Starters returning: 6
Starters returning: 5
September 10, 1978
According to Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler, "The teams that win this season will be the ones that stay healthy and have some depth." A truism, sure; when Bo says it, he means his Wolverines have some rebuilding to do, specifically "around the perimeters of our defense."
Although three starters were lost from the offensive line, Tackle Bill Dufek returns after a year on the sidelines with a broken bone in his ankle. One of the finest Wolverine linemen in the past decade and All-Big Ten in 1976, Dufek is a strong bet for All-America honors if he stays sound.
Quarterback Rick Leach directs the offense for the fourth year, abetted by Fullback Russell Davis, Tailback Harlan Huckleby and Wingback Ralph Clayton. What may make the difference in the big games is Leach's evolving ability to pass. If he can acquire the habit of throwing as well as he did against Washington in the Rose Bowl, Michigan could break its 0-5 streak in postseason play.
That's where those suspect "perimeters" of Bo's defense will be tested. In the ball-and-chain offensive play of the Big Ten, a weak secondary can often go unnoticed all the way up to a bowl game, when a wide-open offense rips it apart. Schembechler has an outstanding linebacker in Ron Simpkins, who had 174 tackles last season, and Dale Keitz and Curtis Greer as principal bulwarks in a veteran line. Whether it all comes together will be evident in the second game of the season with Notre Dame and its versatile quarterback, Joe Montana.
There is another variable in Michigan's prospects. With the emphasis on speed and quickness and Ann Arbor's Tartan Turf, the Wolverines seem to lose something when they play on grass. Although Schembechler pooh-poohs any such suggestion, all four losses in the past two years, including two Rose Bowls, have come in away games on natural fields. Both of Michigan's make-or-break games, against Notre Dame and Ohio State, will be played away, but at least the Ohio State showdown is on a rug.