1. Media will finally accept that Jim Harbaugh will be Michigan's head coach for the long haul.
This may be the boldest prediction of them all.
When Michigan fired Brady Hoke, it was common knowledge that Jim Harbaugh was Michigan's top candidate. Yet, for weeks, members of the national media reported that Harbaugh had declined the Wolverines' offer or that they had no shot at him. The NFL media claimed that Michigan couldn't pony up the money NFL franchises could and, if even if U-M could, Harbaugh's heart was still in the NFL. To them, the idea that Harbaugh would leave the NFL to coach at Michigan, his alma mater, was laughable.
But, then, as more and more news leaked that Harbaugh would indeed become Michigan's next football coach, the narrative shifted. No longer was it "Harbaugh won't leave the NFL for Michigan." It was "How long until Harbaugh leaves Michigan to return to the NFL?" Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk asked the question. Bryan Fischer of NFL.com uttered something similar. As did plenty of others in the media.
These questions will finally stop. On Monday, Harbaugh signed a seven-year, $35 million contract to become Michigan's new football coach. At his introductory press conference on Tuesday, he used a metaphor to describe his work at his previous coaching stops as building homes and how he'd "really like to live in one permanently." Will Harbaugh be Michigan's head coach for the remainder of his career? I'm not ready to make that prediction, but I'm willing to predict this will not be a short stay for Harbaugh. And I'm willing to predict the media will finally start to believe that, too.
2. D.J. Durkin, Ty Wheatley, and Greg Mattison will join Jim Harbaugh's staff.
Jim Harbaugh has officially been Michigan's coach for only two days, but he's already begun assembling his staff. It's been reported that Harbaugh has hired USC offensive line coach and running game coordinator Tim Drevno to be Michigan's offensive coordinator. With the rest of the Harbaugh's staff to be announced soon, I predict that D.J. Durkin, Ty Wheatley, and Greg Mattison will be members of that coaching staff.
Durkin is Florida's defensive coordinator and, after Will Muschamp was fired, interim head coach. He's coordinated the Gators' past two defenses, both of which ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, and was named Rivals.com's Recruiter of the Year in 2012. After he coaches Florida in the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina this Saturday, Durkin will be looking for a new job. Given that he has reportedly already turned down offers to be the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and North Carolina, expect Durkin to become Michigan's new defensive coordinator under Harbaugh, with whom Durkin coached at Stanford as his defensive ends and special teams coach.
Wheatley is the Buffalo Bills' running backs coach, but, after Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone opted out of his contract, it seems Wheatley will be needing employment. The most logical place for Wheatley to wind up is Michigan, where he starred as a running back in college football. This means Fred Jackson, who's been Michigan's running backs coach for the past 23 seasons, would not be retained. However, the Wolverines have received little production from the running back position in recent years, so now would be the perfect time to make a change. Thus, I predict that Wheatley will be Michigan's running backs coach and running game coordinator under Harbaugh.
Mattison was Michigan's defensive coordinator under Brady Hoke and was not expected to return after his boss and great friend was fired. However, there are rumors swirling, first mentioned by Go Blue Wolverine's Sam Webb ($), that Mattison is not looking to retire from coaching football and would like to remain in Ann Arbor. Mattison has an amicable relationship with the Harbaugh family, having been the defensive coordinator under Jack Harbaugh, Jim's father, at Western Michigan, and worked with Durkin at Notre Dame in 1993 and 1994. All of these factors will persuade Mattison to return to Michigan in some capacity, either becoming the defensive line or linebackers coach.
3. Michigan will hand Wisconsin its first B1G loss.
Michigan basketball has had more than its fair share of struggles this season, but this will not prevent Michigan from notching the biggest win of Big Ten play in a few weeks. Wisconsin is the class of the Big Ten and will win the Big Ten championship by a wide margin. This will be demonstrated when the Badgers streamroll through their next five opponents -- Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers, Nebraska, and Iowa -- to improve to 18-1 overall and 6-0 in the Big Ten. But, on the night of January 24th, the Badgers will head to Ann Arbor for a nationally televised game against Michigan. The Crisler Center will be rocking, and Caris LeVert will turn in a career performance as U-M pulls the upset.
