The 2022 calendar year was an exceptional one for Michigan Wolverines fans. The football program had their first 13-0 season in school history and found a star in quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Jim Harbaugh led the Wolverines into Columbus for their first win there since 2000. They proved the 2021 season was no fluke and they could potentially become the new powerhouse of the Big Ten.
After bringing in one of the top classes in program history, Michigan basketball struggled for large portions of the 2021-22 season. Hunter Dickinson continued his ascent into one of the best big men in the country, but the talent around him wasn’t enough. After being an 8-seed in the Big Ten Tournament and suffering a quick exit, expectations were not high as they were one of the final teams in the NCAA Tournament at a dismal 17-14 record. But things came together late in the year and the team pushed through an upset win over Tennessee for a Sweet Sixteen berth. Despite a down season, Michigan finished the season about where they were expected to be.
Now, we are in a new year with new opportunities. There are plenty of questions regarding the football team as Blake Corum and others contemplate their futures. Michigan basketball also appears to be attempting to figure things out.
As there is a lot of unknown about the future of Michigan athletics, there should be a resolutions for the athletic department this year that could go a long way in 2023 and beyond. Here’s what we came up with.
Football: Beat Michigan State and Ohio State, win the Big Ten Championship
Ohio State is in shambles, or at least that is what some of their fanbase would make it seem like. For so long the Buckeyes cruised past Michigan every season. Now that it’s not happening with “the guy” like C.J. Stroud and Marvin Harrison Jr., many don’t know how to handle the chaos. Stroud is off to the NFL and several key players on their defense likely will be as well. They are going to have to find their next quarterback, and it’s going to be a daunting task with Kyle McCord and Devin Brown, two guys who have hardly seen the field, battling for the starting role.
Michigan should be the way-too-early favorites to win a third in a row. This game is back in Ann Arbor and McCarthy hasn’t lost to Ohio State. Donovan Edwards already has proven he can be a difference-maker in this game. The offensive line should be a veteran-savvy group even with departures from some of their top talent. And, defensively, there is a chance that almost the entire starting unit returns for the 2023 season. The Wolverines have a great shot of being the best team in the conference again.
What comes with that is beating Michigan State again, this time in East Lansing. Michigan has won two of the last three in the state’s capitol, but lost in its one game there under Mel Tucker. This game will have a lot of heat in 2023 — Tucker and his team will come into this game as hungry as ever. Putting them to bed for a second consecutive year should be expected by Michigan fans in 2023.
If Michigan can achieve this, it will be the first time since 1996-97 that they beat both rivals in consecutive seasons. It’s been their mantra the past few years under Jim Harbaugh, and now it should be the expectation moving forward. For the Wolverines to have a successful football season in 2023 they’ll need to beat Michigan State, beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten Championship.
Basketball: Develop Kobe Bufkin and Dug McDaniel into one of the best backcourts in the country
If there is one thing Juwan Howard has proved in his time in Ann Arbor, it’s he knows how to develop big men. Dickinson has seen steady progression over the course of the last few year, Moussa Diabetes became an NBA Draft pick after just a season, Austin Davis became a sustainable backup in his first season under Howard, and now Tarris Reed Jr. looks like he could have a strong future.
The problem has been the development of guards. The solution so far for Howard has been the transfer portal: Jaelin Llewellyn, DeVante’ Jones and Mike Smith. Finally, it looked like Michigan had its first home grown point guard in awhile with Frankie Collins, but he shockingly transferred.
His classmate, Kobe Bufkin, has been growing into one of the most consistent performers on the team so far this season, and he will be a huge part of how far they go in 2023. Defensively, Bufkin has been one of the best guards in the Big Ten. He’s very active with his feet and is keen to poking the ball out of the opposition’s hands. Offensively, he is being asked to play as the backup point guard. While it’s not natural for him, his ball-handling absolutely must be better if he hopes to contribute on an NBA team in the future.
Bufkin also needs to continue to develop his confidence from behind the arc. He gets a lot of open looks when double teams come against Dickinson in the post, so he needs to pull up and hit more shots from deep. Where he is great on the offensive end is driving to the hoop. He is excellent at finishing in the paint with acrobatic finishes. Adding a third scorer to go along with Jett Howard and Dickinson will be key as the season approaches March.
The same can be said about Dug McDaniel. This true freshman does not lack confidence. He’ll pull up from deep with a hand in his face, throw wacky layups off the backboard that somehow find their way into the hoop, and find a basketball-sized window to kick it out while he uses his immense speed toward the hoop. The problem is he only knows how to play fast, and he makes silly freshman mistakes due to that.
McDaniel is spectacularly frustrating to watch, but he has already shown progression since taking over the starting role. His development is key to not only the outcome of 2022 but potentially for the next few seasons in Ann Arbor. A returning starter at the point guard spot sounds like exactly the kind of thing Howard needs.
Football: Squash Harbaugh-to-NFL rumors once and for all
Michigan has won consecutive Big Ten championships and dominated Ohio State for the last two years. Yet, its recruiting still is not at the level of the bluest of blue blood programs in the country. Why is that, you may ask?
Because after every season, writers suit him back up into the NFL. That never happens for guys like Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Jimbo Fischer, Lincoln Riley and others, and it makes it really easy to go to a place where you know your coach isn’t going anywhere AND you can compete for a national title.
Harbaugh hasn’t done himself any favors by meeting with the Vikings last season and never really making definitive statements about his future. That seems to have changed as of late. Harbaugh put an end to speculation after the Vikings visit last year and already waived off rumors for 2023.
But why not just put this all to bed once and for all. It’s time to give Harbaugh a lifetime contract.
Harbaugh has done everything he came to Ann Arbor to do. He’s won the Big Ten Championship twice, reversed the horrific trend of losing to Ohio State ever year, and has built this program into a revered and respected one across the country. The only thing he has yet to accomplish is winning a National Championship, a trajectory this team could easily be on.
I am all-in on Harbaugh, most of you probably are as well. It’s time for Warde Manuel and Michigan to offer him a lifetime deal and help push recruiting to the next level.
Athletics: Continue to find new ways to support NIL opportunities
It’s January 2023, and NIL began in college sports in July 2021. Why did it take until December 2022 for Manuel to officially recognize the NIL opportunities and collectives at Michigan?
I get it, the school is trying to do things the right way. New school president Santa Ono seems much more adept to support athletics, a pleasant change of pace from the previous regime. But they are still behind the times with some things, which could also be contributing to some of the recruiting issues across the athletic department.
I don’t have all of the answers, in fact, I don’t even know the Michigan athletic department and several programs across the country even know the questions that should be asked, which is certainly part of a larger problem within college sports altogether. But I do know it has to be better than what is currently being offered.
More money means better players and better revenue for the athletic department and school. This should be a no brainer. It is time to get with the times and be more welcoming and encouraging of NIL opportunities. The comes in all stages of the university, from the president to the athletic director, and individual coaches. You think Saban and Alabama made a mistake in saying superstar quarterback Bryce Young was making “seven figures” in NIL deals before the 2021 season? They know exactly the kind of advantage that information has in recruiting.
It’s time Michigan starts making those details somewhat transparent to try and entice elite student-athletes to come to Ann Arbor.