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Desmond Howard on the College Football Playoff, Michigan's Chances Against Utah

The former Michigan star and current ESPN analyst spoke to MnB about his alma mater and their chances against the Utah Utes, along with other college football topics.

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There's not a single Michigan Wolverines football fan out there that is not aware of Desmond Howard, one of the program's stars in the 1990s and former Heisman trophy winner.

These days, Howard is an analyst for ESPN's college football coverage and is one of the most visible personalities out there. He was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his Thursday morning.

Naturally, a big topic of conversation was what is going in Ann Arbor this season. Jim Harbaugh will coach his first game with the Wolverines on Thursday night against Utah. Howard says his impact is undeniable, but that it is going to take some time to get things turned around.

"I think within three years they will be part of a four-team playoff with Jim Harbaugh as their head coach," Howard said. "He was their biggest recruit they landed during the off-season and they landed the services of a head coach who was also being courted by three other NFL teams.

"I think that’s a huge win for the program."

Not surprisingly, he does not have the Wolverines in the mix this season, so who are the four teams that will play in the College Football Playoff on Dec. 31?

"I picked TCU, Stanford, Texas A&M and Michigan State as the teams that will make the College Football Playoff," Howard said.

"I think it is wide open. To pick these teams now, I do not want to just go the easy route that can you just pick Ohio State and Alabama. So I picked Stanford. Why not? I think they have a good shot to win the Pac-12 and have as good a shot as anybody to get into the four-team playoff. Look at Ohio State last year, and they ended up winning it all. I like to go off the grid sometimes and take a risk. So I picked Stanford."

There are a few dark horse teams on that list, but many have the Ohio State Buckeyes pegged as the best team in college football and a surefire bet to get back into the running for a national title. Howard believes otherwise, and he explains why he has the Michigan State Spartans in it.

"People are picking Ohio State because it’s easy and that is the easy route to go," he said. "I think that Michigan State is a team with one of the better quarterbacks in the country in Connor Cook that we are not talking about because we are all so engrossed with what’s happening in Columbus with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.

"So, in Columbus, nobody is paying attention to what Cook is doing in East Lansing. I just think they are a team that matches up well on the field against the Buckeyes and they are not getting a lot of respect, despite what they have been able to do. Their bowl game was probably the most exciting last season when they beat Baylor, it was amazing. So, I think that Michigan State can knock the Buckeyes off and win the Big Ten Championship en route to the playoffs."

As far as Heisman Trophy contenders go, Howard is certainly qualified to chime in there having won it himself in 1991. He says it is a bit too early to put a finger on who the front-runners for the prestigious award are.

"We have a lot of guys who’s names we can throw into a hat right now," he said. "I know that if you follow the race, we know there are a lot of guys who ‘win’ it in September, but you want to make sure you win it in November. That’s when I start looking at players as legitimate candidates.

"There are a lot of players right now who are in the mix, but I don’t pay real attention to late October and early November when you start playing in meaningful games and competition. Then, we will see when the cream rises to the top and that’s when you will be able to separate the contenders from the pretenders."

Howard does have a prediction for tonight's game against Utah, as well.

"I predict Michigan will win," he said. "I don’t have a score, but I do think they will win. It should be exciting. As a former player, I’m really interested in the developmental difference on the team and how they play, like the effort and the physicality.

"I know fans are only interested in the wins and the losses, but as a former player, it is bigger than that for me because I know that Jim Harbaugh is actually trying to change the culture."