Perhaps the biggest blessing in disguise was the refusal to rank the Michigan Wolverines in the 2021 preseason polls. There was very little reason to do so after last season’s embarrassment, not to mention a long history of overhyping the national brand without much other justification. But six weeks into the year, it seems like the general consensus was wrong once again, just ironically for the wrong reason.
The Wolverines are a top-10 team in both polls, and S&P+ agrees, ranking the squad eighth overall. Ridicule the strength of schedule or the quarterback play or whatever else, but it still is hard to deny that this team is not a legitimate threat to make some noise by the time it is all said and done. At the very least, Michigan is going to blow basically any preseason projection well out of the water.
Many fans would have been content with an 8-4 record at the beginning of the year, and most were bracing themselves for something closer to 7-5; ESPN’s FPI set the bar even lower, having Michigan win just 6.4 games. Now that metric has jumped up to 10.4 wins, with toss-ups against Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State and three very confident picks in the other half of the remaining schedule.
10 wins still seems like a high bar, but a 10-2 record is truthfully more than realistic. A 3-3 record down the stretch would have to be seen as a bad collapse a mere month ago, even if the losses came against the toughest teams on the schedule. While Ohio State looks stronger by the week, The Game certainly should be more competitive than many expected in August, and that alone is an indication of where the team stands today.
So yes, the goalposts have moved, but this should be seen as nothing but a good thing. While football is supposed to be fun, for far too long this team has settled for morale victories. At the very least, Jim Harbaugh and company must find a way to 10 wins and triumph over at least one rival.
A New Year’s Six appearance for the first time since the 2018 season would be a solid bounceback and exactly what Harbaugh needs to earn another year at the helm. However, a slide to 9-3 and a couple more painful losses in the games that matter most will awaken the quieted, but not evaporated, disapproval, and frankly at this point that seems warranted. Everything has gone right to start the year, and that has magnified expectations, as well as the stakes. After living through the past two decades of Michigan football, this is certainly preferable to the alternative.