When it comes to the winningest football program in college football history, there is always going to be a slew of media and questions surrounding the team. When you add a head coach as frantic as Jim Harbaugh, a new quarterback and a pandemic into the equation, that is only going to be amplified.
Here are the 10 biggest storylines for Michigan football heading into the 2020 season.
10. Can Daxton Hill reach elite status?
The Michigan secondary is going to look a lot different in 2020. Josh Metellus and Lavert Hill were two major contributors in their Michigan careers, and are now in the NFL. Daxton Hill is going to be heavily relied on to fill in the hole in the position group. He needs to perform at a high level if Don Brown wants an elite defense.
9. ‘Speed in Space’
We heard it all last season from new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis that ‘Speed in Space’ was going to be the name of the game. But we failed to see much of it until late last season. The offense appeared to be on the right track, but wasn’t always reliable. With a new quarterback and brand new offensive line, will Gattis be able to successfully implement his ideas?
8. Big man problems
The Wolverines will have some questions to answer on both sides of the ball. Four former starting offensive lineman have moved on to the NFL. Meanwhile, the defensive line has much less depth than previous years and a reputable interior defensive lineman has failed to emerge since the days of Mo Hurst in the middle. The cornerstones of Jalen Mayfield, Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye exist, but beyond that, Michigan needs to find other guys to step up.
7. Can Don Brown change up his defense?
Minor adjustments have been made here and there, but it’s clear to every opponent Michigan loves running man-to-man defense. Will Don Brown add some zone coverage schemes to the defense or just stay stubborn with a playing style that has become obvious? Could not changing it up cost him his job? He is only under contract through 2021.
6. What’s going on with the College Football Playoff?
Eventually, it seems at least a majority of the Power 5 conferences will move to a conference-only schedule to implement universal guidelines and restrict travel for teams in their jurisdiction. But what does that mean beyond the regular season? Will we see a bubble of the top four teams similar to the NBA? Will it be played in spring? Heck, is a national champion even going to be named? The NCAA still has a lot of questions to answer about who will finish No. 1 in the polls when this is all said and done.
5. Dylan McCaffrey vs Joe Milton
The battle for the starting quarterback role has to end eventually, and knowing Harbaugh, he will soak up every second before making the decision final. Dylan McCaffrey has a lot of redeeming qualities and is likely favored to take the starting spot, but Joe Milton has so much raw arm talent and athleticism. It’s not going to be an easy decision to make and the competition will only get better with J.J. McCarthy on his way in next year.
4. Will the Ohio State curse finally be broken?
Count ‘em, eight wins in a row for the Ohio State Buckeyes over Michigan. Can Harbaugh and this Michigan team finally break this curse? Or will the streak continue and will the national hate continue to be heaped on Harbaugh and his program?
3. Jim Harbaugh’s contract
In direct correspondence with the point above, Harbaugh is entering the second-to-last year of his deal. He mentioned he and the university were close to a deal before the start of the pandemic and safer at home orders. Would a new contract be justified without a win against your most formidable opponent? Has Harbaugh done enough on the field to earn it? These are both questions you and I might have, but the university may not be concerned about it.
2. Only Big Ten games
There are no warm ups to the season this year, which honestly doesn’t change much with the Wolverines original opponent being Washington, but any hopes of a Big Ten Championship can be tarnished in the first game of the season. Now more than ever, every single game counts. A single slip up can cost Michigan’s chances at its first Big Ten title since 2004. There is also no way for a potential playoff committee to gauge how strong conferences are compared to others, so the Wolverines better hope for an undefeated matchup with Ohio State in the end if they want to further solidify a spot in the postseason with an undefeated season.
1. Will college football even be played?
The NCAA needs to ensure the safety of the unpaid student-athletes potentially risking their lives. Constant cross country travel is certainly not advised, and some have questioned the purpose of the season altogether, especially because seasons could start and have no promise of finishing. Spring is a valiant backup plan, but would it be worth mortgaging young athletes’ futures? This is the single most important question for any team heading into the 2020 season.