Talk about one thing you're seeing in how this Michigan team is performing this early in the season that makes you have confidence that the Harbaugh Way is taking hold.
Peter: It has to be how the offense is showing signs of improvement. From blocking on the O-line, to De'Veon Smith finding the holes and following blockers, to simply signs that the team is "getting it". For as much as we've harped on the O-line, I think we also need to start giving them credit when/where it's due. These guys are making holes and protecting Rudock, and that's all we can ask for this early.
Shash: As goes the O-Line, so goes the offense, I think. Even more so than QB turnovers (which, by the way, are pretty concerning - hopefully it's an adjustment period). Blocking is super complicated in this era of multiple blitzes and different defensive alignments, and it's equally important that the runner has the vision to hit the right hole at the right time. I know I'm being basic, but this is something Michigan RBs have struggled with for almost a decade. Hopefully Ben Braden's improvement week to week continues, but I think we're going to see some struggles against better defensive fronts. And ditto to Peter - love seeing a FB get some yards. Would really like to see them leak out and catch those 6-8 yard passes I've come to love from "real" offenses.
Fish: When Harbaugh was announced as the new head coach, the main thing I was expecting to see were in-game coaching adjustments that either fix the issues or help preserve a lead. That was a huge problem under the previous staff and so far, Harbaugh has delivered. In the Utah game, the team fought back after a rough start and had a chance to win the game. Against Oregon State, the staff quickly fixed the issues on both sides of the ball after the first quarter and made the correct adjustments to help lead the Wolverines to a convincing win. If JH and the staff can continue to make the correct adjustments, I believe they could win any game on their schedule.
Amanda: Definitely the use of the tight ends. Seeing the contribution from Jake Butt in these first two games has me wonder how he didn't get more playing time in past seasons. Even Ian Bunting as a 2nd TE behind Butt showed some promise in Saturday's game. Butt's performance in the Utah game, 8 catches, actually tied for the most of any Michigan tight end in 20 years. Harbaugh's pro-style offense fits the tight ends perfectly, and I'm really excited to see how they progress as the season goes on.
Zach: First, my caveat: It is still so early and we know so little about Utah and Oregon State.
With that being said, I think we have signs of what this whole Harbaugh Experience was supposed to eventually deliver, even after just two games. The team is getting better, and not just in an overall sense, but in a "from the first to fourth quarter" sense; Michigan has outscored opponents 10-7 in the third quarter and 22-7 in the fourth quarter so far this year, as compared to the -17 point margin in those quarters a year ago. The run game looks to have taken a step forward, in that both the blocking and the running backs started to adapt and see the field better. And part of the reason why is because the offense has and identity, one that you can see in the plays and progressions that set the defense up and adjust accordingly. On the other side of the ball, Michigan managed to dismantle OSU's offense by doing that thing that Michigan State's defense used to do a couple years ago where it would give up a scoring drive early, but in that time it would adjust and then completely shut down the opposing offense the rest of the way. The special teams feel like a legitimate advantage, Michigan has almost blocked a handful of kicks, and the spread punt formation/aussie punter combo is already paying dividends.
Can any of the above be said about any of Hoke's teams? Not to beat a dead horse, but this remains the standard. Does the team get better week to week and quarter to quarter? So far, I'd say early returns on Harbaugh are good, but the sample size is still very small.
Alex: Two games in and Michigan has seen itself down an early lead in both. Harbaugh's been able to weather the storm and right the ship thus far, and I believe the resilience and positive morale play a larger role than most think. Opening up on the road with a new head coach, quarterback, etc., there was merely a panic. Similar situation with Oregon State: the defense surrendered an early touchdown yet bounced back and completely regained control. While many of the average fans may expect a Big Ten title or more, I'm just content with a "bend but don't break" mentality in Ann Arbor.
