The wait is finally over. The Michigan Wolverines will look to defend their Big Ten title this afternoon, kicking off their season against Colorado State on Saturday.
According to DraftKings, Michigan is a 30.5-point favorite, and all the signs point to this being a blowout. But I’m sure I’m not the only fan scared by the infamous Appalachian State loss, where the Mountaineers were a 33-point underdog.
In order for Michigan to avoid another upset like that and beat the Rams, just like the basketball team did six months ago, here are three keys to victory.
Dominate at the line of scrimmage
Along with its Big Ten title defense, Michigan’s offensive line is also hoping to win the Joe Moore Award for the second year in a row. The Wolverines lost a couple guys from last year’s line, but as our Matt Eifert laid out, they have been able to reload thanks to the addition of transfer center Olu Oluwatimi.
Football is won in the trenches and if Michigan is able to open up large holes to make life easy for Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, it can add a few touchdowns early and coast from there.
Additionally, as Seth Berry mentioned in a piece earlier this week, Colorado State also has a lot of new faces on its offensive line. If Mazi Smith and Kris Jenkins are able to disrupt the Rams running game, it will be able to help secure the Michigan victory.
We’ve seen it time and time again, most recently in Nebraska’s loss to Northwestern in Dublin: turnovers are the easiest way for a betting favorite to suddenly start playing from behind.
Jim Harbaugh announced last week Cade McNamara will be starting this week before J.J. McCarthy starts next weekend against Hawaii. Reports indicate the two are neck-and-neck in practice, as Harbaugh is going to give each guy a shot in non-conference play.
McNamara has done a great job limiting mistakes while making plays when needed, helping Michigan get to the College Football Playoff last year. He only threw six picks last season while completing 64.2% of his passes for 2,579 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but McNamara is consistent and makes very few mistakes. In order for him to help Michigan secure the victory and maybe even the starting job, McNamara needs to avoid turning the ball over.
Get Blake Corum going on the ground and in the air (and get him out in the second half)
If the offensive line dominates up front and limits guys like edge rusher Mohamed Kamara, you may want to start Corum in your fantasy college football league.
Corum has the chance to be Michigan’s best player this season. He is coming off an excellent season where he put up numbers running the ball (144 rushing attempts for 952 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) and catching the ball (24 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown).
I’d like to see Michigan use Corum in the passing game more this year, with more screens and delayed routes out of the backfield to keep defenses going and give the quarterbacks a safety valve if wide receivers aren’t open. If he can continue to dominate as a runner and a pass catcher, he will garner the attention of Heisman voters (He’s currently listed as +10,000 odds to win the award on DraftKings, which is longer odds than McCarthy, who may not even start).
If Michigan is up by three scores or more at the half, it would be wise to sit Corum to avoid injury and get younger guys some in-game action. Corum starts his dark horse Heisman campaign in this game, and scoring a few times while racking up yards can get his season started on the right track.