There's a different mood around the Michigan football team these days. Last year Michigan was everybody's preseason No. 1 pick, and around Ann Arbor the strut was in style. At which point the Wolverines strutted out on the field for their season opener and were blitzed 21-14 by Wisconsin. That destroyed the Michigan season. The Wolverines wound up 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten, dreadful by their standards. "This year," says Coach Bo Schembechler, "we're keeping our mouths shut and just getting ready to go out and play football."
And it's fortunate for Bo and his boys that although Michigan doesn't have the talent it did in 1981, the rest of the league is off a few ticks, too. Which probably means Michigan and Ohio State will meet in late November for the league title. Yawn. So what's new?
On offense, the Wolverines have lost six starters, four of them first-team All-Americas. They include Tailback Butch Woolfolk, Michigan's alltime leading ground gainer (3,861 yards), tackles Bubba Paris and Ed Muransky and Guard Kurt Becker. But, as always at Ann Arbor, superior players are ready to step in, most notably 6'3", 243-pound junior Guard Stefan Humphries, who has a ton of ability, though on occasion he's a mite sloppy in the course he takes to reach a linebacker. He's never sloppy in his schoolwork, however. Last spring he racked up A's in principles of engineering materials, biology, organic chemistry and introduction to differential equations. His grade-point average is 3.76, and he's majoring, says Schembechler, in "interdisciplinary medical engineering, whatever that is."
Potentially the most serious loss on offense is that of Fullback Stan Edwards, a classic team player—he would just as soon block for a TD run as make one—and the Wolverines' ninth most prolific ballcarrier (2,206 career yards rushing). There's nobody around Michigan now who can come even close to matching Edwards' all-around ability. "We'll find somebody," says Schembechler, "and he will be good." Well, maybe. When Schembechler is pressed to name names, however, he talks of "three great freshmen," Eddie Garrett, Dan Rice and Bob Perryman, which indicates the level of desperation at this position.
Tailback will be solidly manned by Lawrence Ricks, a senior from Barberton, Ohio—Schembechler's hometown. Ricks averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 86 tries last season and is quicker hitting the line than Woolfolk, though lacking his predecessor's pure speed. A source of concern is that Ricks has been plagued by hamstring pulls.
At quarterback, Steve Smith, now a junior, returns, and that's very good news. After a dull start in 1981, he came alive and passed for 15 touchdowns and ran for 12 more. He threw for 1,661 yards—the most ever for a Michigan quarterback—and gained 2,335 yards overall. "He can ruin you," says Schembechler. Indeed, Smith's 4.5 speed can turn a broken play into a tragedy—for the opposition. And although it had been thought that Smith wasn't up to the task of getting the ball to All-Everything Flanker Anthony Carter, that fear appears to have been unfounded. "He throws hard enough," says Carter, "and he won't be short." That's high praise from Carter, who runs so fast it's tough to catch him even on film. Should Pitt's Danny Marino and Georgia's Herschel Walker be less than amazing, A.C. could become H.W.—Heisman Winner.
Carter—Michigan's designated game-breaker—thinks he can play much better than he has the past three years, when he was merely dazzling. "I'm learning to get the proper depth on my routes," he says. "One thing I've done too much is cut the patterns short. That messes everything up because I need to run just right so I can be in the open when it's time to catch the ball." Carter in the open is one of the special sights in all sport.
Schembechler says Michigan's defense will be improved. That the Wolverines allowed only 13.5 points per game, 23rd-best in the nation in 1981, doesn't prevent Schembechler from pointing out that he thought they were lousy. The question is how the departure of Defensive Coordinator Bill McCartney—he's now the head coach at Colorado—will affect the troops. But personnelwise, give the Wolverines an A-plus.
The key man on defense is Strong Safety Keith Bostic, an Ann Arbor lad who used to slip under the fences to see Michigan play. Now folks are climbing the fences to see him play. He's a lights-out hitter who made 74 tackles last year and says, "For me to respect myself, I have to make big hits." Bostic admits he's helped by having to practice against Carter. "He maintains his speed while cutting," says Bostic, "and when you play against him, you really improve your backpedal."
But Michigan won't be backing up for anybody this year—certainly not Notre Dame on Sept. 18 in a crucial early-season game to be telecast nationally. It's just that the Wolverines will run out for each game, instead of strutting forth.