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Phil Steele breaks down 2018 Michigan football: “underrated”, “can contend for a national title”

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Maize n Brew chatted with ESPN’s Phil Steele, one of the most accurate college football analysts

NCAA Football: Michigan at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

If you love college football there’s a good chance you’ve had your hands on Phil Steele’s College Football Preview magazine at some point in the last twenty years. The ESPN analyst has been known to be one of the more accurate pundits around.

With that in mind, Maize n Brew chatted with Steele, who happens to think Michigan could be a very dangerous team and might be able to contend for a national championship in 2018.

MnB: You called Michigan overrated heading into the 2017 season, what would you say they are heading into the 2018 season?

Steele: “I think they’re underrated this year because I don‘t think they‘ll be in the AP top ten, they‘ll be close but not in the AP top ten at the start of the year. When you look at this team they go from having five returning starters to seventeen, they go from number 127 on my experience chart all the way up to number 37. Clearly one of the best defenses in the country, I‘ve got them listed as the best secondary. Number six defensive line, number twelve linebackers, overall the number three defense in the entire country. Offensively, the offensive line should be better, I like the running backs and receivers, and now they finally have a quarterback in Shea Patterson. The schedule is difficult, I think that’s one of the reasons they’ll be underrated, and another reasons they’ll be underrated is that they lost five games last year. But this is a team that hasn’t been far away in a lot of their losses in the Harbaugh era and they’re actually my number 4 surprise team in the country this year which is a non top ten team I think can contend for a national title.”

MnB: What do you think of Shea Patterson as far as his skill-set and what he can bring to Michigan?

Steele: “The good thing is they don’t need a four thousand yard passer but Shea, the most impressive thing to me about him is when he gets on the move, when he’s on the move he can make some great throws, the advantage is if the pocket breaks down he can leak out out the pocket, he’s dangerous on the run, he can run the ball, and he throws very well on the run. I like all that, he’s a great leader, did well at Ole Miss, and with the surrounding talent he’s got at Michigan I think he’s in pretty good shape.”

MnB: Are there any players for the casual football fan you’d say they should be looking out for on Michigan?

Steele: “Two guys I’ll throw out, neither was in the top three of receivers last year, but I think both of these guys are gonna be dynamic, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black. Black of course played a little bit last year and got injured so he’s a redshirt freshman with only 12 catches under his belt. Donovan Peoples-Jones only had 277 yards the entire year last year receiving. I think both of those guys become stars this year on offense.”

MnB: Do you think the Michigan defense, which was one of the best defenses in the nation in 2017 will be even better in 2018 or take a step back?

Steele: “Going from one returning starter to nine they’ll be even better. Last year they actually slipped a little bit, they went from allowing 14 points per game to 18 points per game which wasn’t as much as I expected them to slip to be honest with ya. I think when you look at Michigan this year, you look at them up front you’re gonna get the pass rush out of Rashan Gary at defensive end, Chase Winovich. Those guys combined for 14 sacks last year. You go to the linebacking corp and you have guys like Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson. And then in the secondary, they have the best secondary in the country... the corners Lavert Hill and David Long, I mean those are shutdown corners. They’ve got two very solid safeties in (Josh) Metellus and (Tyree) Kinnel. The two-deep is loaded with talent as well.”

MnB: “Where do you have Michigan ranked in the Big Ten pecking order?”

Steele: I’ve got them number two in the Big Ten East, I’ve just got them behind Ohio State. I think when you look at Ohio State they get that big game against Michigan at home. It’s been a little bit since Michigan has beaten Ohio State. The last time they went to Columbus I think Michigan fans think they beat Ohio State with that fourth down call at the end of the game going in Ohio State’s favor, so it’ll be exciting to see how it comes out this year.”

MnB: What is the key for Michigan to have a great season in 2018?

Steele: “Winning on the road. One of the toughest road schedules out there. Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Now they’re capable of winning on the road. You look at Harbaugh’s first year (4-1), if they can pick that up, win some of those close games, you go back and look like I mentioned. Last year there were some blowout losses but for the most part Harbaugh’s first couple years had close losses. They’ve just got to get over the edge. To me, maybe the key is going to be the quarterback play. Last years three quarterbacks combined for a 9-10 (TD-INT) ratio. If they can turn that around, you look at what Shea Patterson did at Ole Miss in ‘17 he had a 17-9 ratio, the year before that a 6-3, so he’s a guy that can improve the ratio and if that happens I think Michigan’s gonna be very dangerous.”