There’s no sugarcoating it. This year’s schedule is, as Brent Musburger once put, “a Big Ten donnybrook.”
Urban Dictionary defines a donnybrook as, “bigger than a brewhaha.” Make sense now?
Point is, with three road games against the rivals and two home games against New Year’s Six winners, Michigan has a steep hill to climb this season.
Great players litter these great teams, from the high-flying Felton Davis to Nick Bosa the edge terror. Out of Michigan’s 12 schedule games, here are the best players at each position.
QUARTERBACK – Trace McSorley, senior, Penn State
Remember McSorley in 2016?
Since that game, McSorley has been one of the most prolific passers in the country. He has thrown for 7,184 yards and 57 touchdowns the last two seasons, and also boosted his completion percentage to nearly 67 percent in 2017. As Tyree Kinnel and Josh Mettellus discovered last October in Happy Valley, he demonstrates uncanny accuracy on deep fades.
He currently holds the Penn State record for most career touchdowns, adding 18 on the ground for 77 overall. It’s possible he only made his name next to fantastic skill players in Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton. If he reverts to lesser play in 2018, don’t be surprised if Brian Lewerke supplants him at the top.
RUNNING BACK – J.K. Dobbins, sophomore, Ohio State
Many are picking Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor here, but the Buckeye sophomore has more tools in his skill bag. While Taylor will rack up yards behind perhaps the No. 1 offensive line in the country, he functions solely as a sledgehammer with only above-average athleticism.
Dobbins, on the other hand, replaced Ezekiel Elliott as the Ohio State running back who inexplicably ceded carries to J.T. Barrett last year. He only toted the ball six times despite Barrett tossing pick after pick against Iowa in last year’s laugher, and only 13 in the home loss to Oklahoma.
Despite this, he racked up 1,403 yards at a seven-yard clip, utilizing elite lateral quickness to make defenders look silly. Combining him with Mike Weber and (insert Buckeye quarterback here) makes defending OSU almost unfair.
That’s against one of the best rush defenses in America.
ALL-PURPOSE – JD Spielman, sophomore, Nebraska
The adopted son of Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman — related to Chris Spielman — JD excelled despite competing for a 4-8 Husker squad. He earned freshman All-American honors behind 830 yards receiving, highlighted by 200 yards against Ohio State.
Two reasons to remember his name: One, he operates in the slot, which Michigan needs to prove it can stop before feeling confident defensively. Two, Scott Frost will utilize his skills as a spread receiver far better than Mike Riley.
Last point: He teams up with our next player, which means you can’t pay too much attention to him.
WIDE RECEIVER – Stanley Morgan, senior, Nebraska
Michigan may rack up enough points on Nebraska’s defense (No. 100 in total defense in 2017), but the secondary faces an early test between Spielman and Morgan. Morgan enters his final year gunning for the Richter-Howard trophy — you know, the one for best Big 10 receiver — after nearly eclipsing 1,000 yards last season.
He may be a tad-undersized at 6-foot, 190 pounds, but he makes up for it with 4.4 speed in the 40. Watch him sprint past the entire Wisconsin secondary en route to an 80-yard touchdown.
Few outside receivers — including our next choice — produced much of anything against last year’s defense, as only DaeSean Hamilton caught more than 100 yards. Morgan looks to replicate him, and not be another Simmie Cobbs against Lavert Hill.
WIDE RECEIVER – Felton Davis, senior, Michigan State
Davis is admittedly more of a projection than a sure thing. His 776 yards receiving are bolstered by three huge games against Iowa, Penn State and Washington State. He peppered the rest of the schedule with a few one or two-catch outings, including a lone reception for nine yards against Michigan.
His big play potential is tantalizing, however, as he uses his 6-foot-4 frame to box out defenders for jump balls.
Each of these receivers represent a different way to exploit a potential weakness in this year’s secondary. Whether it’s slot demons, speed merchants or jump-ball artists, the trio just listed are dangerous.
TIGHT END – Jerome Washington, senior, Rutgers
RED ALERT…er, SCARLET ALERT! A RUTGERS PLAYER MADE THE LIST!
In all seriousness, Washington is an impressive prospect. At 6-foot-4, 258 pounds, the former Miami Hurricane demonstrates surprising nimbleness for his size.
To manage 28 catches for 282 yards in Rutgers’ offense is almost worthy of a Heisman. He’s a capable blocker, as well, shown here handling an impressive Washington pass rush.
LEFT TACKLE – Michael Deiter, senior, Wisconsin
Deiter is a one of three returning All-Americans on the Badger offensive front — four, if you include freshman All-American Tyler Biadasz. Fair warning, most of these next five picks are from a cheese-laden state.
He handled Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary last year, ceding zero sacks against either of them.
That accomplishment alone is worth awarding him the No. 1 spot.
LEFT GUARD – Alex Bars, senior, Notre Dame
Notre Dame culminated its resurrection (Catholic pun intended) from its nightmare 2016 season with a punishing 49-14 triumph over USC.
Bars, alongside NFL draft picks Mike McGlinchey and Quinton Nelson, paved the way for 377 rushing yards against the Trojans. However, he fractured his left ankle after USC’s Delvon Simmons crashed into his leg. The Fighting Irish ground attack faltered in the ensuing weeks, particularly in the 41-8 and 38-20 whoopings by Miami (FL) and Stanford, respectively.
Bars has been named a captain for 2018, so it stands to reason that he’s ready to go for 2018. He already has outdone his older brother Blake, one of the ignominious members of the 2013 Michigan offensive line haul.
With Aubrey Solomon and Michael Dwumfour sliding into the interior for Mo Hurst, Bars presents an early litmus test.
CENTER – Sam Mustipher, senior, Notre Dame
The other Notre Dame offensive captain combines with Bars to form a formidable interior for Brian Kelly. He returns with 25 starts, including every game the last two years at center.
According to NBC Sports, he has hardly faced a challenge for his spot the last few seasons, displaying superior technical ability and strength.
As mentioned earlier, combined with Bars and several pro linemen, he anchored an elite rushing attack that ranked No. 7 nationally at 269 yards per game.
He beats out Tyler Biadasz of Wisconsin, as he struggled mightily against not only Hurst, but also Solomon and Bryan Mone in last year’s game in Madison.
RIGHT GUARD – Beau Benzchawel, senior, Wisconsin
A 6-foot-6, 317-pound man shouldn’t be able to move like this in the open field.
Oh, and he’s a returning first-team All-American.
RIGHT TACKLE – David Edwards, junior, Wisconsin
Hey, look, another All-American Wisconsin lineman. This one might be around for TWO more years.
There is no easier road to success than the one paved by Badger linemen.
- QB — Trace McSorley
- RB — J.K. Dobbins
- AP — JD Spielman
- WR — Stanley Morgan
- WR — Felton Davis
- TE — Jerome Washington
- LT — Michael Deiter
- LG — Alex Bars
- C — Sam Mustipher
- RG — Beau Benzchawel
- RT — David Edwards
Tune in soon for the defense.