Five Minute Guide to '99
The Wolverines are loaded up front but must avoid early-season stumbles
"We lost that aggressive attitude, that hunger, in the game against Notre Dame last year," senior linebacker Ian Gold says. "We all seemed content with ourselves. We came out for the second half knowing we had won the national championship the year before, and we had a [13-6] lead on Notre Dame in their house. We were focusing on those things instead of worrying about playing the game. Now all we're thinking about is the fourth quarter against Notre Dame this year. We can't wait to get into that fourth quarter against them."
Michigan has 15 starters coming back, each of whom played on the championship team. If the Wolverines are to equal that performance, their veteran front lines will have to do the heavy lifting while some less seasoned players in the offensive and defensive backfields settle in. "We sure aren't lacking for experience up front," says 288-pound nosetackle Rob Renes, a fifth-year senior. "If we don't have a dominant year, we have no one to blame but ourselves."
The offensive line has four starters from last year's team protecting 6'5" quarterback Tom Brady, a fifth-year player who has thrown for touchdowns in the last 12 games, one short of tying Elvis Grbac's school record. The concern is at tailback, which is thin on experience behind junior Anthony Thomas. Sophomore Justin Fargas is out for the season rehabilitating his twice-repaired left ankle, leaving sophomore Walter Cross (35 carries) and a freshman class that features a half dozen tailbacks, led by Ryan Beard and Charles Drake. "We'll have to find out in a hurry who is going to be able to help us there," says coach Lloyd Carr.
Thomas was the Big Ten freshman of the year in '97. He led the Wolverines with 893 rushing yards last season and was named Citrus Bowl MVP after gaining 132 yards on 21 carries and scoring three touchdowns. But he was a slow starter, and Michigan can't afford to have him stumble early again.
Defensively, the Wolverines' incumbent front seven will have to rattle quarterbacks to take pressure off the secondary, where Brandon Williams and Jeremy LeSueur may start as freshmen. "Our style of defense the last two years has been much more aggressive than it had been," says Carr, who wants to play to the speed and power of inside linebackers Gold and Dhani Jones.
Unlike in '97, the Wolverines have no apparent Heisman candidate -- no great player to absorb the spotlight and pressure. Instead they have a score of players with national title rings. "Once you win a national title, the most important thing is to try to put everything into perspective," says Gold. That's what last year was about. "Now," he says, "it's about putting what we've learned into action.
-- Ian Thomsen
1998 record: 10-3 (7-1, tied for 1st in Big Ten)
Oct. 9 at Michigan State
Nov. 13 at Penn State
Back-to-back meetings with Penn State (away) and Ohio State (home) will be too big a hurdle for the Wolverines to clear.
Five Minute Guide to '99
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