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The top five Michigan football players you need to know this season — and why

These are the five guys all college football fans should know on Michigan in 2023.

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NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 2 ranked Michigan Wolverines are one of the consensus favorites to make the College Football Playoff (CFP) this season. Fresh off consecutive victories over Ohio State, Big Ten titles, and CFP appearances, head coach Jim Harbaugh has his most talented and experienced team entering his ninth season in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines return the third-most production among Power Five teams and have their sights set on the program’s first national championship since 1997. Leading this team are a pair of Heisman hopefuls, trench specialists, and a star corner who wears No. 2.

Here are the five players you need to know on Team 144.

1. RB Blake Corum

Blake Corum returned to Michigan to handle some “unfinished business” in 2023. After a Week 11 injury prematurely ended his junior season, Corum is back to once again lead this team as the compacted, 5-foot-8 bell cow back. The 2022 unanimous All-American is fresh off a season where he finished with 1,463 rushing yards, 19 total touchdowns, and winning the Pro Football Focus (PFF) consolation Heisman Trophy.

One of the most prolific backs in all of college football, Corum’s burden will be lightened this season with the support of his backfield teammate Donovan Edwards. The dynamic and versatile Edwards rushed for 991 yards last season, including a 216-yard, two-touchdown performance in a victory over Ohio State.

However, in addition to Corum’s injury, Edwards battled through a torn patella tendon and fractures in his hand last season. Health and availability will be the name of the game for both running backs this year and if both can remain healthy, the Wolverines are difficult to beat. In games where both Corum and Edwards received a carry in 2022, the Wolverines won every contest by 13+ points.

2. DT Kris Jenkins

The son of the three-time All-Pro with the same name, Kris Jenkins has been dubbed “The Mutant” around Schembechler Hall due to his outrageous feats of strength in the weight room. Clocking in at No. 6 on Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List,” Jenkins is the rare combination of size, speed, power, and discipline that causes NFL scouts to salivate over his potential.

Jenkins anchors an experienced front seven that includes 2022’s leading tackler, linebacker Junior Colson, and a plethora of experienced edge rushers still looking to fill the shoes of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. With Jenkins continuing to progress into his senior season, his presence on the interior should allow the Wolverines to improve upon their 67th tackles for loss national ranking from last season.

3. QB J.J. McCarthy

This time last year, quarterback J.J. McCarthy was locked in a closely-contested quarterback battle with Cade McNamara. After chasing his competition to Iowa and posting a 12-1 record as a starter, the junior signal-caller is prepared to let it rip his junior season.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan’s passing attack last season was admittedly like the first season of The Office –clunky, inconsistent and in search of an identity. But this season, with improved chemistry with three of his favorite targets and the supporting presence of his offensive line and running backs, McCarthy is prepared to cement Michigan’s aerial identity and introduce some much needed fluidity to this attack.

Hopefully, he can accomplish this without waking up to the smell of bacon.

4. CB Will Johnson

Last season, Will Johnson was recognized as a freshman All-American by PFF, 247Sports, and The Athletic despite not becoming a starter until Week 9. Johnson finished his inaugural campaign as a Wolverine with 27 tackles and three interceptions, two of which came in the Big Ten Championship victory over Purdue.

Johnson is a rangy defender and a physical tackler who pursues ball carriers with reckless abandon. Eerily reminiscent of former No. 2 for Michigan. Joining Johnson in a dangerous and experienced Michigan secondary are fellow All-American hopefuls, safety Rod Moore and nickel Mikey Sainristil. Moore led the team in interceptions last season and Sainristil shined in the slot after switching sides of the ball in the spring.

5. OG Zak Zinter

Zak Zinter has been the best player on Michigan’s best positional unit for three years. Michigan’s offensive line became the first back-to-back Joe Moore Award winners last season and Zinter was an integral part in both campaigns.

Back for his final season in the maize and blue, Zinter leads what could be Michigan’s most formidable front five yet. Although the positions have not yet been solidified across the line, the open competition and experience of 10+ capable players have offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Sherrone Moore clearing up more space on his trophy shelf.

But this time, it’s for something 26 years in the making.