It’s not very often in college football that we see the entire outlook and narrative around a program flip in one season. However, that’s what happened with Michigan football. Through five seasons of the Jim Harbaugh regime, Michigan was back to being relevant on the national stage, but still wasn’t quite in that top tier. Losses to Ohio State and against highly ranked opponents made many wonder if Harbaugh had what it takes to make Michigan a contender for conference and national championships.
Then came the abysmal 2020 season, when it seemed like the Michigan program was doomed to entirely collapse on itself. Fans called for Harbaugh to be fired, looking for a complete reset.
Little was expected going into 2021, yet Michigan and Harbaugh shocked the world and turned in one of their best seasons this millennium. Then they did it again in 2022. For years, Michigan fans expected the best and didn’t get it; now the lofty expectations have merit.
Two years in a row, Michigan has won the Big Ten Championship and made the College Football Playoff. The manner in which they lost to Georgia in the Orange Bowl was disheartening, but I think it’s fair to say that fans were pleased with the success of 2021 overall, especially given where the program had previously been.
In 2022, Michigan fans had a right to be disappointed at the season’s end. A team that had really faced no (or at least very little) adversity was beaten by an underdog TCU team, losing its best shot at a national title in years. Once again, the program had fallen short of expectations.
So where are the goalposts for success in 2023?
Michigan has its most talented roster of the Harbaugh era in 2023. It has one of the most talented quarterbacks in the program’s history. It has two of the best running backs in the nation, a loaded offensive line, and a loaded defense. From a personnel standpoint, there’s no excuse to not be one of the nation’s elite teams in 2023.
When looking at Michigan’s schedule, every game is winnable. They face a non-conference schedule with no power-five opponents, and face many of the usual suspects in the Big Ten. A road date against Penn State in November will be a challenge due to the always hostile environment of Happy Valley and a Nittany Lions team that’s expected to take a step forward this year. The matchup against Ohio State will undoubtedly be a challenge too. Despite the loss of C.J. Stroud and the game being at home, the Ohio State roster returns plenty of production, and they’ll be out for revenge after back-to-back losses in “The Game.” And of course, a victory over Ohio State is always a bright spot, regardless of what else might ensue during the year.
The Wolverines have so much going for them ahead of the 2023 season that it’s hard to expect a different outcome than another Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance. The only adversity comes from a Jim Harbaugh suspension in the first four games of the season, which happen to be games against Michigan’s four weakest opponents.
In a vacuum, this team has what it takes to win a national title. Additionally, there are plenty of unknowns on the national level, and it seems like the playoff race (at least at the outset) is as wide open as its ever been.
Wolverine fans have every right to expect the best from their team this year. Another conference title, playoff appearance, and national title are far from unreasonable hopes. Given where the program has been since Lloyd Carr’s departure, falling short of these expectations seems like nothing major. However, the strides made since 2020 and the current state of the Big Ten and college football, mean that a season equal to last year’s is Michigan’s bare minimum for success in 2023. The Wolverines need to make the most of this title window.