It’s game week with the Michigan Wolverines taking on Notre Dame to open the season, which is a far cry from some of the season openers in the past, even with Florida last year. No cupcakes this time around while most of the rest of the nation opens up against JV football teams.
It has been a weird offseason for Michigan, but in a good way. The lack of information has us having a hard time putting our fingers on what this team is going to be, but an offseason without self-hype was needed and could be what the doctor ordered. This is being written with a giant grain of salt, but here are five things I think I can guarantee for the Wolverines this season.
The quarterback floor is much higher
A lot of people want to crown Shea Patterson as a Heisman candidate, and that’s fine. Any good player on a nationally recognized team is going to get that sort of hype and he definitely has that ceiling. At the very least, Michigan fans should be comfortable that, barring an utter and complete catastrophe, the quarterback room has a much higher floor than what they trotted out there last year.
It does not seem as if there was ever truly a quarterback battle this offseason and that Patterson was the guy, but in a scenario where he goes down, you now have a room full of QBs that are four and five-star talents. Brandon Peters was the best QB on the roster last year and is capable. Dylan McCaffrey is a five-star talent in many people’s minds. Joe Milton can throw a pigskin a quarter mile. I can with 100% confidence say that none of those guys are nearly as terrible as what Michigan trotted out there last season with John O’Korn and Wilton Speight.
Wolverines will have a 1,000-yard rusher
Michigan has not had a running back rush for 1,000-plus yards since Fitzgerald Toussaint. Karan Higdon was so painfully close to doing it last year, finishing with 994. That’s one or two plays’ difference. Something blocked better here, a broken tackle there. The key to this lies into the next thing we highlight, but Michigan’s backfield has two talented guys and Higdon and Chris Evans have a chance to hit that number.
Ed Warriner will prove to be the hire of the offseason
Harbaugh had to make some chances to his coaching staff, thought it all went down in a very strange way. First Dan Enos was on the staff, then he wasn’t and left before his nameplate was even on his office door. Jim McElwain seemed like a strange hire, but he is in town now. But the guy that everybody wanted out in Tim Drevno was not fired, but he did resign. That led Ed Warriner, widely considered as one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, to be elevated from the analyst position he was hired to into being a full-time assistant. He has cranked out NFL-caliber offensive linemen (and good ones) everywhere he has been, most notably recently at Ohio State with guys like Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein and Billy Price. If anyone is going to finally help Michigan help realize its potential in the trenches, Warriner should be that guy. Heck, if he gets the line to even just being average to above average, that will be leaps and bounds better than what we’ve seen in the last 10-15 years.
The defense will be Don Brown’s best yet
Why is Michigan considered a contender for the Big Ten Championship with all of the questions on offense? It is because they may just have the best defense in all of college football and potentially the best that this coaching staff has had. They only really lost Maurice Hurst and Mike McCray and have stars at every level. Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson, David Long, Lavert Hill are just a few of the names and all are bonafide stars. Look for players like Aubrey Solomon, Michael Dwumfour and Ambry Thomas to all breakout this season too. This unit is going to be so fun to watch and will be what keeps them in position to win every game on the schedule despite how stacked their opponents are.
Michigan will go 2-1 in its rivalry games
Rivalry games have been Harbaugh’s kryptonite at Michigan so far. Really just big games in general, as the Wolverines have not gone on the road and won against a ranked team since the 2006 season. That’s not acceptable, and their three toughest games of the year are on the road, starting on Saturday night.
The Wolverines start in South Bend and also travel to East Lansing and Columbus this season, so they have their work cut out for them. Michigan’s defense should be able to stifle Notre Dame and the offense should be able to do enough to win that one, so that leaves splitting at MSU and Ohio State, at a minimum, to make fans happy. Harbaugh is 1-0 in East Lansing, but that came during MSU’s 3-9 season, though Michigan was the hammer in that game until it took its foot off the gas. That same season, they were a JT Barrett first down away from winning in Columbus. It’s not some Herculean task, they just have to get it done. Their rivalry losses have been self-inflicted wounds. There will be doubts that they can do it until they prove they are not going to shoot themselves in the foot, but this is the prediction here. Anything less really would be disappointing.