Michigan is a football team with a lot to prove in 2019. The bar for year five under Jim Harbaugh will be very high and Wolverine fans desperately want to see this team finally break through in the Big Ten for a trip to Indianapolis. Sure, he’s had three of four seasons with double digit wins, but some gut wrenching and embarrassing losses as well.
The Wolverines have many starters returning, a new “speed in space” offense under Josh Gattis, and several shoes to fill on defense.
We caught up with national college football writer Bill Bender from Sporting News to get his insights on the Wolverines and Big Ten conference. I asked about the new Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis, who has the keys to the ship, as Jim Harbaugh has eluded to this spring. Based on his track record, many think this will be an improved offense with several experienced and talented players, especially at quarterback and wide receiver. “It will (be improved) if Harbaugh is true to his word. Alabama’s offense took college football by storm with Tua Tagovailoa and his receivers last season. Shea Patterson has three NFL-caliber receivers to work with in Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins. It needs to look like that in Ann Arbor, even if the talent level isn’t the same. It’s time to turn Patterson loose,” Bender said.
The 2019 Schedule
The schedule is favorable for the Wolverines with many of their tough opponent games in Ann Arbor. Bill mentioned what team to watch our for on their slate as a potential trap game and why. “Iowa, but at least it’s not at Kinnick Stadium. The back-to-backs against Army-Wisconsin and Penn State-Notre Dame are tough and the Indiana game can’t be considered a trap game because they simply just play Michigan tough. Iowa has a good quarterback and tough defensive line and Michigan hasn’t seen them since 2016.”
The Big Ten Dark Horse
I switched gears to the Big Ten conference and what team can make some noise being under the radar. “The Big Ten West has six teams capable of winning the division, and Minnesota is getting talked about the least. The Gophers closed last season on a high note and have a friendly cross-over schedule,” Bender said.
Can Michigan’s defense be dominant in 2019?
Don Brown is one of the best defensive coordinator in the country, but last year ended on a very sour note with two embarrassing losses that he took personal. He lost some of his staff, including Greg Mattisson to Ohio State. Bill predicts this will likely be another solid defense but will have a few challenges early in the season to prove they are once again dominant. “They will have to grow up fast because MTSU, Army and Wisconsin all have different styles. Don Brown took the late-season flop personal, but the key will be replacing Gary, Bush and Winovich on the field and in the locker room. This will be still be a top-20 defense, but they have to work to stay in the top-10.”
The Big Ten in 2019
The Big Ten will be a very competitive conference in 2019. I asked Bill about what percent he gives Michigan to win the division and finally make it to Indianapolis. “Same as last year. With Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State at home, the Wolverines have a 50-50 chance to win the division if they take care of business in those games. The Ohio State-Michigan winner will go to Indianapolis. The key for the Wolverines is bringing the same 10-1 record back to The Game.”
The future of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan
I ended with asking Bill about Jim Harbaugh and how hot his seat will be in 2019. He’s got a lot to prove with a favorable schedule with the chances to change the tone quickly and have a breakout season. I specially brought up the scenario of Michigan going 10-3 in year four like they did last season. “When I hear this question I always ask another one. Who will coach Michigan then? Until there is a legitimate answer then Harbaugh is safe. Dabo Swinney lost five in a row to South Carolina once he took over as full-time coach. Nobody cares about that now. Yes, Michigan needs to win that game, but they can’t be distracted by Ohio State before that. There’s more to the season then one game, but yes, Michigan has to win that game within the next two years.”
Thanks to Bill Bender for his time and insight. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, @BillBender92.
Follow us on Twitter: @DavidRNoe/@MaizenBrew