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ESPN predicts floor and ceiling for Michigan Football in 2023

What would it take for the Wolverines to three-peat?

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

It’s been two seasons of absolute bliss for Michigan Wolverines fans. Back-to-back wins over Ohio State and Big Ten Championships have the maize and blue faithful riding a major high. The best part about it is Jim Harbaugh is back along with J.J. McCarthy and a slew of talent on both sides of the ball. There is a strong chance they are back in the same position in 2023.

There are still months to go until the season starts, but some are wasting no time projecting where the college football landscape could be in 2023. ESPN’s Bill Connelly gave his best prediction for each of his top-25 teams come September, including the ceiling for each team.

Using the initial SP+ rankings, Michigan comes in as the No. 3 team in the country behind the Georgia Bulldogs and Ohio State. Alabama and Penn State round out the top-five.

Based on these metrics, Michigan projects to be the No. 8 offense in the country, averaging 41.8 points, while the defense ranks No. 4, allowing just 13 points per game. Overall, they are just 0.2 points behind Ohio State.

Connelly calculates the Wolverines have a 46% chance of finishing the season 11-1 or better. Their floor is 9-3, the same as both the two teams above them. The same is true with their ceiling, posted at 12-0. Those three are the only teams in the country that boast this window.

Unlike the two teams above them, Michigan has an incumbent starter in McCarthy. But the biggest variable, according to Connelly's piece, is the pass rush.

“The Wolverines’ pass rush in 2022 was merely good, not great, and now they must replace edge rusher Mike Morris. Between Coastal Carolina transfer Josaiah Stewart and some youngsters, Michigan will need to unearth some players who not only match last year’s sack production but increase it.”

Now, here is where I take issue. How can people continue to put Ohio State over Michigan? It’s been the status quo for decades, and for whatever reason the national pundits have not caught up with the fact that maybe the Buckeyes aren’t what they used to be with Ryan Day at the helm.

Their defense over the last three years has ranked 44th, 38th and 24th, respectively, per game. The worst units under Urban Meyer came at the top of his career in Columbus before he settled into a perennial top-15 defense. Without that, it has been tough for Ohio State to stop the run, which has been apparent the last two games against the Wolverines.

As for Michigan, the pass rush is a concern, but I don’t know if Stewart is the one I would mention from a rather accomplished group. Jaylen Harrell could have a breakout season; Braiden McGregor was once one of the top recruits in Michigan’s 2019 recruiting class and showed a lot of flashes last season; Derrick Moore played meaningful snaps as a freshman last season. They platooned last season and it worked extremely well under Jesse Minter. I expect them to be even better with a second year under his tutelage.

Where I would put the most concern is the Wolverines’ secondary. There is no solidified second or third cornerback after Will Johnson. While Mike Sainristil will be nice in the slot, I’m still far more concerned about corner than any position on the defense.

Looking through the schedule, the first six weeks shouldn’t be a problem. What happens in the back end of the year is where I can see some concern. Michigan heads to Michigan State on Oct. 21. Then, two weeks later, the Wolverines go to Penn State, a projected top-five team. Of course, at the end of the year is the massive game against Ohio State in the Big House.

I can see how an analyst could look at those three games right now with a birds' eye view and say Michigan could slip up once, maybe twice. But three times seems a little much. I’m all on board with a 12-0 ceiling, and the No. 1 team in the country status. But I see the Wolverines as a two-loss team at the very worst.