situation. Junior Bryan Wright will get first crack; he hasn't attempted a college field goal but has been the kickoff specialist. Odoms has skills as a kickoff and punt return man. There are a plethora of athletes to cover kicks.
Rodriguez remains one of college football's top coaches, a true innovator who has reshaped offenses nationally. Like many, he was blindsided by last season's struggles. But he feels the personnel is adapting. His cause is helped by a strong staff headed by Magee and Robinson. A real secret to Rodriguez's success is strength coach Mike Barwis, who is getting the roster in line from a conditioning standpoint.
Things set up for a fast start with four consecutive home games to open the season. Still, the opener against Western Michigan could be tricky and there's a big one the following week against Notre Dame. We'll learn all we need to know about the Wolverines when they play consecutive Big Ten road games at Michigan State and Iowa in early October. Lose both, and getting to a bowl may be difficult. One negative: There is no off week.
Rodriguez knew there would be some struggles during his debut season in Ann Arbor, but he never anticipated a 3-9 record, which meant no bowl for the Wolverines for the first time since the 1974 season. An offense that ranked 109th nationally received much of the blame; there were no quarterbacks equipped to run Rodriguez's spread-option offense. The only thing fans could count on was turnovers, and Michigan committed 30 – with many of them unforced. The defense also gets its share of the blame, as chemistry, stopping the pass and getting off the field on third downs were the main culprits. But Rodriguez has tweaked his staff, turned the page and further ingrained his system. His goal: contending for the Big Ten title. Don't bet against him if a quarterback emerges and the defense buys into Robinson's schemes.