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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: No. 9 Michigan Wolverines

Rick Osentoski-USA Today

A devastating loss to Ohio State derailed the Wolverines’ season but Big Blue has all the tools to bounce back.

August marks the start of college football, and it’s been a long time coming. Here at SQ we’re previewing all the top teams in the country based on our own top-25. Yesterday we took an in-depth look at No. 10 Auburn, today I preview the No. 9 Wolverines from Michigan.

Team Name: Michigan Wolverines 

Rank: 9

2016 Record and Rank: 10-3 (10) 

Coach: Jim Harbaugh (20-6, 3rd year)

Key Arrivals: WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, OL Cesar Ruiz, DL Aubrey Solomon, DL Luiji Vilain, QB Dylan McCaffrey, LB Jordan Anthony

Key Departures: RB De’Veon Smith, WR Amara Darboh, WR Jehu Chesson, TE Jake Butt, S Jabrill Peppers, DL Taco Charlton, DL Chris Wormley, CB Jourdan Lewis, S Delano Hall

Previewing Michigan’s Offense

In his first two seasons, offense hasn’t been a huge priority for the Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh. Last season the team ranked 57th in yards with 5,524, and they failed to crack the top-50 in 2015 as well. Despite the relatively low yardage, Michigan still averaged 40.3 points per game, which was good enough for 11th in the country.

Harbaugh has yet to name a starter for the opening game against Florida, but he did say the decision is down to either Wilton Speight or John O’Korn. Speight won the starting spot last year and was mediocre at best with 2,538 passing yards (61st nationally). To keep his starting role, he’ll have to do better than throw only 18 touchdowns, but immersing himself in the system for a year gives him an upper hand over O’Korn.

Who will Michigan’s starting quarterback be? Wilton Speight, John O’Korn appear to be pulling away from pack.

NBC Sports (@NBCSports) August 13, 2017

The recently graduated De’Veon Smith led the team in rushing a year ago with 846 yards and 10 touchdowns, which means there’s plenty of room for sophomore Chris Evans to take over the reigns. As a true freshman, Evans was second on the team in carries (88) and yards (614) while also adding four touchdowns. Harbaugh could also give carries to sophomore Karan Higdon who finished 2016 with 425 yards and six touchdowns. Returning four rushers that carried the ball at least 25 times gives the Wolverines an experienced backfield that may have to carry the team. 

No. 5 on our list of Michigan’s most important players is Chris Evans, who may be UM’s next offensive star in 2017:

— Zach Shaw (@_ZachShaw) August 4, 2017

Michigan will have a tough time replacing their receiving core after losing their top three targets. Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt departed for the NFL after combining for 138 catches, 1,908 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Sophomores Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford are slated to be the starters for the Wolverines after a slow freshman year. The two combined for only nine receptions and 106 yards, but are expected to make a major leap this season. Top receiving prospect Donovan Peoples-Jones should also see big minutes in his freshman year. 

Previewing Michigan’s Defense

Michigan earned their title of best defense in college football last season. They gave up only 3,032 yards, the fewest in the nation, and gave up the second fewest points with only 12.5 per game. This year’s team has the difficult task of replacing 10 starters.

The defensive line shouldn’t be a problem for the Wolverines considering the depth they had last season. Losing sack leaders Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley hurts, but the line isn’t without talent. Maurice Hurst Jr. and Chase Winovich both picked up five sacks and should be a threat in both the run and pass game yet again. Former number one prospect Rashan Gary looks to live up to the hype after posting a quiet freshman year with only 23 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. 

.@mohurstjr continues to get better. And he’s looking for a 💪 2017!!#GoBlue

— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) August 12, 2017

Mike McCray is the only returning starter on this defense and is one of the best linebackers in the country. He finished the team leader in a number of categories, including second in tackles and tackles for loss (73, 13.5), tied for fifth in sacks (4.5), and third in interceptions with two. Hybrid linebacker/safety Jabrill Peppers is the most notable loss, and sophomores Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson look to ease the transition post-Peppers. 

The secondary takes the biggest hit after losing interception leaders Channing Stribling and Delano Hill, along with shut-down corner Jourdan Lewis. Sophomore corners David Long and Lavert Hill have the most upside, but are young and inexperienced. At safety, Tyree Kinnel and Josh Mentellus have the most experienced, either in spot duties or special teams, and will have to be the leaders of that unit that will need time to develop. 

Three Key Games

1. Oct. 21 at Penn State- The Wolverines were the only Big-10 team to beat Penn State last season, luckily for the Nittany Lions they won the conference despite the loss. This year’s matchup should be a lot closer than the 49-10 beat down, but should still have major conference implications. Playing in Happy Valley will be a great test for a Michigan team that should be undefeated coming into the matchup. 

2. Nov. 18 at Wisconsin- Last season’s Michigan-Wisconsin showdown was a defensive game for the ages that ended with a 14-7 win for the Wolverines. Both teams rely on defense and get by with average offenses; 2017 should be no different. Madison is a tough place to play and is the first of a brutal two-week period that Michigan has to endure if they want to win the conference.

3. Nov. 25 vs Ohio State- Michigan-Ohio State, also known simply as The Game, might be the best rivalry in college football. Last year’s game was an instant classic with the Buckeyes coming away with a 30-27 victory in double-overtime. Despite leading the all-time series, the Wolverines haven’t won The Game since 2011. Of course if they want any chance of making it back to the Big-10 title game, they’ll have to beat the Buckeyes in the final game of the season.

Final Analysis 

This Michigan team is a bit of an enigma. They have a number of players returning on the offensive end where they struggled last season, but have to replace their top-ranked defense. Harbaugh is one of the best coaches currently in college football and has been a great recruiter for the Wolverines.

I have no doubt this is a talented Michigan team, but a 10-2 season is the most likely result. Penn State on the road is a tough game and the Nittany Lions are a hungry team looking to rise from the ashes of their NCAA sanctions. Ohio State has yet to lose to their rival under Urban Meyer, and this year should be no different.

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Kat Johansen.

When was Michigan's last national title?
Created 7/30/17
  1. 1997
  2. 1965
  3. 1984
  4. 1977

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