Should the Michigan Wolverines be considered one of the national championship favorites?
The case against…
Despite the returning production numbers, Michigan has several key holes and deficiencies that are merely being filled by optimism and hopeful projection. On the offense, Michigan's strength is the rushing attack but has never gotten either of its two star running backs through an entire season healthy. The Wolverines are rumored to be introducing more balance in their attack to ease the pressure on Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, but that would mean breaking an established pattern dating back to before Jim Harbaugh's tenure.
Michigan has not had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2013 and must replace two of its top three receiving leaders from last season (Ronnie Bell and Luke Schoonmaker). This habit of one-dimensional football has helped the Wolverines establish an identity through physicality, but has also left them with an Achilles heel when trailing, especially in the College Football Playoff (CFP).
Not to mention, when the offense does stall in the red zone this season, generational kicker Jake Moody won’t be there to bail the Wolverines out as he did so many times over the last two seasons.
Defensively, Michigan has a glaring hole at its second corner position with a UMass transfer as its only hope. In the front seven, the Wolverines have several names and tons of experience but no true stars on the edge. This won’t be an issue in the beginning of the season, but if left unaddressed or underdeveloped, this issue could force the Wolverines to be over-reliant on blitzing and left exposed a la TCU.
Lastly, the Wolverines have struggled to play their best ball after the one-month layoff between the Big Ten Championship and the CFP, and there is no evidence that this will be fixed. Over the last two seasons, the Wolverines have never even held a lead in the Playoff and often played with flat effort and sloppy execution.
If faced with seasoned CFP contenders like Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, or even Ohio State with a month to prepare, it is hard to feel confident in Michigan holding a coaching or preparation advantage in any matchup with so much evidence to the contrary.
This season will be quintessential Michigan. Close enough to provide hope and far enough to make you question your fandom. If the Wolverines have proven anything in the last 50 years, when the options are national championship or bust, 99 percent of the teams have chosen bust.
The case for…
Michigan returns the third-most production of any Power Five team and the most of any team to finish in the top ten in 2022. More specifically, 84 percent of Michigan’s offensive production returns from a unit that ranked sixth nationally in scoring, and defensively, 78 percent returns from a unit that ranked seventh nationally in scoring.
The Wolverines are the only team of last year’s four CFP contenders to return their starting quarterback and J.J. McCarthy is projected to take his game to new heights in his second season as the starting quarterback. Furthermore, Michigan returns the highest-finishing Heisman Trophy finalist from last season in running back Blake Corum.
Corum finished seventh in the Heisman voting, but was considered at worst a top-three finalist before his Week 11 injury. Joining Corum in the backfield is the returning and healthy Donovan Edwards who accumulated over 1,100 yards of total offense despite battling through a hand and knee injury for the majority of the season.
With McCarthy earning the trust of the coaching staff and taking documented strides in the offseason, Corum and Edwards will face fewer stacked boxes and will be better preserved for the final month of the season.
In the trenches, Michigan became the first team to ever win consecutive Joe Moore Awards and the offensive line could be poised for its best season yet in 2023. The Wolverines return five players on the offensive line with three or more starts from last season and also welcome three high-profile transfers to bolster depth.
Defensively, the Wolverines feature a star and potential All-American at every level. Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins leads a D-line that returns eight key contributors from last season and also welcomes former Coastal Carolina standout, Josaiah Stewart.
At linebacker, both starters return from last season and this year, 2022 leading tackler Junior Colson will be able to take a few snaps off after the arrival of transfer Ernest Hausmann from Nebraska. In the secondary, the Wolverines return four-of-five starters including a triumvirate of stars in Will Johnson, Mikey Sainristil, and Rod Moore.
In addition to this inundation of talent and experience, not to mention a coaching staff that returns three-of-four coordinators and its head coach (for most games), Team 144 will also play one of the easiest schedules in the country.
Michigan’s non-conference schedule is comprised of three Group of Five opponents and its crossover Big Ten West games are against three teams beginning a rebuild. The Big Ten East is as top-heavy as ever and the only two difficult games on the Wolverines’ schedule are easier than most years. Michigan will welcome Ohio State to the Big House to finish the season and when the Wolverines play Penn State, it will not be at night or in ‘White Out’ conditions.
Less we forget how close a less-talented Michigan team facing a harder schedule was last season. Of the two games in the opening round of the CFP last year, no offense scored more points, and no defense limited opponents’ scoring more than the Wolverines.
This combination of talent, experience, coaching, and scheduling gives the Michigan Wolverines their best chance to win a national championship in 26 years. After falling short in consecutive postseasons, Michigan finally puts it all together.