Drew: How do you even define "the Harbaugh Way"? Does that mean Michigan's winning? Does that mean Michigan's running a functioning, man-blocking offense? Does that mean the team is improving from week to week? Does that mean you have an enthusiasm unknown to mankind? Or does that mean all of these things? There are so many ways to answer this question that I'm not sure where to start. And it doesn't help that we're only two games into the season. I guess I'd by respond by saying that we saw teeny signs of "the Harbaugh Way" in the second half against Oregon State, when Michigan thoroughly dominated the Beavers in all facets. The Wolverines ran power over and over again, and Oregon State couldn't stop it. Michigan's defense stoned Oregon State in the second half, holding the Beavers to just four yards in 16 plays. Harbaugh was maniacal on the sideline. And Michigan walked off the field with a convincing win. But this was against an Oregon State program that may be one of the worst in a Power 5 conference this season. Can Michigan do it against a more talented team? If so, that's "the Harbaugh Way."
Kevin: I saw the Harbaugh Way shine during two particular plays in the game on Saturday. Harbaugh knew they were in go-for-it territory being down 7-3, made a play call with a check-down option, and Rudock used it to eventually get them the lead. Later, after second-half adjustments shut down the Beavers, they went for two to put the game completely out of reach at 28-7. Not that this coaching staff is unique in knowing when to be aggressive, but the players properly executed both of those scenarios, in game two no less. Their ceiling is extremely high, and right now it looks like they're improving week by week, which is what Harbaugh expects.
More impressed with the defense giving up just TWO (!) yards in the final three quarters, or the offensive line allowing De'Veon Smith to bulldoze over the Beaver defense?
Peter: The latter. The defense has been solid for a while, so although the way they did what they did was pretty impressive, that they did it isn't terribly surprising. It was so great to see such a fantastic day on the ground for this team! It should give them confidence moving forward, and both sides of the ball will be able to benefit from the other performing well. I think that was a huge part of Saturday's rushing performance--with Oregon State's defense being on the field for so much of the third quarter, it gave Smith that momentum boost to feed off, and when the defense came out, they were well-rested and ready to kill someone. Those are good combos to have as the season wears on.
Shash: Michigan's offensive line is expected to perform like they did against a team like Oregon State. Nothing against Oregon State, but with the talent gap and size gap they have, M should run all over teams like that. It was nice to see the final TD drive grind them into the ground, but the line needs to do a better job pushing up to the next level (linebackers, any safeties in run support) to really make those gash plays happen. If anything, it's encouraging that Smith's YPC was so good without too many long runs. So I'll go with the former - the one thing Michigan's been consistently good at in the last few years is limiting gash plays on defense, but you'd think a team losing the entire second half would complete more than one or two passes to get some yards.
Fish: While Smith's performance had him looking like Beastmode 2.0, I'll have to go with the defense only giving up two yards in the final three quarters. I mean, it's not like they were playing the North Dakota Institute of Technology, Oregon State is a Power 5 team with a successful head coach and talent all over their roster. The fact that the defense not only shut their offense down (an offense that went 79 yards and scored on the opening drive) but took away their will to fight was what impressed me the most. Add in the fact that Michigan has struggled with duel threat quarterbacks in recent history and it was an even more impressive performance from both the players and coaching staff.
Amanda: While I was incredibly impressed with both, I will have to go with the defense only giving up 2 yards to Oregon State in the final 3 quarters. It didn't look encouraging at first, with the Beavers driving 79 yards down the field with ease to score a TD. However, the defense got its act together following that and completely stifled Oregon State in their remaining possessions. I was also impressed with Michigan's domination of the time of possession in the 2nd half (which I guess is what happens when you limit your opponent to 2 yards). The Beavers held the ball for 7:32, only running 16 plays.
Zach: Watching the evolution of the offensive line through the Oregon game was an eye opening experience. It adjusted as the game went on and slowly ground down the opposing — albeit not a very impressive or physically imposing — defense. We just haven't seen that in years. I've seen the defense pitch shutouts against overmatched offenses, of which, this one with the true freshman quarterback certainly counts. It has been a much longer wait to see Michigan steamroll just about anybody's front seven.
Alex: I will say this: since the Sean Mannion era concluded in Corvallis, the offense has looked rather bleak. A frosh at the helm in the Big House seldom stood a chance, but for the defensive unit to squander just a couplet of yards spells pure domination. It was almost as if the Wolverines came out in the second half like Rick Moranis and the Giants circa Little Giants with Chris Wormley serving as the Becky "Icebox" O'Shea of the core. In all seriousness, it was almost watching a high school offense attempt to advance on a collegiate defense. It may not be an offense in the upper echelon but I think the Wolverines have cemented their status on the defensive side of the ball.
