While most are in no hurry to see their summer come to a close, college football is right around the corner and we’ll soon be re-purposing the grills from corn on the cob and summer fare to autumn tailgating and it’s meaty smorgasbords.
Depending on the fan you talk to and their level of frustration, you’ll hear different opinions on the state of the Michigan football program.
Michigan is entering the fifth year under Jim Harbaugh after another 10-win season, his third season doing so with the program. That said, the team has finished every season under Harbaugh about as strong as Nic Cage’s acting career is rounding out, and that’s saying something.
To credit Harbaugh, he knew changes were needed if Michigan is to get over the looming juggernaut that is Ohio State. The most significant of those changes came with the hiring of Josh Gattis to run the offense.
Harbaugh has reiterated ad nauseum Gattis will have full control of the play-calling and scheme. This is something that has never happened on a Harbaugh-coached team, and would be akin to Garfield giving up lasagna and advocating for more Monday’s, so this will be something new to behold.
On defense, Shaun Nua takes over for the departed Greg Mattison, and Don Brown will run it back after fielding the No. 2 defense in the nation last year. That defense, however, was the primary reason Michigan faltered down the stretch, as OSU and Florida may have well as been lining up against 11 traffic cones the way it looked at some points. They will also have to replace a lot of production lost to the NFL, including three of the most productive talents in recent memory in Bush, Long, and Winovich, and one of the most athletically gifted in Rashan Gary.
With a new-look offense and a defense full of unknowns, it is difficult to predict how good this Michigan team is going to be. That being said, I am here with some lukewarm takes, and a few that rival the innards of freshly microwaved Hot Pocket.
Here are my five bold predictions for the 2019 Michigan football team, beginning with my coolest take, and moving up to the real sizzlers.
5. Shea Patterson will set the single-season passing touchdown record at U-M
It might be tough for Patterson to surpass John Navarre’s 3,331 passing yards during the 2003 season (Patterson had 2,600 in 2018), but you can all but lock it in that he will break Elvis Grbac’s single-season touchdown record. Grbac threw 25 touchdowns during the 1991 campaign, a nearly laughable 19 of which went to Desmond Howard.
Patterson was able to hit 22 touchdowns last season, and that was with an offense designed shortly after the invention of the cotton gin, and a banged up receiver corps for most of the year. Now Patterson will have the luxury of throwing to, what I believe, are three future NFL players in Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black. Ronnie Bell and Nick Eubanks would also start on 90 percent of college teams.
Not only is Shea going to etch his name into the Michigan record books, he may just obliterate the previous record in 2019. Of all my picks, this is my lock.
4. Michigan will field another top 5 defense
This is only a somewhat bold prediction because of how we last left the Michigan defense, and the amount of talent lost on that side of the ball.
Michigan has to find a way to replace the production and leadership of Long, Gary, Bush, and the only man with hair that rivals a young Kurt Russell in Winovich. In all honesty, that is too tall a task to ask of this unit, but that is not to say there will be a major statistical drop-off there.
Michigan has recruited extremely well under Jim Harbaugh, and the defensive cupboard is far from bare talent wise.
The defensive line is right up there with receiver and quarterback for deepest position group on the team. Brown and Nua will be able to rotate about nine or 10 guys across the line without experiencing much drop in production. While the line might not have a clear cut star like Winovich or Gary, the overall depth may actually be improved from last year. If a star is going to emerge, bet on Kwity Paye, Aidan Hutchinson or CMU transfer Mike Danna.
At linebacker, Michigan will assuredly take a step back after losing the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a reef shark on land in Bush. Khaleke Hudson is back to man the Viper, and might be the overall emotional and organizational leader of the entire defense. Josh Ross hits people as though they just keyed his car. Josh Uche is too overlooked for my liking after a seven sack season, numbers which only one Michigan player (Taco Charlton) has surpassed since Brandon Graham. Beyond those mentioned, the linebacker position looks potentially thin.
The back end is going to need to take a step up to lock this prediction, as Lavert Hill and Josh Metellus are the only proven commodities back there. You would like to think Ambry Thomas is finally ready to take a leap in Year 3, and true freshman safety Dax Hill can come in right away, but the lack of experience on the back end is ultimately concerning.
The bottom line is this — so long as Brown is there and remembers that there is such a thing as zone coverage, this defense is going to once again be one of the best in the country.
