Michigan Football: A Season Outlook

After losing enough talent to make an entire program stumble, the Michigan Wolverines were still ranked No. 9 in the preseason USA Today coaches poll. Michigan returns just one starter on defense and lost nearly all of its weapons on offense.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff will earn their money this season if they can transform this team of youngsters into a Big Ten conference contender.

If you haven’t already read our position preview – trust me when I say there is a lot of youth.

As stated above, there is one starter coming back on defense and that is senior linebacker Mike McCray. He will be the veteran leader on his side of the ball, but he can’t make every play. McCray will get the bulk of the help from his defensive line which consists of potential NFL first round pick senior Maurice Hurst Jr. and former top overall recruit sophomore Rashan Gary.

The front seven is going to have to do more than pull its own weight. The secondary is too inexperienced and odds are they will get torched in a few games. The defensive backs have to hope their defensive line can get to the quarterback, more times than not, before he finds an open receiver.

On offense I’m very skeptical of the line. Senior Mason Cole is solid and Sophomore Ben Bredeson really showed us something last season. But outside of those two, I don’t have much confidence. Sophomore Michael Onwenu is a big body but I need to see him play more snaps. Whoever starts at right tackle between junior Juwan Bushell-Beatty and sophomore Jon Runyan Jr., I don’t know if either of them will be adequate over an entire season especially once superior competition is on the other side of the ball.

If the offensive line can’t hold its own, then the Wolverines will be in trouble because they don’t have many true playmakers on offense. Sophomore running back Chris Evans has lightning speed, but he needs to bulk up. All the tight ends have a ton of potential but none have showed the capability to lead the position group – they’re also very young.

The receiving corps will be an interesting group to keep an eye on. Not only are they young and inexperienced, but they also have junior quarterback Wilton Speight throwing them the ball which doesn’t make me feel all warm inside. Speight is good enough to beat Minnesota and Maryland but I’m not sure he can lead Michigan to wins over Penn State, on the road, and Ohio State.

Obviously we’re all excited to see Donovan Peoples-Jones take the field. The Detroit Cass Tech product has size, speed, and skill to be a threat early on, but he’ll have to adjust to college cornerbacks quickly. The other big freshman receiver, Tarik Black, has made headlines throughout spring camp but we’ll see how that translates in the fall. I like some of the work sophomores Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford did last year but they didn’t get enough targets to lead me to believe they can lead the receiving group this season. Most of McDoom’s highlights came off jet sweeps which aren’t going to surprise teams anymore.

So by now you’re probably thinking ‘what does this mean for their record’?

Well it means I think they won’t be any better than last year, and I actually believe they’ll be worse. Michigan also has a tougher schedule this season in my opinion.

The Wolverines will probably win their first game against Florida – a neutral site game in Texas. Florida has their own problems which includes new quarterbacks, and that can be tough when you face a ferocious front four like the one Michigan has. I think the Wolverines squeak by the Gators.

From there on Michigan will easily win their next five games to start out 6-0.

Michigan State will not be easy – as it rarely is – but Michigan is far more talented than the Spartans, plus it’s at the Big House. The win streak stops on October 21 when they travel to Happy Valley to face Penn State in a white out. I think this is Penn State’s year to show “they are back” after an impressive year in 2016. Remember when we all used to laugh at James Franklin? Not anymore. Michigan will then smother Maryland, Minnesota, and Rutgers.

I’m interested to see how the Gophers new head coach P.J. Fleck does in his first season in the Big Ten. If there is a cheaper Michigan game I recommend attending, it would be this one.

After having fun in the Big Ten’s basement, the Wolverines will get a dose of realty on the road at Wisconsin. The Badgers will be eagerly awaiting Michigan, and will be looking to seek revenge after a close Wolverines victory in 2016. I think Bucky gets his wish and Wisconsin wins a close “Big Ten style” game.

And lastly, Ohio State makes their trip up north to face “that school up north.” Michigan has defeated the Buckeyes once since 2004 – and that fact will hold true this season.

Michigan is just too young to compete with Ohio State this season. The scarlet and gray have some youth as well. But lets be honest, Ohio State just lets the empty clip fall to the ground and puts a new one in like Rambo spraying bullets into his enemies and keeps firing. They hardly ever miss a beat. I don’t think the outcome will be like the ass kicking Michigan took at home in 2015, but I can’t see this game having the dramatic flare that last year had.

So I have Michigan going 9-3 (6-3) this season and finishing third in the Big Ten East division. I just don’t see how this team is supposed to be better than last year. They have talent and a lot of potential but they have a lot of growing up to do before I have faith they win meaningful games late in the season.

Either way, Michigan is back to the bowl season where the Wolverines can potentially get its tenth win of the season for the third straight time under Harbaugh and a nice stepping stone into 2018 and beyond.