4. Despite the hire of Jim Harbaugh, Michigan will not sign a top-20 recruiting class on February 4th.
Though recruiting has been buzzing since it was announced Jim Harbaugh would be Michigan's coach -- read Anthony Broome's most recent recruiting updates here and here -- the Wolverines still will not sign a top-20 class on National Signing Day. At the moment, Michigan has only six commits, which is fewest of any Power 5 school. And one of those commits is a kicker, even if he's a pretty good one. Harbaugh will add some quality kids -- I would expect Chris Clark, who's the No. 2 tight end in the nation, to recommit soon -- but the lack of time and available scholarships -- U-M has room for only 16 or so commits -- will prevent Michigan from hauling in a highly regarded class.
5. Michigan will make the NCAA Tournament but must win in the First Four to play in the Round of 64.
With an 8-5 record that includes losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, Michigan has an uphill battle if it wants to earn an invite to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines are No. 123 in RPI and No. 74 on KenPom. Further, KenPom projects Michigan will finish with an 8-10 record, and, even if Michigan went 9-9, it likely still wouldn't be enough to make the NCAA Tournament. But expect the Wolverines to turn it around during the Big Ten season, something John Beilein's teams have a knack for doing. They'll tally at least 10 conference wins, including the aforementioned upset over Wisconsin, and it'll be just enough for Michigan to be on the right side of the bubble on Selection Sunday.
6. Caris LeVert will declare for the NBA Draft.
OK. This isn't bold at all. In the preseason, it was assumed by most that Caris LeVert would declare early for the NBA Draft after this season, following the footsteps of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, and Glenn Robinson III. However, there has been some talk that maybe LeVert should return for his senior year after the team's and his slow start. LeVert may be averaging 15.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game, but his efficiency has fallen off -- his offensive rating has dropped from 111.7 to 101.5 -- and his defense has been so-so. Nonetheless, LeVert is still projected by DraftExpress to be the 13th selection of the 2015 NBA Draft, and this'll be reaffirmed as his play improves during the Big Ten season. With a draft grade that high, LeVert will realize it's time for him to forego his senior season and head to the NBA.
7. Over 50,000 will attend Michigan's Spring Game.
Michigan is not a school that's made its spring football game a premier event, but that'll change in 2015. Last year, Michigan's spring game drew only 15,000 spectators, which was far fewer than the number Penn State (72,000), Nebraska (61,772), and Ohio State (61,058) attracted. However, Michigan didn't have Jim Harbaugh last year. With Harbaugh leading the Maize and Blue, the Michigan athletic department will heavily promote this year's spring game as the first opportunity to see him coach in Michigan Stadium. And the public will eat it up. The most attended Michigan spring game was in 2009 when 50,000 poured in to see freshman Tate Forcier. There'll be more this year.
8. Jim Hackett will be named the permanent AD.
Name me an interim athletic director that's been more impressive than Jim Hackett. Though we do not yet know how Hackett performs the other tasks an athletic director must do, Hackett just led a perfect coaching search that ended with Michigan hiring Jim Harbaugh, a top-five college football coach and the Wolverines' top choice. At this point, if Hackett walks into president Mark Schlissel's office and states that he wants the job permanently, it is his. I predict an official announcement will be made in the summer.
9. Michigan-MSU will be Under the Lights IV.
Michigan has hosted a football game at night in three of the past four seasons, including the last two, so it's expected that Michigan will do so again in 2015. However, with Notre Dame off the schedule, the Wolverines do not have a high-caliber non-conference opponent coming to Michigan Stadium that would be deemed worthy of a night game. Sorry, Oregon State, UNLV, and BYU. Therefore, Under the Lights IV makes sense for only one Michigan home game: Michigan State on October 17th. Yes, I know former Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon previously asserted that it was unlikely that Michigan-Michigan State would ever be a night game in Ann Arbor, but, with Brandon gone and no other home opponents in September or October that would generate any significant buzz, the Wolverines and the Spartans will clash at dusk this season.
10. Jim Harbaugh will beat Urban Meyer.
Since 1929, four first-year Michigan coaches have hosted Ohio State in the final game of the regular season. Those coaches were Bump Elliott in 1959, Bo Schembechler in 1969, Lloyd Carr in 1995, and Brady Hoke in 2011. What do all four of them have in common? They all walked out of Michigan Stadium with victories over the hated Buckeyes.
Jim Harbaugh will be the fifth straight first-year Michigan coach to do it.