3. Michigan will FINALLY beat Ohio State
This should not have to be such a hot take, but I am labeling it as such because I’m bitter and disenfranchised. Also we are in, without a doubt, the worst stretch of the rivalry in Michigan history, and that has to change this year for the sake of our collective blood pressure.
In this game Michigan will have home field advantage, perhaps the best offensive line in the conference, certainly the best wide receiving corp in the conference, and a defense that has had all season to gel. You also have to hope this defense comes in with enough anger and resentment to start a minor war.
Ohio State is breaking in a new coach, a new quarterback, and once again replacing a ton of lost talent to the NFL. They have recruited extremely well, however, and Chase Young is going to be a PROBLEM off the edge. That being said, this is one instance where it looks like Michigan will have the edge on paper. Of course, we said that last year.
If Harbaugh can’t find a way to get it done this year, I think the Harbaugh defenders will be all but extinct, regardless of what the rest of the season looks like. This is the year.
2. A Michigan receiver goes over 1,000 yards
This might not seem like a scorching hot take with how high everyone is on this receiving group, but given the depth of pass catchers and the fact our leading receiver only had 550 yards last season, it’s practically nuclear. The last time a Michigan receiver went over 1,000 yards was Jeremy Gallon in 2013, and if memory serves correctly, like 600 of those came in one game.
Michigan has no less than five pass catchers that are too talented to not get at least 3-5 targets per game. Talent is not the question, rather, will there be enough to go around?
Peoples-Jones was the rock last season, bouncing back from devastating hits that had me feeling mildly concussed sitting in my living room, and gave Michigan an offensive spark it hasn’t had since Steve Breaston. With slightly improved route running and hands, this kid could turn into a monster this year.
Collins and Black could just as easily explode this year. Collins was the leading receiver last year, but is more of a high point 50/50 ball type of receiver in the mold of an Alshon Jeffrey. That may not be exactly what Gattis is shooting for, but he will see some deep balls and quite a few red zone targets I would imagine. He also has about as sure of hands as you’re going to find, with a zero percent drop rate last season. On all but about 8-10 college teams, he is the best receiver on the team.
Black is interesting because he is almost a perfect combination of the aforementioned receivers, and may have the highest possible ceiling. At 6-foot-3, Black can go up and beat you on a 50/50 ball, or use his speed and strength to get open across the middle. Black has had some trouble staying on the field, but when he is out there, he is a menace.
Eubanks, Bell and true freshman Mike Sainristil will also be in the mix to see targets. Of those three, Eubanks might be primed for the biggest season in 2019. He is an athletic guy that finds sweet spots in the defense extremely well, and knows what to do when the rock comes his way. Bell and Sainristil will likely split time in the slot, where their speed will likely lead to quite a few plays being drawn up to go their way. The speedy fellas manning the slot position could be the reason this prediction falters, and that is okay for Michigan.
Don’t ask me to pick which guy goes over 1,000, just know that there is more than a puncher’s chance it will happen.
1. Michigan wins the Big Ten Championship
I’ll be painfully honest, I hate this prediction.
This prediction echoes the general consensus in both 2016 and 2018; and no excruciating recap of those results is required here.
This a prediction of necessity. If Michigan can’t find a way to get it done this year, the train to remove Harbaugh will have more steam than Jim Schwartz when he doesn’t like the tone of your handshake.
You can forgive 2015, his first year, quite easily. The following year also gets a pass due to Wilton Speight’s injury, and officiating in The Game that resembled a gaggle of 6 year olds on pixie sticks trying to rebuild a helicopter engine. The 2017 campaign could garner a pass because of roster turnover, but the lack of a viable quarterback options is what ultimately sunk that team, and that is on the coach.
Last year is nearly impossible to excuse from the fan perspective. Michigan had the pieces to be a playoff team, and instead allowed themselves to get embarrassed at Ohio State, and once again watch their Big Ten and playoff hopes wash away like a Super Bowl lead against Tom Brady.
In my mind, Big Ten Championship has to be the floor for this season to be considered a success. Those expectations could be unrealistic in all fairness. Not many teams in the nation can realistically suggest that as a minimum requirement.
The counterpoint is that Harbaugh is being paid on a level that only conference and NCAA champion coaches are being paid at. His assistants are among the highest paid in the nation, and the Michigan athletic program brought in more money than all but three teams last year. It is not unreasonable in a capitalist system to expect commensurate results for the salary.
Where you, the fan, stand on this issue is certainly a welcome opinion and plays into the greater picture of a season prediction, but this is mine. Let me know what you think and we will try our best to debate with civility.