For much of the Jim Harbaugh era, Michigan was labeled as a team that failed to live up to lofty expectations year after year. In recent years, however, the script has flipped and the Wolverines have put together two great seasons in a row, exceeding expectations many set for them.
So what would be reasonable to expect out of the Michigan Wolverines in 2023?
By looking at the schedule, it’s easy to see there isn’t much stiff competition until the end of the year. It would be no surprise to see the Wolverines march into Happy Vally on Nov. 11 with an unblemished 9-0 record, but there are still some places to get tripped up before then.
Road games against Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan State could particularly be a challenge. Each of these teams is expected to finish around the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, but road games in conference are never anything to scoff at. However, Michigan’s talent and coaching dwarfs that of all three of these opponents, meaning these games should result in wins, even if they’re a bit ugly.
The final three games will be a major test. The first of these is a trip to Penn State, which seems poised to make a leap due to its stout defense and talented young quarterback Drew Allar. Michigan matches up well with the Nittany Lions and this game will undoubtedly be a dogfight.
Maryland represents a classic “trap game,” as the Wolverines struggled at home to the Terps last year. We also saw Michigan struggle against a scrappy Illinois team a week before playing Ohio State last year, but Michigan’s talent should rise to the occasion once again.
Then comes The Game. Matchups with Ohio State are never easy, but this game being played in Ann Arbor certainly helps. The Buckeyes return two of the best receivers in America as well as what should be an improved defense, but having to replace C.J. Stroud still leaves some question marks.
In terms of personnel, this is probably the best Harbaugh-coached Michigan team. Plenty of production returns from what was already a great offense and much of the defensive core is still intact. The defense seems like the weaker of the two sides of the ball at the moment, but Michigan has put together outstanding defensive play each of the last two years, allowing 16.1 opponent points per game last year, and 17.4 the year before. The coaching and personnel make it reasonable to expect a similar defensive performance this year.
So where does that leave us?
I think a range of outcomes could include anything from 9-3 to 12-0, but based on the coaches and players, a brutal stretch at the end of the season paired with a somewhat easy first nine games, an 11-1 record seems like a fair expectation for 2023.
I would estimate Michigan will suffer its lone loss to either Penn State or Ohio State, and with how well both those teams are expected to perform this year, it’s unclear if 11-1 is good enough to return to the Big Ten Championship. However, I would currently favor Michigan over any team from the West, keeping a 12-1 season in the cards.
The same goes for the College Football Playoff. It is unclear if an 11-1 record with no conference title is good enough to return to the CFP this year, but the Wolverines would still stack up favorably with any of the opponents they could face.