Drew: The defense allowing 50 yards in the final three quarters -- as much as I don't like to, I must remove the 48-yard loss on the high punt snap -- and only four yards in the second half was more impressive. Oregon State had to replace nine starters from a run defense that was 115th in S&P+ last season. It was expected that the Beavers' run defense would be made out of paper mache, and, though Michigan ran all over Oregon State in the second half, the Wolverines left rushing yards on the table too often due to simple missed assignments and blocks. On the other hand, though not expected to be a juggernaut by any means, Oregon State's offense had some potential to expose Michigan's defense, particularly on the edges with dual-threat Seth Collins and Victor Bolden running the jet sweep. And the Beavers did do some of that in the first quarter. But, after that, Michigan's defense just shut them down. Almost literally. It was an inspiring performance.
Coach Harbaugh won the game, won over the crowd, and already appears to have won over his players. Is it too early to adjust the lofty expectations placed on him, or are you being patient for -- wait for it -- "the process"?
Peter: I'm not changing my expectations at all for this season (7-8 wins). Yes, the team played very well against Oregon State, but the Beavers aren't the Spartans or the Buckeyes. I think we'll still see some growing pains this season, but we'd be hard-pressed to say that we haven't seen glimpses of what the future holds for the Wolverines. I have no doubt that Jim Harbaugh will restore some glory to this program, but let's take care of some of the low-hanging fruit first: beat the teams that should be beaten. The rest will follow.
Shash: Wins don't grow on trees in this sport. The schedules are set, and teams can't just cherrypick "wins" with improvement every week. I had thought Michigan might drop a game they shouldn't - a hallmark of the Hoke era - but more and more I'm thinking JH will coach that out of them. If anything, I was most concerned about the Penn State game before the season, but they're a garbage fire right now, especially on the O-line, so I think that game is very winnable. So you're still looking at a ceiling of 9 wins. But this year, after everything Michigan's been through, my "lofty" expectations were seeing a coaching staff that has their shit together play to play, game to game, and a program that actually cares about its student body and fans. I know that should have been a given with a program like Michigan - but in the past decade, it just hasn't been the case.
Fish: Process, shmocess. I predicted that Michigan would win 9 games this season and I'm sticking with it. As long as this team continues to grow and develop throughout the season like we were able to see between week one and week two, I believe Harbaugh's first season will be a success. But don't get me wrong, they will need to grow a lot from now until the Michigan State and Ohio State games but I'm starting to like what I see. As for the expectations of year two and three, it all comes down to finding a quarterback that not only manages the games but can win them as well.
What really hit home for me was last weekend - Michigan was jazzed up about beating Oregon State - while a few miles up north, a top-ten Michigan State team beat a top-ten Oregon team in a primetime matchup on national TV, moving into the top five nationally with that win. So yeah, it'll be a process. Michigan should expect to be at or above that level, at all times - that isn't haughtiness or arrogance - but a reflection on the athletic department, alumni, history, and the new coaching staff.
Amanda: I came into this season predicting 7 wins for Michigan, and I'm holding to that. The lofty expectations I have for Harbaugh (championships on championships on championships) will happen in due time. For now, they just need to focus on taking care of business each week and try not to look too far ahead of themselves. Coach Harbaugh will one day restore Michigan to the powerhouse team it was decades ago, but Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will Michigan football.
Kevin: I thought eight wins was attainable before the season (with some luck), but after we see a few more games, I think I'll move the needle to a firm eight with the possibility of nine if the team just plays lights-out in one of the other away games at Penn State or Maryland. I'm in the "letting the process execute" camp, which means seeing where the program is in year four before hitting the panic button. The expectations are unchanged for me -- that the team is competitive in every game with a chance to win, and that they improve from week to week. Harbaugh is already hitting those goals. In week two.
Alex: I've been trying to stranglehold anyone cloaked in Maize and Blue that believes that this is a National Championship-type season. Sure, it's more than charitable to notch expectations and goals, but we're dealing with two games into the 2015 campaign. Let's not get in over our heads with lofty goals, but the aura is exceptionally positive amid Ann Arbor and that's the first step in a laundry list of future accomplishments.
