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A gaze into the future: What Michigan football may look like this time next year

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A guess at how Michigan may look at the end of next season.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Michigan Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

When the clocks hit zero against Alabama in the Citrus Bowl, which kicks off another long offseason for fans of the Michigan Wolverines, many of us were left to wonder what’s next or where this operation is heading in what will be the sixth year of the Jim Harbaugh era.

The calendar has already flipped to the 2020 season with preparations underway at Schembechler Hall for the new campaign.

With that in mind, let’s start a conversation here. Here’s a few thoughts on what conversation we might be having this time next year.

Who will start at quarterback?

My gut says Dylan McCaffrey. He will be entering his fourth season with the program and it simply feels like time. He essentially beat out Brandon Peters then had to bide his time behind Shea Patterson. He feels like the safe bet, but Joe Milton will certainly be in the mix and just how much he polishes his passing abilities may determine his chances of winning the battle.

What will the backfield rotation look like?

Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins will lead the way once again in 2020 in their sophomore seasons. Chris Evans will return after a year-long suspension from the program and should wind up playing a role on third downs and also potentially in the slot. Michigan missed his home run ability out of the backfield this season and it will be fun to see what his role might look like under Josh Gattis.

The wide receiver room is still deep

Nico Collins remains, while Donovan Peoples-Jones is off to the NFL and Tarik Black transferred. That said, we should still feel somewhat good about a receiver room that features Ronnie Bell, Mike Sainristil, Giles Jackson, Cornelius Johnson and true freshmen AJ Henning and Roman Wilson. They will still have one of the deeper groups in the Big Ten here.

Who will be the starting offensive line?

Cesar Ruiz is off to the NFL, meaning that four starters will need to be replaced up front. From left to right, look for Ryan Hayes, Chuck Filiaga, Zach Carptenter, Nolan Rumler and Jalen Mayfield to fill out the front five. Andrew Steuber will factor into the tackle battle coming off of an ACL injury.

What becomes of Josh Ross?

Michigan held him out late in the year to preserve his redshirt status and he will be returning to a defense that brings back nearly everyone sans Josh Uche, Lavert Hill and Josh Metellus. He was starting in the middle until Cam McGrone replaced him due to injury. He’s too athletic not to have a role somewhere, so we will have to wait and see.

Who will be a breakout player that we aren’t talking about right now?

Michigan is going to need a replacement at Viper and the guy that feels like the leader to potentially fill that spot is Mike Barrett. So there’s your pick for a guy who is not talked about now that you should start reading up on.

2020 Schedule prediction: (10-2, 7-2 B1G)

Sept. 5 - @ Washington: W
Sept. 12 - vs. Ball State: W
Sept. 19 - vs. Arkansas State: W
Sept. 26 - vs. Wisconsin: W
Oct. 3 - vs. Penn State: W
Oct. 10 - @ Michigan State: W
Oct. 17 - @ Minnesota: L
Oct. 24 - vs. Purdue: W
Oct. 31 - BYE
Nov. 7 - vs. Maryland: W
Nov. 14 - @ Rutgers: W
Nov. 21 - vs. Indiana: W
Nov. 28 - @ Ohio State: L

Explained: That game on the road at Washington to open the year could really serve to set the tone for them. Given what the Huskies went through last year and that they will be under a new head coach, it could be an easier time than we earlier thought. The 2020 schedule is front-loaded and whether it’s Washington or not, it does not feel like that hot a take to predict they could have a loss somewhere in there, either at Washington, vs. Wisconsin or Penn State or at Minnesota if I have to predict where it could come. That last week of the year, well, we’ve seen this picture show before. If OSU wins the conference and makes the playoff in 2020, a New Years Six bowl seems like it could be fairly likely in the above scenario, but could depend on the head-to-heads with Wisconsin, Penn State and Minnesota.

Final Thoughts

To do this exercise now is simply to think out loud and open a discussion akin to what you guys probably already are doing at family parties or at the bar with your friends. It’s way too early to speculate on much of anything. I will say that things set up fairly well for Michigan to roll into Columbus next season at 11-0 if they get the right breaks along the way. I could also see them going into that game sitting at 9-2 again, but certainly not worse than that. So again, the floor feels to be 9-3 with the ceiling being, well, as high as that game they play at the end of the season allows it to be. This is just kind of where they are right now, but I suppose you’d rather go into OSU with your goals still ahead of you as opposed to not, so if this is their fate, so be it for now.