Chris Evans knows what the priority is this season.
A long-awaited win over Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes — especially in Columbus — certainly would paint a rosy (pun intended) picture of the upcoming season.
Even if it happens, many other obstacles stand in the way of the Wolverines advancing to not just the Big Ten Championship, but the College Football Playoff.
While Daniel Plocher showed us the yellow brick road to the CFP, here are the five reasons to expect less.
A hellacious schedule
It starts out rough, and the hits keep coming on the 2018 Michigan football slate.
September starts with the opening night trip to South Bend, where Michigan has combined for six points in the last two visits. After some manageable home games — though Scott Frost and Nebraska may outhit them — they drive down I-94 West to face a Northwestern team coming off a 10-3 campaign.
October features the one-two punch of a Wisconsin home game and a descent into trash Hades — Michigan State. The former returns the best offensive line in the country and the latter returns just about everyone from their surprising 10-3 resurgence.
November sees a highly talented Penn State — led by the conference’s best signal-caller in Trace McSorley — fly into Ann Arbor. Of course, Michigan finishes the gauntlet with a trip to Columbus, a place they haven’t left unscathed since 2000.
Michigan going 4-2 in the six toughest games — particularly if they finally best the Buckeyes — probably means a first trip to Indianapolis. That record is realistic optimism, but since no team has made the CFP with two losses, it wouldn’t be enough to break through.
Will Michigan ever pass block well again?
Tim Drevno spent more time at Michigan desperately plugging roster holes than developing functional pass-blockers.
It worked mostly in 2015, as Michigan improved from 2.17 sacks allowed per game in Brady Hoke’s final year to 1.39 in Harbaugh’s first. Mason Cole acquitted himself well at left tackle, unless he faced Joey Bosa.
That was Michigan’s BEST pass blocker the last three years...
In 2016, Grant Newsome appeared to be the next Taylor Lewan, allowing Cole to return to his natural position at center. Injuries reared their head, and the combination of Ben Braden and Juwann Bushell-Beatty was the bandaid for the rest of the year. The line regressed to allowing 1.7 sacks a game, but understandably so given the context.
Last year, the line collapsed and two quarterbacks got hurt behind a barrage of opposing pass-rushers. They allowed nearly three sacks a game, ranking No. 110 nationally.
This year, with pass-rushers such as Nick Bosa and Shareef Miller waiting, who is protecting Shea Patterson or Brandon Peters?
Juwann Bushell-Beatty? Jon Runyan? A redshirt freshman?
There’s some positive offseason buzz for Ed Warinner’s first line, but I’ll believe the quarterback is safe when I see it.
Struggles in close games
The best teams in the country know how to win close games. At this point in his tenure, Harbaugh does not.
Since 2015, Michigan is 4-7 overall in games decided by eight points or less. The most notable losses of this kind are Michigan State in 2015 and the Iowa and Ohio State road losses that cost the 2016 team a playoff berth.
Elite barometers such as Alabama and Ohio State thrive in these games. Alabama is 9-4 overall in them since the playoff system started, while Ohio State boasts a staggering 11-2 mark in these contests.
If Michigan is going to punch with the big boys of college football, they need to perform better in the clutch.
Is running the ball really a strength?
Yes, Karan Higdon is on the Maxwell watch list. Between Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Mike Onwenu, there’s also the necessary beef to grill Big Ten fronts.
Yes, the rush offense ranked No. 14 in Bill Connelly’s S&P in 2017. Impressively, they achieved that without a coherent passing game.
However, when’s the last time Michigan ran the ball well on a good defense?
In the five losses last year, Michigan failed to crack over 3.0 yards per carry. It’s fair to note sacks dragged down the numbers, but outside of two games against Florida, Harbaugh teams only run well against lesser defenses.
Michigan surpassed 300 yards twice against Minnesota and Rutgers and totaled 271 yards in the overtime win at Indiana. Those outings elevated what was otherwise a middle-of-the-road rush offense that ranked No. 49 nationally in raw yardage.
If Jim Harbaugh, Pep Hamilton and Ed Warriner are going to boost this offense to the 2010 Stanford level — No. 3 nationally on S&P — more consistency is needed on the ground.
The Shea Patterson transition
There’s no doubting the former 5-star’s physical talent. It is worth noting that you need more than a body to thrive in the Jim Harbaugh system.
Take away the fact that he threw nine picks in just seven games last year, or fumbled five times. The schematic transition from the Ole Miss offense to the Michigan one is a vast change in responsibility.
Patterson operated in a spread offense that only required one or two reads per play, lest he get sacked immediately. Watch him in one of his better outings against Auburn.
In 51 throws, Patterson progressed through more than two reads only four times. Meanwhile, I counted eight times Jake Rudock had to do this on 38 throws against Penn State in 2015, including this gem.
I also looked at Wilton Speight against Ohio State in 2016, and he had about as many multi-read throws.
The point is you have to go through progressions if you’re playing quarterback for Jim Harbaugh, and for Patterson that’s a major adjustment from his time as a Rebel.
Who else was a successful spread quarterback that started at Michigan? Your 2014 American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year…John O’Korn.
Let’s see Patterson play in the Maize and Blue before anointing him the savior.
For those who are now hyper-ventilating, the University’s Department of Psychology is located at 1004 East Hall off Church Street.
I’m sure I’ll be told I need to go there.
Much like the “why they will” piece, many contributors chipped in on this.