The 2021 season was a magical ride that will be remembered fondly in the hearts of Michigan fans for years to come. From the program, to its players, to the fans, repeating that experience is the No. 1 priority for the upcoming season.
One opposing coach told Athlon Sports in their 2022 preview they believe Michigan’s Big Ten Championship run could spell a new leader in the conference.
“This was a changed program in 2021, and the results reflect that. Even before they beat (Ohio State) or won the conference, I think the coaches in the league knew it could happen. You saw a different energy here; they had more speed than in recent years, and they were still just as physical. They were violent on film. It was Michigan football. They had two good backs that got downhill, one is coming back this year, and I expect more of the same on offense. They have good tight ends, and they’re still young overall on offense. The big pieces are in place on this side of the ball. We’re curious how they’re managing the two quarterbacks and if J.J. [McCarthy] gets more time. They both have upsides, but that’s always a tricky thing to manage correctly… Defensively, you can’t just replace those edge guys. Those are NFL players, and Michigan is great, but that’s not a plug-and-play situation for anybody. So the defense will have a different identity. The measure of this program is how they replace league-caliber guys who leave. How deep can you stock your roster to where you’re sending these guys off and still competing close to that level? … [DC Jesse] Minter will transition right in; I don’t think you’re going to see any kind of departure in terms of scheme. … What you’re looking for this year is how fast they resupply. Was ’21 the exception or the new rule?”
For so long, many Michigan fans wondered if Jim Harbaugh was capable of turning the program into second gear. Now that we are there, will the program sputter out or continue with the momentum? The whole college football landscape will be watching this season closely to see how they perform.
That process will all start with the offense that returns a plethora of relevant players. Athlon Sports highlighted the quarterback battle between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, questioning who would be the starter. But overall, they came up with the fact that it could be a wash because of McNamara’s proven ability to win, and McCarthy’s playmaking ability.
“Either player is capable (and it’s very possible we’ll see some of both), and the starter will have plenty of weapons around him to execute Michigan’s plan under new coordinators Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore, in for the departed Josh Gattis (hired by Mario Cristobal at Miami).”
At offensive line, the group is expected to defend their Joe Moore Award with the return of Ryan Hayes, Zak Zinter, Trevor Keegan, and the addition of Olu Olwatimi, the transfer from Virginia.
“As long as they can stay healthy, don’t expect much (if any) drop-off from this group.”
Moving to the running back position, expectations are high for Blake Corum, who was an early Heisman candidate in 2021 before losing touches due to injury and Hassan Haskins’ dominant play. Athlon Sports also expects Donovan Edwards to have much more playing time.
Speaking of injured players from a season ago, Ronnie Bell will be back from his ACL tear and will lead a promising group.
“Cornelius Johnson (40 catches, 627 yards, three touchdowns). Mike Sainristil, Andrel Anthony and Roman Wilson will be called upon to step up, in addition to a trio of freshmen wideouts whom the Michigan coaching staff really, really likes.”
On the other side of the ball, there are a lot more questions, as we all know. The biggest, according to Athlon Sports, is the defensive line.
“This year, the front is thin inside and inexperienced on the edge.” Replacing Aidan Hutchinson, Chris Hinton, and David Ojabo won’t be easy, but the program “will turn to a trio of players on the outside (Mike Morris, Taylor Upshaw, Jaylen Harrell) for production, along with some help inside.”
Personally, I’m surprised there is no mention of Braiden McGregor. We’ll see if he has an impact as well.
Linebacker is a different story according to their evaluators, as they said, “Junior Colson and Nikhai Hill-Green both saw extensive playing time last fall and are expected to slide into starting roles. Colson has been the talk of the staff for two years now and will be a player to watch.”
The secondary has lost both starting safeties, but the cornerback room will remain solid with D.J. Turner and Gemon Green returning. In the deep backfield, they expect Rod Moore and R.J. Moten to get the nod. Both saw significant playing time in 2021.
Overall, here were Athlon Sports’ final thoughts on the 2022 Michigan Wolverines:
“Michigan should be much more explosive throwing the football this year, which is important because the offense will be leaned on to carry the team while the defense breaks in new pieces. They have the talent and depth up front, playmakers at running back and receiver and the winning pedigree at quarterback to make it work.
“But a thin defensive line remains the Wolverines’ biggest liability, and an injury could spell trouble.
“Luckily for Michigan, there’s enough talent in the middle and on the back end to remain competitive in Big Ten play, where the Wolverines host key opponents Michigan State and Penn State and travel to Iowa for their toughest crossover game of the season. A 4-0 start to the season is likely, setting the stage for another run in the Big Ten East.”
National Ranking: 6
Is there something I am missing here? What indications are there that Michigan is going to throw the ball more? Bell being back is going to be a huge help, but “much more explosive?” I anticipate the running game to be leaned upon as much as in 2022.
It’s funny they mention MSU, Penn State, and Iowa and not Ohio State. The conference will run through Columbus, just as it has every year in Harbaugh’s tenure. They will need to go into the Shoe and earn a win to repeat as champs.