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Five ESPN analysts predict Michigan will return to CFP for third straight year

A lot of talented players are returning next season, so it’s fair to assume the Wolverines will be among the favorites.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Semifinal Game Fiesta Bowl Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines have made the College Football Playoff two years in a row, and now five ESPN college football analysts are predicting they will return to the CFP for a third straight appearance.

In an article featuring way-too-early bold predictions, Chris Low, Tom VanHaaren, Blake Baumgartner, Heather Dinich and Bill Connelly all predicted Michigan to make to the 2023 College Football Playoff.

Additionally, in a section where these writers mentioned what games they are most looking forward to, two Michigan games were mentioned.

VanHaaren, a Central Michigan alum, said he is excited to watch what many of our readers believe is the greatest rivalry game in sports. While Ohio State has dominated the rivalry this century, winning 17 of 23 games and eight in a row from 2012 to 2019, Michigan won in 2021 and 2022. Those two victories helped solidify Michigan’s spot in the CFP.

It’s not until the end of the season, but the way the Michigan-Ohio State game has played out the past two years has brought the rivalry back into focus. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day received criticism for the two losses to Michigan the past two seasons, and there’s no doubt that will be their main focus in 2023. Day has said he might alter who calls offensive plays to give himself more opportunity to coach the entire team so that the team doesn’t suffer another season-ending loss. Michigan is returning running back Blake Corum and several big offensive pieces for 2023, which should put them in the conversation for one of the top teams coming into the season. The focus and emphasis put on that game, given the ramifications and the past results, are going to be at an all-time high that will make it must-watch game.

Connelly said the game he’s most looking forward to is Michigan’s trip to Happy Valley. In their 26 matchups, Michigan has won 16 times, including nine in a row from 1997-2007 and the last two games in 2021 and 2022.

I always enjoy a team’s first home game in a new (and more prestigious) conference, and we’ve got a few of those in the Big 12 — Houston hosting TCU in Week 3, Cincinnati hosting Oklahoma in Week 4, UCF hosting Baylor in Week 5 (BYU hosts Cincinnati in its first conference home game, which is lame). But honestly, my mind’s drifting to Happy Valley. Penn State could have a top-five caliber team in 2023, and while its trip to Ohio State in October might still be out of reach, a potentially loaded Michigan team has to visit State College on Nov. 11. Can PSU win and create a potential three-way race in the Big Ten East?

A couple former Wolverines were also mentioned in the section where the writers predicted breakout teams, with Baumgartner forecasting the Iowa Hawkeyes to have a solid season.

Iowa’s offensive struggles over the past several years have been well documented, especially after last season’s 251.6 yards per game average — last in the Big Ten. But its defense continues to show out on a yearly basis as the Hawkeyes found a way to win eight games in 2022. It could use a little more help in a wide open Big Ten West, a year before USC and UCLA enter into an unknown conference structure. Quarterback Cade McNamara transferred in from Michigan, along with tight end Erick All, and they’ll be thrown right into the fire with a visit to Happy Valley against Penn State on Sept. 23 to begin conference play. The Hawkeyes’ schedule is without Michigan and Ohio State — more than manageable in the soon-to-be 16-team league — and the chance for the program to lay claim to a second Big Ten West title in three seasons is ripe.

The next opportunity to watch Michigan play will be in about six weeks, as the spring game is set for April 1.