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Five questions that will define Michigan in 2020

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We have more questions than answers right now.

Michigan v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

It sure would be nice to see a college football season this fall. Usually this month of the year I’m at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, where Jim Harbaugh usually has a memorable quote and tons of excitement really starts to build about the upcoming football season. Unfortunately there’s no media days this year, and a lot of the interactions we’d have with players and coaches have been put on hold.

I have questions about the football season, the X’s and O’s of it all, as I’m sure you do. Here are five questions that will define Michigan in 2020. Be sure to add your questions in the comments.

Can Dylan McCaffrey or Joe Milton perform at a high level?

The quarterback position is the most important one in football, perhaps the most important in all of sports. Look at some of the quarterbacks who have made the college football playoff in recent years. Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston... all elite college QBs. No matter how good a defense is, no matter how great an offense is in general besides at QB, it’s hard to win all the games on the schedule without an excellent quarterback.

We know Joe Milton can throw the ball what seems to be a quarter mile, we know Dylan McCaffrey is one of the fastest players on the entire team, but we still don’t know how either player can perform week in and week out.

Harbaugh has praised McCaffrey and Milton in the past. He loves Milton and how hard of a worker he is, he’s said the same about McCaffrey while also saying he has the “it” factor.

A slayer of rivals, a momentum maker, not a momentum killer, an ice in the veins level of clutch, this is what Michigan needs at the quarterback position to beat all the teams on their schedule.

Will RB’s be used more in the passing game?

Michigan running backs combined for just 20 receptions and 97 yards in 2019 with Zach Charbonnet’s 8 receptions leading the way. That number should go way up with Chris Evans back in the fold, and 5-foot-9 true freshman Blake Corum now on the team, who’s been described as having “explosive feet”, “great hands”, and “great vision”.

“Last year we leaned on the strengths of the guys that we had on our roster,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said. “I think that’s what Chris Evans is going to be able to bring to the table, give us a strength there that we’re going to be able to use because that is a big piece of the offense.”

The more ways an offense can exploit a defense the better, and Evans will be utilized in creative and dangerous ways out of the backfield as a pass-catcher.

Does Michigan have enough talent along the offensive line?

Michigan is returning just one starter to their offensive line, Jalen Mayfield. There are four spots to fill, and with the lack of spring practices the competition hasn’t even began to heat up.

“That’s a big concern,” Gattis said in May. “We were going to have a huge competition to figure out who our best five was. That’s ultimately the No. 1 job that we’ve gotta be able to decide is who is the best five.”

The likes of Andrew Stueber, Ryan Hayes, Andrew Vastardis, Chuck Filiaga and Joel Honigford could all make a case for playing time with younger options Karsen Barnhart, Nolan Rumler and Zach Carpenter wanting to state their case as well.

“I think the challenge for this group will be catching up to our previous group in the pass protection game,” Gattis said. “I think our group in the past had the ability to be elite pass protectors, but this group that we have now probably has the ability to be a little bit better in the run game from an athletic standpoint. So I think there’s positives and negatives to each side, but I think our ability to catch those guys up in both of those areas is going to be key.”

Can Michigan’s defense shut Ohio State’s offense down?

Michigan brought in two new defensive assistant coaches with prior defensive coordinator experience in Brian Jean Mary and Bob Shoop. While no one should expect defensive coordinator Don Brown’s scheme to change much, a couple fresh faces willing to throw in new ideas and wrinkles to the game-might might be helpful to say the least.

Brown’s defense has had a lot of good Saturday’s, but their worst moments have come against the Buckeyes. “We just need to play the way we’re capable of playing,” Brown said. “Know that sounds like rhetoric, but don’t make the stage too big, and certainly just prepare and play the game the way you’re capable of playing it. Just play at a high level, make sure we’re prepared. Really, the big thing that we’ve done a good job of, we’re building it into our practice schedule. But, stay even-keeled about it, make sure that we’re focused on the task at hand. Technique and fundamentally, we’ve gotta just play the game the way we’re capable of playing. Don’t make the stage too big.”

Defensive end Kwity Paye believes hating the team down south will provide dividends. “That’s something that we’ve talked about,” Paye said. “Some of the team leaders on the defense – just enforcing that hate a lot more. Every time I turn on that game, I feel like at times – we hate them, but I feel like we have to enforce – we have to install it like freshmen coming in, we have to install it. ‘We hate those guys.’ There can’t (be) no, ‘Oh, my boy goes to that school so I’m –’ No – hate off of that. So just enforcing that to go into their brain. Watching game tape every single day on them. Making sure that we know all of their plays. Making sure we watch past games.”

Will Michigan make it to the Big Ten Championship game?

This is a weird year, the weirdest in generations, and if there’s a college football season it’ll be a weird one as well. The Big Ten will be playing a conference-only schedule, a schedule which has yet to be announced. The speculation is that important divisional games may be front-loaded on the schedule, which means Michigan would be playing teams like Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State early in the season. The lack of spring practices and the uncertainty regarding who they play when could aid Michigan’s quest for a Big Ten Championship, or it could hurt it.

The question marks are endless in regards to the season and what’s going to happen, largely in part due to the pandemic and the havoc it’s created inside programs and in our society. Here’s to hoping these five questions and all the other ones you have will be answered on the gridiron sooner than later.