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Discussion: Does Michigan have the ability to have sustained success in the evolving CFP era?

Michigan is seeking its third-straight CFP appearance, but possibly something more as well.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Texas Christian at Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 2 Michigan Wolverines kick off their 2023-24 season in less than 24 hours against East Carolina. The two programs have never met on the gridiron, so the series begins with a multitude of firsts. Coming to the Big House and facing a top-five team is bound to make anyone question how they can go toe-to-toe with a giant, but for the Wolverines, tomorrow is a different battle.

It’s been nine months since they fell to TCU in the Fiesta Bowl and a lot has changed — through suspensions, expansions, injuries, transfers, and drafts, how could they not? A lot of programs have undergone major changes to fit into the mold that is a top-four team in college football; there’s a formula that vaults these teams into the CFP, and programs like Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State have seemingly had the code for years. What do they have that grants them access to the stage that allows them to fight for a national championship year in and year out? And more importantly, has Michigan finally joined them?

Two years ago, Michigan was starting its 2021 season after an abysmal 2020. Prior to the first game, I’d hazard a guess that few would have predicted the outcome of that year. Then a year ago, faced with another new season, I asked what it would take to repeat the success and if Michigan could do it. There was more faith that the Wolverines could, and they proved it, ending quite similarly to their 2021 season.

If you told me two years ago that Michigan would only have three losses in two years, boasting two Big Ten championships and two CFP appearances, I don’t think I would have believed you. I had no reason to think otherwise. Now, at that same crossroads at the beginning of 2023, I wonder once more, can Michigan do it all over again? Furthermore, can they sustain this success in a changing landscape?

Aside from the crop of teams that have made more than two appearances in the CFP since it began in 2015, teams have phased in and out. One year they strike the code and then, for many, they are never seen again. Michigan has found the answer that Alabama, Ohio State, and Georgia have, with undefeated records and conference championships backed by a name brand and history that transcends it all. But something about how Michigan does it is different. What do you think are the makings of a team that can consistently be in the CFP and vie for national championships?

One loss hasn’t barred teams from the semifinals, but that’s obvious because all teams are chasing perfection, chasing strength of schedule and chasing after the committee (who’s thinking about what could reap the viewership, let’s be honest). So, I think teams have figured out their way to do so when it means there are only four left standing. But can it be sustained when the equation gets changed? What do you think it can look like once the field expands to 12 teams?

The factors that could alter the formula are endless, but key components crop up with more consideration. Teams with bountiful appearances in the semi-finals and finals all followed talented quarterbacks with top receivers and a crushing defense. Michigan has found a top quarterback in J.J. McCarthy and there’s the promise of experience in the receiving room, but what makes the Wolverines so different is that while I think they fit the mold, they did it in their own style.

Most teams strike a 50-50 balance, while obviously favoring the arm of their starting QB. Michigan runs until someone can stop them, and few can do that for a full game. It’s their tried and true offense that we have raved about for two years now and it’s back once more. They’ve found the final pieces to get them to success that can repeat itself. This year even more so, with key production returning across the board. We no longer have to wonder if they can repeat success because we know that they can. What do you think are the pieces that make the Wolverines able to repeat success? How have you seen it evolve in the Jim Harbaugh era? Do you think it lasts into the new college football era?

Michigan begins its proverbial climb once again, facing the same question of if it has what it takes to reach the top. It’s not a fluke in the system anymore and it doesn’t feel like luck. I think there’s been a breakthrough, but now I wonder if it will last. Does Michigan have the ability to have sustained success in the evolving CFP era? What methods do the Wolverines have that point to whether they can or cannot? How does the future of college football impact it all?

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