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Closing Arguments 2021: Michigan Wolverines

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What to expect in somewhat of a transitional season for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines.

Case History

The 21st century has been a rough one for Michigan football, particularly since former head coach Lloyd Carr hung up his whistle in 2007. Rarely in the mix for conference championships, losing footing to its rivals. To say the Wolverines have struggled would be putting it mildly.

After disappointing runs under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, Michigan thought it had its answer when it brought Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor to coach his alma mater. More than just the return of a hometown hero, Harbaugh was one of the most successful coaches in football. Michigan, it seemed, finally had its coach.

The Wolverines’ run under Harbaugh has been far from rosy, however. Yes, Michigan put together solid teams in 2016 and 2018, but each season ended in familiar fashion - with dispiriting losses to Ohio State and subsequent bowl opponents. Last season, hampered by opt outs and injuries, the wheels came off for the Wolverines. Beginning with a lifeless performance against three-touchdown underdog Michigan State, the Wolverines lost four of five games before ultimately shutting down the season in mid-November.

Opening Statement

If there was a silver lining to last season, it’s that Michigan and Harbaugh were forced to face the fact that things couldn’t continue to go the way they were going. That change was needed. Harbaugh addressed that need for change by overhauling his coaching staff.

The biggest change is at defensive coordinator, where Mike Macdonald replaces Don Brown, but Macdonald is far from the only new member of Michigan’s coaching staff. In fact, more than half of Harbaugh’s assistant coaches will be coaching their first season at Ann Arbor this fall. Not surprisingly, the new staff has brought a different kind of energy to the football building, one welcomed by the players.

Senior Brad Hawkins told reporters that the new coaches, “bring a lot of energy to the practices, to the meeting rooms.” Senior Aidan Hutchinson echoed his teammate’s assessment, saying, “There’s a different energy around Schembechler Hall these days.”

Having a new perspective and renewed energy is all well in good, but Michigan’s coaches are obviously being counted on to contribute more than that. Will the revamped staff result in more success on the field? And will it do so this season - a season in which the Wolverines have as many questions as they do with respect to their roster?

Discovery

What we’ve written about Michigan this offseason:

Michigan Week: Coaching

Michigan Week: Offense

Michigan Week: Defense

Schedule

Date Opponent Location
Date Opponent Location
4-Sep Western Michigan Ann Arbor
11-Sep Washington Ann Arbor
18-Sep Northern Illinois Ann Arbor
25-Sep Rutgers Ann Arbor
2-Oct Wisconsin Madison
9-Oct Nebraska Lincoln
16-Oct Off N/A
23-Oct Northwestern Ann Arbor
30-Oct Michigan State East Lansing
6-Nov Indiana Ann Arbor
13-Nov Penn State State College
20-Nov Maryland College Park
27-Nov Ohio State Ann Arbor

Emotional Plea

Most college football teams have their share of questions this time of year, but Michigan seems to have more than most. And those begin (again) at quarterback. Presumptive starter Cade McNamara looked good in limited action last season, but it was just that, limited action. How will McNamara perform as a full-time starter?

Quarterback play may be one of the biggest questions facing the Wolveirnes this season, but it’s far from the only one. Led by Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, Michigan’s running backs corps looks strong. The receiving corps, with no known quantities other than senior Ronnie Bell, not so much. The offensive line has many talented options from which to choose, headed by Ryan Hayes and Zak Zinter, but will the eventual starting five come together under new offensive line coach Sherrone Moore? That, as much as anything, will go a long way toward determining how well Michigan performs offensively this season.

The situation isn’t much clearer defense, where there are questions up front, in the middle and at the back end of the unit.

It may seem strange to say the Wolverines have questions up front with the return of edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who’s probably Michigan’s most dynamic player. But while there’s little concern with Hutchinson, it’s a different story inside. Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton look to anchor the middle of Michigan’s defense, but the pair has yet to really establish themselves. And much like the offensive line being the key to Michigan’s offense, the defensive line, particularly the tackles, will go a long way toward determining how well Michigan’s defense performs.

Josh Ross leads a deep, if largely unproven group of linebackers, and behind them, the starting safety combo of Daxton Hill and Brad Hawkins (arguably Michigan’s best position group along with running back) hope to help cover for a cornerback corps that had a rough 2020.

In short, there’s a lot of uncertainty up and down the roster. But while Michigan has more than its share of questions, it’s not without talent. In enough things come together, if enough players take their game to the next level, the Wolverines have the potential to push toward the top of the range of their expectations this fall.

But what is that range?

Verdict

Las Vegas has set Michigan’s over/under for victories at anywhere from six to eight. The OTE collective has it at a tick over seven. And that seems about right. For Michigan to collect on the over, the Wolverines will have to get solid quarterback play, hold their own in the trenches and field a defense that’s capable of, well defending.

That’s a lot to ask, so I’ll hedge my bets and go with a seven-win season.

Poll

In the Big Ten, Michigan goes...

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    3-6 or worse
    (14 votes)
  • 17%
    4-5
    (31 votes)
  • 32%
    5-4
    (58 votes)
  • 25%
    6-3
    (47 votes)
  • 17%
    7-2 or better
    (31 votes)
181 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Overall, Michigan finishes...

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    5-7 or worse
    (11 votes)
  • 5%
    6-6
    (10 votes)
  • 30%
    7-5
    (57 votes)
  • 31%
    8-4
    (58 votes)
  • 15%
    9-3
    (29 votes)
  • 7%
    10-2
    (13 votes)
  • 3%
    11-1 or better
    (6 votes)
184 votes total Vote Now