For the Top 15 teams in the NCAA, this year Gigi suggested that we change the format a bit. Instead of doing #11 through #15 all at once, we will go with an evaluation of each team separately in its own post. This offers our fans the ability to assess the schools without too much confusion from the other teams.
Of course, the Big 10 season is cancelled. So this is in a way meaningless. But still, it offers a chance to consider what might have been.
# 15 – Michigan
2019 record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten
Returning starters: five offense, six defense, one special teams
Key losses: QB Shea Patterson, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, OT Jon Runyan, G Ben Bredeson, G Michael Onwenu, LB Jordan Glasgow, S Lavert Hill, LB Josh Uche, LB Khaleke Hudson.
Outlook: Like other Big 10 teams, the hope is that there will be a Spring season for the Wolverines. If so, it will be a conference only scenario featuring 10 games.
Assuming a Spring season occurs, it begins with the one looming question. Will this be coach Jim Harbaugh’s last season with Michigan?
Harbaugh has committed some unforgivable sins over his 5 year tenure, 0-5 against Ohio State, 1-4 in bowl games and 2-11 against Top 10 opponents. He will have to do much better in year 6, or the demands for his firing will increase more than ever. Especially since his contract expires after the 2021 season.
For 2020, Michigan has some holes to fill. The offense returns five starters and the defense returns six. Few seniors are left, so this is both good and bad. Good in that it is a youthful squad but bad because it lacks experience.
The Wolverines do have plenty of talent though. The players will just have to mature quickly to meet the challenges of the 2020 season.
The challenges begin for Harbaugh at the quarterback position. Shea Patterson graduated, so a new starter will need to be selected. Joe Milton and Dylan McCaffrey are the likely candidates for the job, but Cade McNamara is also a possible surprise element. McCaffrey is prone to injuries and Milton has limited experience. Spring training would have helped decide who would start, but Covid ended that.
The good news is that there is a strong supporting cast that the quarterback will be able to call on offensively. The wide receivers include standouts Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins, with tight end Nick Eubanks available as needed. . Additional wide receivers Mike Sainristil and Giles Jackson could also contribute and add depth to the position if the quarterback situation gets resolved.
Tailbacks Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins return and will offer a solid rushing game if their performances at the end of 2019 are any indication of their talent. But with a new offensive line and quarterback, they will have to be at the top of their game.
The offensive line for the Wolverines was decimated after the 2019 season ended. Only one starter returns, sophomoretackle Jalen Mayfield. Only two other linemen have seen much time playing, giving starters rest breaks. Do not expect much on the rushing or passing front until line issues are resolved.
On the defensive side, six starters were lost as well from a unit that ranked 11th or better in secondary play for each of the last 5 years. But against elite teams, it has not performed so well, giving up an average of 7.6 yards per play and 46 points per game over the last two seasons.
The defense returns sophomore linebacker Cameron McGrone and safety Daxton Hill. Hill will be the key to the defense. Though he earned lots of playing time and experience as last year went on, he must really step up his game for this shortened season.
For Michigan to have a successful year, they must learn to win the big games on the road. Last year, they lost to Wisconsin by 21 and to Penn State by 7. In 2018, they lost their opener against Notre Dame on the road and then ended the season losing to Ohio State in Buckeye stadium.
If the Big 10 has a season, Michigan will have to contend with Top 10 teams Ohio State and Penn State who should always be considered national title contenders. Wisconsin and Minnesota are no slouches either. and Penn State. These games will set the stage for a decision on the future of Harbaugh at Michigan.
Give Michigan 3 losses out of these five tough games for a 7-3 record. And another loss to Ohio State. After the season is over, say goodbye to Jim Harbaugh.