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Returning players fulfill promise to take Michigan to National Championship

The Wolverines had a lot of players return this year to make it back to the playoff.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK
Adam Childs Adam is a freelance writer for MaizeNBrew and is a lifelong Michigan fan.

“But we’ll be back, and I promise that.”

One line, one quote from quarterback J.J. McCarthy laid the groundwork for the 2023 season.

McCarthy was disappointed after the Wolverines’ loss to TCU in last season’s College Football Playoff, but he was already focused on the next season. Little did he know how right he would be.

McCarthy was always set to be the Wolverines’ quarterback in 2023, as he was just finishing his sophomore year, but other players had big decision to make. Michigan’s top offensive lineman, right guard Zak Zinter, could have easily have left for the NFL. Mike Sainristil had come into his own as a defensive back and was coming off a couple of great performances and he could have left.

The list goes on and on. Linebacker Mike Barrett, defensive lineman Kris Jenkins, left guard Trevor Keegan and others. They all could have left, but they stayed.

But there was still one more guy who had a decision to make — running back Blake Corum. He was coming off a huge season in which he might have won the Heisman had his season not been cut short due to injury. His stock was a high as it could have been and he could have easily bolted for the NFL, but he stayed thanks to some “unfinished business.”

Corum’s return sparked the Wolverines and was the groundwork for what has turned into a magical season. He broke a Michigan single-season record with 25 touchdowns, and has made play after play at exactly the right time.

Corum wasn’t the only one whose return made a huge impact. Zinter was a unanimous All-American, despite going down with a major injury against Ohio State, Barrett is the second-leading tackler on the team with 61 tackles and three sacks, Jenkins has been solid with 35 tackles and 2.5 sacks, and Keegan has been an anchor for the offensive line.

The standout on defense has been Sainristil, who had 36 tackles, two sacks, five interception and two pick-sixes in 2023. He has turned himself into one of the best defensive backs in college football and has made some of the biggest plays of the season for the Wolverines.

Each of the guys who came back for another year of college have made a difference. They all have a big hand in taking the Wolverines to their first ever appearance in the CFP National Championship Game, and on Monday, they’ll have a shot to provide Michigan it’s first national title since 1997.

It started with a simple quote from McCarthy, and it could end in history being made on Monday in Houston.