We are a few days removed from the Big Ten Conference announcing its return to football and with the dust settling there, the Michigan Wolverines are officially working themselves into form for the eight-game season. The team has been practicing for well over a month without pads while waiting on a resolution and now things are getting cranked up.
With players like Nico Collins, and Dylan McCaffrey opting out of the 2020 season, there are even more new pieces to break in on offense than already projected for this year. The Wolverines will replace the starting quarterback, three of its most talented wide receivers, and the entirety of its offensive line from 2019. To some that may be scary, while others may be excited for a fresh start.
Based on all of the buzz coming out practices and what we know about the team heading into the lead-up to the Oct. 24 kickoff, here is how things are set to look.
Quarterback: Joe Milton (RS So.)
In the lead-up to the season, Michigan players and coaches will likely maintain the battle rages on at the quarterback position, but it does not take a soothsayer to predict that McCaffrey’s transfer means that Milton has taken the reigns at quarterback. Milton boasts perhaps the most gifted arm of the Jim Harbaugh era and the athleticism to make him a threat with his legs, as well. Milton’s success will depend on how much he has improved the touch and accuracy on his throws and limiting mistakes on the field. But there is as much excitement about him in Schembechler Hall as any quarterback there in recent memory.
Running Back: Zach Charbonnet (So.)/Hassan Haskins (RS So.)/Chris Evans (RS Sr.)
The only thing that has changed with one of the best running back rooms in the Big Ten is the re-addition of Evans after an academic issue caused him to miss the 2019 season. Charbonnet and Haskins figure to lead the way depending on who the hot hand is, while the Josh Gattis offense may allow Evans to be used as more of a weapon in the passing game. The depth here is exciting and true freshman Blake Corum should factor in, as well.
Fullback: Ben Mason (Sr.)
You guys know what you are going to get here. The fullback is not as much of a staple in the offense anymore, but when you need a yard or a goal-line carry, Mason is as good as any that Michigan has had under Harbaugh.
Wide Receivers: Ronnie Bell (Jr.), Mike Sainristil (So.), Cornelius Johnson (So.), Giles Jackson (So.) (slot)
Outside of the offensive line, there might not be a position group on the roster as fresh-faced as what Michigan brings into the 2020 season. Ronnie Bell — the most underrecruited yet most productive wideout last year — is now the undisputed No. 1 with a trio of true sophomores factoring in around him. Jackson is going to wind up being a chess piece that gets moved around, while Sainristil should be a reliable target and Johnson should help replace some of the size lost from last year’s group. The sophomore trio behind Bell all have game experience and true freshmen AJ Henning and Roman Wilson will also be in the mix for early playing time. There is a lot to sort out here.
Tight End: Nick Eubanks (RS Sr.)
Eubanks had 25 catches for 243 yards and four touchdowns last season while splitting time with Sean McKeon and now is the leader of the tight end room. The strides he has made in his time at Michigan as a blocker has been impressive and he should wind up being a nice safety valve for his new quarterback.
The Offensive Line
Left Tackle: Ryan Hayes (RS So.)
Hayes is set to step in and be the compliment to Jalen Mayfield at the tackle position. Michigan is extremely excited about his development and Hayes played well when pressed into action early last year.
Left Guard: Chuck Filiaga (RS Jr.)
Filiaga is seemingly in a battle with redshirt freshman Trevor Keegan, but we will give the veteran the nod here for now until we see otherwise.
Center: Andrew Vastardis (RS. Sr.)
Vastardis has been repping with the ones at center with Zach Carpenter reportedly working through something.
Right Guard: Andrew Stueber (RS Jr.)
Stueber is coming off of a torn ACL and is projected to kick inside to guard this year. At 6-foot-7, 340 pounds, that is more size at guard than Michigan has had in a while.
Right Tackle: Jalen Mayfield (RS So.)
He’s back! Mayfield has opted back in.
The newness of the entire offense might make the conditions right for struggles this season, especially once pads enter the equation. But this is an incredibly young offense that has a chance to grow together over the next couple of seasons as their coordinator continues to develop as a play-caller.
The ceiling of the offense is going to depend on the strides that Milton has made and how the offensive line comes together. This could be as big as Michigan has been in the trenches in awhile — especially on the interior — and that could pay huge dividends in the run game. If they get cooking there with a trio of Charbonnet, Haskins and Evans, it is going to open things up for everyone else.
Nobody is going to sit here and tell you that this is a group that can push Ohio State for a Big Ten title, but in a truncated season that will not feel normal anyways, progress from the first game through the ninth is going to be the biggest measuring stick of whether or not 2020 was a success or not. This is a reloading year, which is going to come with growing pains, but it should be interesting to see how these young pieces look in an offensive system that proved itself capable of putting points on the board as the season went on last year.