Michigan’s storied football program went on a three-year hiatus under former coach Rich Rodriguez, who compiled an abysmal 15-22 record.
Hey, that’s what happens when you ignore the decree of the late, great Bo Schembechler: “A Michigan man will coach the Michigan team.”
Last year, the Wolverines went back to their roots with the hiring of Brady Hoke, who had been an assistant in Ann Arbor for eight seasons (1995 to 2002). Hoke led Ball State to an unbeaten regular season in 2008, then took San Diego State from 2-10 to a 9-4 record in two years.
Hoke worked similar magic for Michigan last season, guiding it to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. With 13 starters returning, including Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson at quarterback, the eighth-ranked Wolverines appear poised for another stellar season.
Michigan opens the season against No. 2 Alabama today at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with the Crimson Tide favored by 13½ to 14 points. This is an excellent opportunity to back a quality team catching a double-digit number at a neutral site.
Robinson is a dynamic athlete who has rushed for 3,051 yards and 30 touchdowns the past two years. He also can beat defenses with a right arm that has produced 40 career TD passes.
Alabama had one of the best defenses we’ve seen in decades last season, but four NFL first-round picks and two other starters are gone. All-America running back Trent Richardson also departed for the NFL. In short, many key pieces are missing from the team that destroyed Louisiana State in January in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
With Robinson using his incredible speed to make big plays, I like Michigan to hang around and cover the 14-point spread.
Four more plays for today (home team in CAPS):
■ AIabama-Michigan (Over 47) – I bet this at a better number (45) early this week, but it’s still worthy of a wager. Alabama has one of the nation’s best offensive lines and a solid quarterback in AJ McCarron, who had a 16-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season and was at his best in the blowout over LSU.
■ Ohio (+6½) over PENN STATE – Even before NCAA sanctions against Penn State and the departures of running back Silas Redd and others, I thought Ohio would have a shot at an upset here. The Bobcats won 10 games last year and have one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks in Tyler Tettleton, who passed for 28 touchdowns and ran for 10.
The Nittany Lions had an anemic offense last season, averaging 19.3 points per game. The unit has only three returning starters, with the best playmaker (Redd) and top wide receivers (Derek Moye and Justin Brown) gone.
■ IOWA STATE (+1½) over Tulsa – Coach Paul Rhoads’ Cyclones went 3-1 against the spread in home underdog situations last year, including outright wins over Iowa and Oklahoma State. Iowa State won four of its six home games, with both losses against ranked opponents.
Tulsa will be breaking in a new quarterback after the loss of three-year starter G.J. Kinne. The Golden Hurricane also will be without their best defensive player, linebacker Shawn Jackson, who is suspended for the first three games. I made Iowa State a 4½-point favorite, so I’m confident we’re getting excellent line value.
■ UNR-CALIFORNIA (Over 56) – I made this total 61. The Golden Bears have an outstanding running back in Isi Sofele (1,322 rushing yards and 10 TDs in 2011) and one of the country’s premier wideouts in Keenan Allen. Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo will make plays running and passing.
Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.