Yesterday, we ran our story on five reasons why Michigan will make the College Football Playoff. This is the counterpoint, where we outline five reasons why the Wolverines don’t have a playoff berth in the cards for this season.
Michigan has high hopes and expectations for this season, as it should. However, there are plenty of things that can go wrong.
1. Lack of quality depth at RB
Michigan lost Karan Higdon to the NFL and Chris Evans to off-field issues, and has suddenly been left with little to no depth at running back. Tru Wilson is the team’s leading returning rusher with 364 yards and a touchdown.
Wilson is a fine pass-blocking back that will certainly carve out a role, but he’s not a starting running back on a championship caliber team. There will be tons of pressure on true freshman Zach Charbonnet to be a special back right away. It’s possible, but can’t be counted on. Same goes for Christian Turner, who received just 20 carries last season.
If injuries strike, the running game is in big trouble.
2. Can’t replace NFL talent on defense
The Wolverines have made a good habit of being able to plug in guys on defense and have them shine in Don Brown’s system, but U-M is losing five key players on defense, including four that were drafted into the NFL. Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary and David Long were outstanding at Michigan and it’s not wise to assume their replacements will perform at or near the same level, at least not right away. Depth is thin in the secondary and at linebacker.
Michigan’s defense will be good, but there is too much unknown to declare it an elite, championship level unit. Not to mention it’s gone two seasons in a row now with inexplicable collapses in big games.
3. Michigan can’t beat Ohio State
I don’t buy into the whole “Michigan can’t win big games” narrative. However, I do buy into the notion that Ohio State owns Michigan. The Wolverines have struggled time and time again against the Buckeyes and haven’t been able to get it done. In order to make the College Football Playoff, Michigan likely needs to beat Ohio State, and until that actually happens, a playoff trip will wait.
The chances of winning The Game this year should be higher than in years past, but when a fan base is so used to getting its tail whipped, it’s difficult to expect anything different.
4. New offensive system with first-time play-caller
Much has been made about Josh Gattis, Michigan’s new offensive coordinator, who arrives in Ann Arbor after a stint at Alabama. It’s a great hire for U-M and should result in an improved offense. However, with any new hire, there’s a chance things progress more slowly than anticipated.
Gattis has never called plays before, so we don’t know how he’ll handle critical situations. We also don’t truly know if Jim Harbaugh has relinquished all of his pro-style, pound-the-rock influence on the unit. He’s likely still going to maintain some sort of role in the offense, we just don’t know what. It’s likely the new-style offense will be a vast improvement on the last few seasons, but until we see it on the field, it could cause some bumps in the road.
5. One of the most difficult schedules in the country
Michigan has its three rivalry games at home, sure, but it still has to play Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan State — all of which are likely to be ranked when the games take place.
Having a high profile non-conference game can certainly boost a resume with a win, but we’ve seen in recent years a loss in that type of game doesn’t necessarily help as much as we’d like to think in terms of reaching the playoff.
It’s not just the three rivals Michigan needs to worry about. The Wolverines will play seven teams likely to appear in the top 25 at some point in the season, including Army, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa.
U-M will play both Wisconsin and Penn State on the road, as well as Indiana, which has caused the Wolverines loads of trouble in the last several years, despite never winning. To make that trap game even worse, it comes in between Michigan State and Ohio State.
Going 11-1 or 12-0 on this schedule is possible, but it will be an extremely tough task, not to mention the Big Ten Championship, which would be tacked on in a College Football Playoff scenario.