August is the month of hope and with hope, comes a little bit of exaggerated enthusiasm and misplaced belief. The storm before the storm of college football.
The 2022 college football season begins in 10 days with “Week 0” and fans and media outlets alike are churning out takes, polls, opinion pieces and, even worse, vapid think-pieces at a torrential rate. Boredom and lack of sports — apologies to MLB die-hards — drives people to write speculative pieces worthy of the National Enquirer.
It is lunacy, unproductive and easily one of my favorite journalistic times of the year, and I had to get in on the action.
The Michigan Wolverines shocked the entire country last season going from unranked to College Football Playoff and this season, Team 143 is hopeful it can take it a step further.
Here are five bold predictions for the Wolverines in 2022:
Linebacker Jaylen Harrell finishes the season with 10+ sacks
Michigan has had a handful of first round NFL Draft picks on the edge under Harbaugh as head coach — Taco Charlton, Rashan Gary, Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson.
So the question shouldn’t be, “Can the Wolverines replace the production of Hutch and David Ojabo?” but instead, “Who will replace the production of Hutch and Ojabo?”
There are several likely candidates and it could be a combination or group effort in replicating the lost production. Mike Morris, Taylor Upshaw, Braiden McGregor, TJ Guy and Derrick Moore are most of the names being discussed. However, I am staking my claim to redshirt sophomore linebacker Jaylen Harrell to lead the charge in sack production.
Harrell appeared in all 14 games (four starts) last season and finished with 15 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. He frequently flashed his athleticism, physicality and speed off the edge. With another year to refine technique and understand the system, progression is an inevitability.
If you are concerned about the limited production from last year, don’t be. Ojabo entered last season with only one career tackle to his name and Hutchinson with only 3.5 sacks, a number he would almost eclipse in one game against Ohio State.
No-name players are only without until they make a name for themselves.
Mike Sainristil sets the Harbaugh era record for interceptions in a season
One of the biggest deficiencies of Harbaugh era teams is their inability to create turnovers, and more specifically, interceptions. In the last seven years, Michigan’s best finish for interceptions as a team in the Big Ten is a tie for fifth.
Currently, the most interceptions by a Michigan player in a single season since 2015 is Channing Stribling in 2016 with four. Cornerback DJ Turner who tied for the team lead last year with two picks is the favorite to challenge this record, but two-way stud and probable team captain Mikey Sainristil is an interesting wrinkle to consider.
Sainristil will likely be challenged more than Turner because what offensive coordinator could resist testing a converted wide receiver over an All-Big Ten returner? Yet, from all early camp indications, he has taken to the secondary like a fish in water.
With his deep understanding of the wide receiver position and physicality, he will be able to disrupt timing and recognize route combinations quicker than most defensive backs.
Lastly, Sainristil has the best ball skills of any corner in the Big Ten and will be able to make plays from angles and positions where most cannot: Exhibit A and Exhibit B.
Donovan Edwards finishes with over 1,500 all-purpose yards
Despite being the presumptive 1B running back this season, sophomore Donovan Edwards has been the talk of town since last season ended. As a true freshman, Edwards was the third stringer in one of the most talented running back rooms in the country and was primarily relegated to mop-up duty for most of the season.
However, due to an injury to Blake Corum, Edwards seized his chance to shine late in the year. Against Maryland in Week 11, the freshman set a single-game Michigan record for a running back by hauling in 10 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown.
Edwards continued to add to the highlight reel with a 75-yard touchdown PASS in the Big Ten Championship against Iowa and the conversation quickly shifted to, “What CAN’T he do?”
Expect Edwards to add more value as a traditional runner in 2022, continue to shine as a pass catcher and occasionally flash that Favre-esque cannon.
Only 11 players in Michigan history have had over 1,500 yards (rushing/receiving). Edwards will be No. 12.
J.J. McCarthy is the permanent starting QB by Oct. 8
Okay, this take is more lukewarm than bold, but the point remains, J.J. McCarthy will be the starting quarterback after a pivotal game against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Not to be confused with the ever-prevalent Cade McNamara slander found on Twitter, this prediction is a pro-Michigan position, not anti-Cade.
McNamara helped lead the Wolverines to victory over Ohio State, win the Big Ten Championship and reach the College Football Playoff. None of that happens without him, period. However, I believe McCarthy in his second year raises the ceiling higher than McNamara and has now matured as a decision-maker and leader poised to lead this team.
Michigan goes 12-0 for the first time since 1997
THERE’S THE SPICE!
With eight home games and one of the easiest non-conference schedules ever assembled, it is difficult to not be bullish on the Wolverines. Well, that is if you do not work for FOX and claim the Wolverines “have a lot to replace on their offensive line.”
Furthermore, two of Michigan’s four road games are Rutgers and Indiana, which don’t necessarily strike fear in the hearts of opposing teams. The other two road games are difficult and represent the pendulum of the season: Iowa and Ohio State.
Going to Kinnick is always a challenge and plus, the Hawkeyes will want revenge after that 42-3 beating in Indianapolis last season. If Michigan survives that trip, there is no reason they shouldn’t reach Columbus 11-0.
Michigan vs. Ohio State, potentially 11-0 vs. 11-0, is the absolute pinnacle of college football. And with the Wolverines being led by McCarthy’s arm, Edwards’s versatility, Sainristil’s ball-hawking and Harrell’s havoc, I’m picking Michigan.