About Last Season
What more is there to say about last season? It was a season the likes of which Michigan and its fans have been waiting for years. A season that even some of its most ardent fans thought might never come.
Last season will be remembered for many things, but chief among them, it will be remembered for Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines finally getting the monkey off their backs and defeating Ohio State. With the victory, Michigan advanced to its first Big Ten title game, where the Wolverines continued their roll, steamrolling Iowa 42-3. When the dust settled - or the confetti had finished falling - Michigan had captured its first Big Ten championship in nearly two decades. How long had it been since the Wolverines had tasted the proverbial champagne? The last time Michigan won the Big Ten its current running backs coach was its starting running back - and was a freshman, at that.
Big Ten championship in hand, Michigan continued its season of firsts, making its first appearance in the college football playoffs, where it met eventual national champion Georgia in the Orange Bowl. That’s where the good times ended, however, as Michigan fell to the Dawgs 34-11. But as disappointing as the season’s ending was, it did little to take away from what was a special season in Ann Arbor.
Michigan’s season may be remembered largely for its 42-27 victory over the Buckeyes, but it was more than that. Michigan won in Madison, a place it rarely finds success. It won close games on the road in Lincoln and Happy Valley. The Wolverines dropped their match-up against Michigan State in East Lansing, an outcome made even more painful given that they surrendered a 16-point second-half lead, but were able to bounce back and finish the season strong.
After the Michigan State game, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson said that disappointment aside, he and his teammates still had plenty to play for. That their season wasn’t over and that all of their goals were all still in front of them. At the time, Hutchinson’s proclamations seemed little more than press conference cliches. Michigan has had many seasons begin promisingly, only to have one loss lead to many others. You would have been forgiven for believing that this season wouldn’t be any different. But Hutchinson and his teammates proved that this Michigan team possessed a resiliency that prior Michigan teams didn’t. A resiliency that resulted in one of the more memorable seasons in program history.
But that was last season. What can be expected from this season’s Wolverines?
In one respect, Michigan loses a lot from last season’s team. It loses its offensive MVP Hassan Haskins, the hard-running engine in Michigan’s run-heavy offense. It loses the leader of its offensive line in center Andrew Vastardis. On defense, the Wolverines lose their top three playmakers, with Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Heisman finalist Hutchinson, David Ojabo and Dax Hill all moving on to the NFL. Yet despite these noteworthy losses, Michigan still returns a lot.
On offense, Haskins is gone, but his running mate, the Lightning to Haskins’ Thunder, Blake Corum returns. Corum rushed for more than 900 yards and 12 touchdowns in an injury-shortened junior season and looks to lead the Wolverine rushing attack in his senior season. But he won’t be doing it alone. Corum will share the load with sophomore Donovan Edwards, giving the Wolverines another dual-threat rushing attack.
Michigan’s offensive line, one of the keys to last season’s success, should be a strength again. The Wolverines lose Vastardis to graduation, but replace him with Virginia transfer Olu Oluwatimi, a Remington Award finalist last season. At receiver, Michigan has its deepest position group, as its three leading receivers from last season - Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson and tight end Erick All - all return, where they’ll be joined by senior Ronnie Bell, who returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
Michigan also returns quarterbacks Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy. Having two capable quarterbacks puts Harbaugh and the Wolverines in an enviable position, but is having two capable quarterbacks too much of a good thing? Most expect McNamara to start but McCarthy to see increased playing time. That arrangement worked last season, but will it again? With an offense loaded with returning talent, Harbaugh’s ability to manage his quarterback situation could prove to be one of the keys to Michigan’s season.
On defense, it’s another story. Michigan lost players across every level if its defense, but none of the departures will hurt more than Hutchinson and Ojabo, the driving forces behind last season’s defense. The tandem combined for 25 sacks and kept constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Michigan has several talented players capable of contributing to the pass rush this season, but don’t expect anyone to duplicate the impact of Hutchinson and Ojabo.
But while Hutchinson and Ojabo are Michigan’s biggest losses, they’re far from the only ones. Continuing the theme on defense, Michigan turns over much of its linebacking corps and of its secondary. Much like up front, there are plenty of talented players capable of stepping up and filling the gaps on defense. Unlike on the offensive side of the football, however, most of these options are largely unproven.
Michigan fields a solid team in 2022. More than solid, actually. Provided Harbaugh can manage his quarterback situation, the offense should be prolific. Which is a good thing, because the defense will be somewhat of a work in progress with so many new faces. Harbaugh is bullish on his “No Name” defense. Regardless of how well those new faces take to their expanded roles, however, expect a drop-off from last season’s top-ten unit. And the extent of that drop-off will go a long way toward determining the level of success Michigan will achieve this season. If the defense comes together, expect the Wolverines to contend in the always stacked Big Ten East.
Michigan hosts Penn State and Michigan State this year, with key road games in Iowa City and Columbus.
When Talking to a Michigan Fan...
Last season’s football season is a good start. Big Ten champions. College Football Playoffs. Also, Big Ten championship teams in hockey, baseball and women’s gymnastics. Juwan Howard and the Michigan basketball team and its fifth consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance. All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Heisman Trophy finalist and first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, Aidan Hutchinson. Gus Johnson saying “Oh-Ja-Bo!”. More Big Ten championships in wrestling, women’s golf, women’s soccer, men’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s tennis.
Kenneth Walker III. Last year’s Orange Bowl. Georgia and its five first round draft picks on defense. Football coaching defections. The Frozen Four. Mel Pearson. Clemson baseball.