Drew: I predicted that Michigan would have a 7-5 regular-season record, and I'm sticking to it ... for now. Michigan has done what I expected from them in the first two weeks. I predicted that the Wolverines would lose a close one in Salt Lake City before thumping Oregon State. I still don't see Michigan beating either of its rivals as both Ohio State and Michigan State are more talented and are bad matchups, particularly the Spartans. The difference between a 7-5 record and an 8-4 or even 9-3 one is how Michigan performs on the road against Minnesota and Penn State. Both have underwhelmed through the first two weeks, which makes the prospect of eight or nine wins more probable, but I still don't trust these Wolverines in hostile environments. So I'm not budging.
Give out a helmet sticker or two to some guys that stood out and gave a great effort against Oregon State.
Peter: Well, Nick did a great job with the game balls for me this week (and I think everyone in that piece is deserving), so I'll go in another direction: Jim Harbaugh's play card. Did you see that thing fly?! I mean, holy crap! Okay, maybe it didn't have to put in too much effort, but Clippy gets my vote for a sticker just because of what he had to endure: torque, anger, impact with the turf. He just got right back in the game and held all the plays just like laminated paper should. Take a bow, Clippy, you have given pride to laminated products everywhere.
Shash: Kenny Allen. Some stability in the kicking game would be welcome. But let's stop doing that kickoff out of bounds thing.
Fish: There are a couple players that I believe made huge plays that flew a little under the radar in Ian Bunting, Delano Hill and Derrick Green. Bunting is starting to look like a nice 2nd tight end option behind Jake Butt and that truck stick catch and run was one of the more impressive individual plays of the day. As for Hill, he made a fantastic tackle on Seth Collins that ended up forcing Oregon State to punt at the start of the 2nd quarter and helped sway the momentum. And then there's Green. According to The Michigan Insider's Sam Webb, he was moved to the scout team during the week and responded exactly how you'd hope. He didn't see a carry until later in the game but when he had his chance, he ran really hard and well. You have to give credit to a kid for staying tough and using the demotion as fuel.
Amanda: Is it a cop-out to say Jabrill Peppers? If so, oh well I'm giving one to him anyways. Those MONSTER hits had me hurting. I would also have to go with the offensive line, namely Ben Braden. The holes that he and the rest of the o-line created for Smith and the other running backs was a very refreshing sight to witness.
Kevin: Delano Hill made a couple excellent tackles in coverage, and was the first man to catch Oregon State's punter on the bad snap. It has been a long time since a Michigan defense has had two menacing safeties, and this may be the return of such an occurrence. Sione Houma gets one not just for best on-field hair but for reminding us that fullbacks are people too and matter in Harbaugh's offense..
Zach: Chris Wormley first and foremost. Dude is a nightmare, and the switch to 3-tech has paid huge dividends, as he is getting a lot of one on one matchups with a tackle or guard instead of taking doubles on the frontside as SDE. He is currently tied for second nationally at six tackles for loss, although I imagine opposing offensive coordinators are going to pay a lot more attention to him as the season goes on. I think he is good enough that it won't matter too much.
Alex: Jake and De'veon should both be dialing up their parents for bank account security because I'd expect a hefty dinner for the entire offensive line. Also hard not to look at Chris Wormley: he seemingly took over the game and purchased real estate in the Oregon State backfield.
Drew: On defense, Chris Wormley. No question. Michigan entered the season with questions at strongside defensive end. In just two weeks, Michigan may its best defender stationed there. Michigan has been waiting for the next LaMarr Woodley or Brandon Graham to arrive. Michigan may have one in Wormley.
On offense, I'd give helmet stickers to Mason Cole, Erik Magnuson, and A.J. Williams. Michigan's success on the ground against Oregon State came by way of outside runs, which means Michigan needed its offensive tackles and tight ends to bury the Beavers' defensive ends and outside linebackers to open those gaps.
By all accounts this is an auto win because Michigan is favored by a whole lot of touchdowns. Instead of predicting outcome and score, predict whether Michigan will cover and how many points they put up on the Rebels.
Peter: Damn, I hate this Vegas stuff! The Wolverines are, like, 34-point favorites or something, right? Yeah, I think they'll end up with 52.
