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ESPN’s four ‘big ifs’ that could make Michigan a title contender

A lot would have to go right for the Wolverines to take the crown.

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

ESPN handicapped how some of the top programs in the country could win a National Championship in 2020. When we are talking big-time college football programs, the Michigan Wolverines are surely included, and Bill Connelly had four “big ifs” that would need to happen in order for Jim Harbaugh to win it all.

1. “If ... 2021 arrives early.”

Connelly details the Wolverines have a very young roster with next to no starting seniors on both sides of the ball. With that being said, there is plenty of young talent like Zach Charbonnet, Jalen Mayfield, Daxton Hill and Cam McGrone who are all in line to take a huge step forward in their individual developments. If all those guys (and others) hit, this could be the year Michigan gets over the hump.

2. “If ... a new offensive line jells.”

Ed Warinner moved four of his starting offensive lineman to the NFL. While that is certainly something to be praised, the Wolverines now have four glaring holes in the trenches. The aforementioned Mayfield is the only returning starter, and Michigan also will have a new man behind center. Connelly calls it: “a less-than-optimal combination for sustaining improvement.”

3. “If ... Big Game Don Brown returns.”

Offenses that have been among the elites have torched Don Brown’s defense as of late despite his impressive output against lesser opponents. Here is what Connelly had to say about it:

Against Alabama, Ohio State and Wisconsin in 2019 and Florida and Ohio State in 2018, the Wolverines allowed 46 points per game and 7.6 yards per play. Brown’s defense is boom-or-bust by nature, but that’s a lot of busts. Needless to say, that must change.

There has been no shortage of doubt about Brown’s defense by Michigan fans, and this could be the make or break season for Brown if he wants to continue his career in Ann Arbor.

4. “If ... the red zone is friendlier.”

Snaffu’s in the redzone were common for the Michigan offense last season with plenty of turnovers and missed opportunities. That is something Connelly said must change if the Wolverines want their playoff hopes to be ignited: “The Michigan offense averaged 4.9 points per scoring opportunity (34th in FBS), but the defense allowed 5.0 (115th). That edge must flip significantly. Last season’s CFP teams averaged a plus-1.1-point margin here (including Oklahoma’s awful red zone defense), not minus-0.1.”

CBS Sports lists Harbaugh as the No. 3 Big Ten Coach

A day after Paul Finebaum called Harbaugh the most overrated coach in football, CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli listed him as the No. 3 coach in the Big Ten.

Here is what Fornelli had to say about that:

Harbaugh is one of the more polarizing coaches in the country. I was surprised to see him climb three spots in the rankings, as I thought another season without a win against Ohio State would further hurt his perception. However, what I think happened was that he didn’t climb as much as he moved up three spots thanks to guys like Dantonio and Chris Petersen no longer being around. No matter your feelings about him as a coach, he’s raised the floor at Michigan considerably. Combine that with what he did at Stanford and it’s hard to justify ranking him outside the top 20.

The Michigan man comes in as the No. 12 coach in the country. James Franklin and Ryan Day are the only two Big Ten coaches ahead of him at No. 9 and No. 10 in the country respectively. Just behind Harbaugh are Kirk Ferentz from Iowa at No. 4, P.J. Fleck of Minnesota at No. 5, and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst at No. 6 in Big Ten head coaching rankings.

Michigan State’s newest hire, Mel Tucker, is the No. 13 ranked coach in the conference topping only Mike Locksley from Maryland.

2022 four-star has Michigan in top 7

Kaden Saunders, a four-star athlete from Westerville, Ohio, put out his top seven list on Tuesday.

Saunders does welcome more schools saying that his recruitment is still “100% open,” but hopes to visit the seven schools that made this cut once official visit are available once again. Michigan, Arizona State, TCU, West Virginia, Indiana, Penn State and Notre Dame all made the cut for the talented receiver.

National Brews

  • NASCAR will be the first U.S. based sports league to allow fans back into the stands over the next two Sunday’s with races being held in Florida and Alabama.
  • The MLB and MLBPA’s redundant cycle of offers to return to play continued on Tuesday as the players offered an 89-game season with full pro-rated salaries for the players. The MLB is once again expected to turn down the proposal.
  • Atlanta Hawks GM Travis Schlenk says the league has informed GM’s the 2020-21 season could be condensed due to the rescheduling of this season if the league hopes to keep the same calendar year.