Coming in to the 2019 season, I made some bold predictions for the Michigan football team, and like most sports writers, was largely wrong about everything I predicted. It wasn’t quite as bad as some, but I once again was tempted with the poisonous fruit that is offseason optimism and swung for some bold predictions that favored a strong Michigan season, culminating with a win over Ohio State and a Big Ten Championship berth.
That was about as far as possible from what actually happened, and I am bringing those lessons with me into this year’s exercise. This year, I am taking a more measured approach to these predictions, so you may as well lock these into the history books ahead of time. Here are my five bold predictions for the 2020 season, starting with the most achievable and moving towards the foolishly optimistic.
5. Michigan will be favored to beat Washington to open the season, and will win comfortably
Michigan opens the 2020 season with a trip to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies. Washington is coming off a disappointing 8-5 season, ending the Chris Petersen era with a win over his former team, Boise State. With Petersen retiring, former defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake takes over. Lake has been with Petersen since his days in Boise State and has presumably been groomed for the job for some time. Taking on a team like Michigan with his first game, will be no walk in the park however, even if it is in the safe confines of Husky Stadium.
Lake will be a first time head coach breaking in a new quarterback and a lot of other fresh faces on both sides of the ball. Jacob Eason will be moving on to the NFL, so the starter will likely be one of Jacob Sirmon, Dylan Morris, or true freshman Ethan Garbers, who have a combined zero starts between them. Washington could look to the transfer market for more experience at the position, but they will likely be sending an inexperienced signal caller against a Michigan defense that brings back a ton of talent.
The Huskies also are losing their two leading receivers, three starting offensive linemen and their leading rusher. Needless to say it will be a new-look Huskies team that takes the field on Sept. 2 when Michigan comes to town.
Whether it is McCaffrey, Milton or otherwise under center for Michigan, they will face a tough task against a stingy Washington defense, but will have the benefit of knowing the offensive scheme and having a lot of weapons around them.
The new-look Michigan offensive line will likely face the biggest challenge, as they are replacing four starters. While Lake could end up being a great coach for Washington, the Wolverines will be the established program coming to town looking to make an early season statement.
4. Michigan avenges losses against Wisconsin and Penn State
This one feels like a gimme with how Michigan has performed at home against every team not named Ohio State, but there are no such things as gimmes against perennial powerhouses like these.
Wisconsin beat the brakes off Michigan at Camp Randall last season, with the offense sputtering entirely and the defense providing as much resistance as the French Army in any war not orchestrated by Napoleon. However, the primary reason they were so dominant will not be a factor in 2020, as Jonathan Taylor is mercifully moving on to the NFL. Jack Coan is better than Alex Hornibrook at quarterback, but crudely assembled trebuchet would be a better passing option than Hornibrook, so that is not saying much. The Wisconsin defense was a bit of a surprise in ‘19, outperforming many expectations, but even they will lose key contributors such as linebacker Zack Baun. Michigan wins by a touchdown in this one.
Penn State will be a little trickier, as James Franklin continues to recruit at a high level, and some of their star players will still be around for this one.
3. Quarterback play improves, raising Michigan’s ceiling substantially
I don’t care who wins the starting job, it is going to be a talent upgrade from Shea Patterson. I am not here to blast Patterson-who is statistically one of the most efficient quarterbacks in Michigan history, but he simply was not an elite quarterback. Joe Burrow showed the nation just how much an elite quarterback can raise the ceiling of a program with LSU. Imagine if Michigan had a Tua, Trevor Lawrence or Joe Burrow starting for them in any of the past three or four seasons. Heck even a Justin Herbert or Justin Fields would have put us in a different category altogether.
My early money is on Dylan McCaffrey to win the job, but you should in no way count out the outlandishly talented Joe Milton. This will be the most honest-to-God quarterback competition at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh, as well as the most important. You have to think one of these guys — who both have bigger arms and better speed than Patterson — will be able to reach the heights of the position that we all assumed would be a staple under Harbaugh. Things might be a little shaky early on, but I think we will see better overall quarterback play next year.
2. Michigan will not have a 1,000 yard rusher or receiver again, and that is okay
I predicted last year Michigan would finally have another 1,000-yard receiver, and I came up woefully short on that prediction. Ronnie Bell led the team with 747 yards, which is still damn impressive for a former 2-star recruit. Nico Collins was a chin hair behind him in that category, and both will threaten the 1,000-yard mark in 2020.
Part of the reason this didn’t happen however, was how slow the U-M offense started out the gates. It wasn’t until the second half of the Penn State game they really got into any type of rhythm. With Gattis returning for 2020, this offense will have a chance to start the season stronger than 2019, so it is well within the realm of possibility Bell or someone else just gets to that mark, but I am betting against it.
The sheer number of pass-catching options for next year is what convinces me. Along with Bell and Collins, Michigan brings back Mike Sainristil, Giles Jackson, Nick Eubanks and Cornelius Johnson. You also have incoming weapons like A.J. Henning and Roman Wilson who will compete for snaps. I think Bell gets really, really close, but falls just short next year.
The running back position is a little easier to predict this with, as there are simply too many mouths to feed in a loaded backfield next season. Michigan brings back its two leading rushers from 2019. They also get back Chris Evans and add true freshman Blake Corum. Forget the Big Ten, that is one of the most talented backfields in the whole country.
Charbonnet looks like the starter, after looking like his best self against a tough Alabama defense. Haskins and Evans will vie for No. 2 and we will see a ton of both, with Evans likely being used as a receiver often. Corum is too talented to redshirt in my opinion, and will see plenty of touches. With all those hands in the cookie jar, it is hard to imagine one guy going for 1,000 yards.
1. Michigan runs the table up to Ohio State
The schedule for Michigan in 2019 was nothing short of a gauntlet, with six of their 12 games coming against top 15 opponents — the third-hardest schedule in the country. Next season should set up much more favorably.
For starters, you swap out Notre Dame for a transitioning Washington program, and you avoid trips to Happy Valley and Camp Randall. The two toughest road games leading up to Ohio State are Michigan State and Minnesota. Sparty is a shriveled husk of what they once were under Mark Dantonio, and Michigan continues to widen that talent gap. Nobody is scared of Spartan Stadium either, where the Maize and Blue will be well represented.
Minnesota will be tricky, as quarterback Tanner Morgan will be back for his junior season, but they will lose stud wide receiver Tyler Johnson to the NFL. They will also have a new offensive coordinator, as Kirk Ciarrocca went to Penn State for the same position. This one should be a tight contest, but I have Michigan a shade above Minnesota currently. The fact it is later in the season, giving either McCaffrey or Milton time to get adjusted, is huge.
Get through that one, and I see this prediction being a very real possibility. That could set Michigan up for a potential Big Ten berth, or more likely a Rose Bowl trip given the recent history against OSU. Of course, we have all been optimistic before and have seen where that gets us. One thing is for certain, though — next year gives Michigan a better opportunity to still be in championship contention come late November.
What do you think? Too bold? Not bold enough? Let me know just how wrong I am in the comments below.