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-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Michigan Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson runs the football. (Image Source: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
We continue our Big Ten preview series with the Michigan Wolverines:
Origin of Optimism: During Jim Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan, it’s mostly been the defense that has carried the water for the Wolverines. This should be their best offense in years. They return quarterback Shea Patterson, have the Big Ten’s best offensive line with four of five starters back, as well as potentially the conference’s top group of receivers led by Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins. On the field, it’s about the players who return but the biggest difference in 2019 could come because of a sideline addition, as Harbaugh snagged away up-and-coming offensive mind Josh Gattis from Alabama. He’s considered among the best young coaches in the game and will modernize Michigan’s offense as he’s brought the spread and up tempo to Ann Arbor. Gattis should get the best out of Patterson & Company.
Cause for Concern: While the Wolverines are set at most spots on the offensive side of the ball they have a major concern in the backfield. Gone are leading rusher Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, O’Maury Samuels, and Kurt Taylor with only former walk-on Tru Wilson, as well as Christian Turner back. With 364 yards, Wilson is their leading returning rusher. The hope is extremely talented freshman Zach Charbonnet wins the starting job at some point, but that’s a lot to ask of a true freshman. They lack proven talent and depth in the backfield. It’s a good thing they plan on getting away from running the ball 60 percent of the time.
Breakout Player: A five-star talent coming out of high school, Shea Patterson arrived at Michigan last season after he started his college career at Ole Miss. Quietly, he elevated Michigan’s passing offense, as the Wolverines jumped to second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency. However, Michigan languished at ninth in passing yards and that’s because Patterson attempted just 325 passes, ninth in the B1G. Michigan ran the ball 60 percent of the time and only Navy averaged fewer plays per minute. Under Gattis, the Wolverines will run more plays, throw more often, spread the ball, and put it in Patterson’s hands. With a top offensive line blocking for him and a potentially elite receiving corps to throw to, everything is in place for Patterson to have a breakout season.
X-Factor: Considering they have two of the Big Ten’s best returning defensive backs in cornerback Lavert Hill and safety Josh Metellus you might be surprised to see the secondary listed as the X-factor. They must replace three of their top five defensive backs from last season, including 2019 third-round pick David Long. Moreover, as good as they were a year ago, the secondary let them down in bookend losses to Ohio State (396 yards and 6 TDs passing) and Notre Dame (14 yards per completion). They’re set with Hill at one corner, but Ambry Thomas is a first-year starter and the likely backups have no experience. That could spell trouble. Of course, it’s possible this group will be improved with Thomas and five-star true freshman Daxton Hill as key pieces. The duo would vastly improve the secondary’s speed and athleticism.
Big Ten Previews: Ohio State |
Schedule: Once again, the Wolverines face one of the toughest schedules in the country. In addition to Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State from the East, Michigan faces Iowa, as well as Wisconsin from the West, with an out-of-conference game against Notre Dame. That’s six top-20 teams (seven in the top 30 counting Army). Ouch. On the positive side, four of those contests will be at home, including the three rivalry games (OSU, MSU, ND).
It’s a Disappointing Season If: They lose to Ohio State again. You hate to put it all on one game but that’s where the Wolverines are at this point.
It’s a Successful Season If: Considered among the favorites to make the College Football Playoffs I won’t set the bar that high, but how about a Big Ten title?
Over/Under – 9.5 Wins (-220): At 9.5 wins you have to lay some serious wood on the Wolverines and rightfully so. Yes, they have six difficult games and the toughest schedule in the B1G, but they project to be favored in every game, albeit with a spread of less than a touchdown in four of those games: at Wisky, at PSU, vs. ND, vs. OSU. With the best offense of the Harbaugh era, the Wolverines should be able to win at least two of those four games as they head towards another double-digit win season. Don’t be surprised if they reach 11 victories on their way to the B1G Championship Game.
Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards.
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