Michigan Football wrapped up its 2015 regular season over the weekend, finishing with a 9-3 record on the year.
In a lot of ways, the Wolverines outperformed their expectations for this year and were in serious play for a division title all the way until the last week of the year, which is something not many people expected.
Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff proved just how good they were as they squeezed every possible drop out of what they had to work with. However, there is still work to be done and needs to be addressed moving forward.
Next season, Michigan plays road games at Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State. So what do they need to fix to win the Big Ten next season?
There is still a bowl to play, but in the spirit of the holidays, here is a wishlist for next season:
A Lead Back
Michigan was able to piece together its run game to decent success early on this year, but it disappeared down the stretch and a lead running back in this offense never emerged.
De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson were the main two guys while we saw Derrick Green and Ty Isaac tumble down the depth chart and disappear as the season went on. It took Jabrill Peppers getting carries to give the position a shot in the arm in certain moments.
This is where the Wolverines have to be able to bring in Kareem Walker on the recruiting trail. They look like they are in good shape for 2016's top running back prospect, so now they will look to close the deal. Walker is the complete package of power, speed and home-run hitting ability and certainly will get early playing time should he choose Michigan.
That is not to say there is not a potential lead back already on the roster. Peppers is extremely talented, but would it really be worth it to lose what he brings on defense? If Walker doesn't come, maybe. We know what Smith, Johnson, Isaac and Green are. Karan Higdon is a wild card and we'll see the progress he makes over the offseason.
It only takes one guy to breakout, but they will need help from the next item on the list.
A Retooled Offensive Line
Michigan's offensive line was not bad this year, but it was not great either. They did a good job in pass protection, but could never really put it all together in the run game.
Graham Glasgow is the only starter graduating this year, so Michigan will have to find a replacement at center. Kyle Kalis is a senior but still should be back for a fifth season. Those two were the players that stood out the most that struggled on the offensive line.
I think there is some room to move guys around and even have a true freshman play right away. Here would be a projected offensive line that could work next season:
Left Tackle: Grant Newsome
Left Guard: Ben Braden
Center: Mason Cole
Right Guard: Michael Onwenu
Right Tackle: Erik Magnusson
Owenu has the combination of size and athleticism that could allow him to see the field early at Michigan. Cole repped at center in spring practice, so him as a replacement in the middle could be a rather easy transition.
Time will tell, but it may take may take more than just increased condition and reps in the offseason to improve Michigan's offensive line. They have to find their best five guys.
Michigan's Achilles heel defensively this season was the linebacker play. It was solid throughout most of the year, but exposed in games against high-powered offenses with great playmakers. Our first glimpse of that was against Utah and it then reemerged late in the year against Indiana and Ohio State.
Often times it looked like their feet was in quicksand and they just were not athletic enough to recover from bad reads and such.
Almost all of the key players in the rotation, outside of Ben Gedeon, will be moving on this year, so there will be opportunities for freshman to come in and play as well as inexperienced guys already on the roster. This is where it becomes important for Michigan to land the services of Dontavious Jackson, Jonathan Jones, etc.
There is a lot of work to be done in rebuilding that position and it only can be covered up schematically so much. Spread offenses have hurt Michigan for years. It goes without saying, but the more athletes you have, the better, especially at the second level of your defense.
We are about to see what this staff is capable of on the recruiting trail coming off of a good season and being able to actually sell results and opportunities.
The Wolverines have their fair share of needs, but they also need as much talent as they can to keep up in the arms race with the OSUs and MSUs of the world. A huge finish to the 2016 cycle would benefit them greatly.
Elite prospects like Walker, tight end Isaac Nauta and defense tackle Rashan Gary are still on the board and Michigan looks like they are in good position to land them.
The defensive line has a fair amount of depth when healthy, but a player like Gary can be plugged in right away and be a big contributor. If Jake Butt was to leave for the NFL, then bam, you have a replacement in Nauta. If he stays, a two-tight end set with Butt and Nauta could be lethal.
There are just some players you make room for regardless of how many you have at their position. Walker, Gary and Nauta all fit in to that category and they all fill needs, anyways, so it is important to seal the deal with them if the goal is to close the gap with Michigan's rivals.
The Wolverines are in great shape moving forward and we will just have to wait and see how they continue to build moving forward.