Shash: No clue. Without Putzel in the audience for this one, I just don't know what's going to happen. But I will say it seems like Michigan isn't quite on the level of 50-60 point offensive performances yet. It's not how they're built. You won't see them winning 70-3 like the Bamas of the world yet. If they cover, it's going to be because of drives you saw at the end of last week - a big lead growing with suffocating defense. When was the last time Michigan really blew out a team with a ton of offense? Not since I was a kid, I don't think. And I'm OK with that.
Fish: I'll say yes but it'll be close. Michigan has never been a team like Ole Miss that continues to run up the score in the 4th quarter to try and embarrass the lower level opponent.
Peter: My guess is that we'll see two defensive touchdowns to help drive the score upward. So although I agree with Fish that Michigan doesn't try to embarrass opponents, it isn't as though they haven't had some pretty lopsided scores. If the scoring is there, it's there.
Amanda: I've never completely understood the Vegas bets and spreads, but I think Michigan will cover the spread. It'll be close, but if the defense performs like they did this past weekend and the offense continues to click, I could see them putting up 45+ on UNLV.
Kevin: UNLV is down to their second-string quarterback, so I would hope Michigan is capable of covering. I'll keep it conservative and say they'll put up 40 on the Rebels with a real chance at a shutout.
Alex: Somewhat of an early start for the Rebels, I expect UM to finally come out of the floodgates firing. It's an inept defense for UNLV that should be in for quite the physical game; however, that's not its forte. They want a track meet full of speed and have statistically matched up with those "five-wide, small, fast teams." Wolverines go up early and the clock gradually inches faster in the second half. UNLV covers late, but not by much.
Drew: I'm more intrigued to see if Michigan shuts out UNLV. The last shutout that Michigan pitched was against Illinois, 45-0, in 2012. I think the Wolverines have a legitimate shot to update that stat. And, yes, Michigan will cover. Just like against Illinois in 2012, Michigan will put up 45.
What's on the college football watch list for week three after Michigan finishes with UNLV?
Kevin: I'll be paying attention to BYU at UCLA, mainly to see if they can win on a final prayer pass for a third week in a row. Otherwise, Nebraska visits Miami and I expect several fights to break out.
Shash: If I weren't at the game I'd want to watch Air Force play MSU just because sometimes service academies put up a big of a fight - but Dantonio will have the Spartans ready to win. Northwestern is actually looking pretty good and should handle Duke on the road, South Carolina's QB's out so they won't have a shot at Georgia, but the best game will be Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech against the Fighting Deshones of Notre Dame. ND's got a brutal 2-3 game stretch coming up, and they badly need to hold serve on this game and get ready for a dangerous Clemson team next week. This weekend, we're all Yellowjackets.
Peter: I'm going to echo Shash, here, and talk about a service academy. I agree that those teams are some of the greatest games to watch, and having seen Air Force in person, I can say that I wish Michigan would schedule one academy per year. So although I'll definitely keep an eye on Air Force/MSU, Navy is the academy I root for; they play Eastern Carolina at 2:30. It's quite possible that, other than Michigan, Navy has the best damn helmets in the land.
Fish: This isn't the greatest week of the season but there are a couple games to watch closely including the Education Bowl between Northwestern and Duke. Other games I'll be keeping an eye on include Clemson-Louisville and, my two upset specials, Boston College over Florida State and Georgia Tech over Notre Dame.
Amanda: For me, definitely Georgia Tech v. Notre Dame. The new QB for the Irish, DeShone Kizer, actually went to my high school so I'm really intrigued to see how he fares.
Zach: Ole Miss-Alabama. Outside of Ohio State (sigh), these might be the two most talented teams in the country.
Alex: Utah State and Washington, primarily because if the Aggies fail to score more than 20 points, my roommate has to take care of rent until January. Aside from that, Ole Miss-Alabama shall be an unreal contest. Also, don't sleep on Memphis and Bowling Green: points on top of points, and if you have room for dessert--oh look--points.
Drew: After I take in what -- I hope -- is a boring Michigan-UNLV, I'll be heading over to The Coliseum to attend USC-Stanford. Maybe I'll put on my Harbaugh costume for the Cardinal fans.