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3 Reasons for Optimism About the Michigan Wolverines in 2018

Karan Higdon

Karan Higdon

Nobody surrounding the Michigan program is pleased with how the 2017 season played out. A loss to your in-state rival, again. Blown out by Penn State. Another defeat to Ohio State. And an embarrassing blown lead in the Outback Bowl game against an SEC foe.

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh

The offense was an embarrassment. Outside of the emergence of Karan Higdon at running back, nothing worked on a consistent basis. On the season, the Wolverines threw for nine (yes, nine) touchdowns. Missouri QB Drew Lock threw for seven alone in one game. Navy, who averaged just eight passing attempts per game, had 10 TD passes.

On defense Michigan was stout yet again, finishing the year as the No. 3 total defense in the country, allowing just 271 yards per game. That said, the Wolverines crumbled in the season’s biggest moments – blowing a second-half lead against both Ohio State and South Carolina in the bowl game.

The 2018 season is being looked at as the year this ship turns around for the better. The freshman and sophomores that littered the roster last season now have another year of experience under their belts. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is bringing in another top-15 recruiting class coming in, one that will “potentially” be accompanied by a former Ole Miss quarterback that could revive this stagnant offense immediately. While things look bleak at the moment, next season has a chance to be a special one in Ann Arbor.

1. 19

Head coach Jim Harbaugh (above, right) had to replace nearly his entire starting lineup on both sides of the ball entering the 2017 season. Heading into next year, the Wolverines could have as many as 19 starters returning. Focusing on the defensive side, All-American defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is off to the NFL, and middle linebacker Mike McCrary graduates. But that is all that will be lost from the No. 3 defense in the FBS. On offense, there are a few more question marks with starting quarterback being the obvious. A more subtle storyline is along the offensive front where Michigan needs to find at least one, and perhaps two starting tackles. Other than that, this roster looks primed for a rebound year.

2. Return of Tarik Black

The Wolverines looked to have a budding star on their hands in Black, a rising sophomore. The four-star recruit made an immediate impact from the get-go with a 46-yard touchdown in the season opener against Florida. Unfortunately, Black’s debut was cut short in Week 3 against Air Force after suffering a season-ending foot injury. Given his return in 2018, the Michigan receiving corps should be much improved with the top five wideouts all returning, as well as redshirt freshman Nico Collins and Oliver Martin, who were four-star prospects as well. If the Wolverines can even get competent play out of the quarterback spot, the offense will be in good shape. Speaking of quarterbacks....

3. Welcomed addition

The outcome of the 2018 season for the Wolverines will be determined by how the quarterback plays. And Harbaugh is hoping that he will have one major piece along for the ride next season in former Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred to Michigan in December. The question is whether or not Patterson will be eligible immediately as he awaits a clearance from the NCAA to play right away due to the sanctions handed down against Ole Miss for recruiting violations. The thought by most is that Harbaugh and Patterson feel good about their chances here, but we truly never know what decisions the NCAA will make these days. If eligible, Patterson is the overwhelming favorite to start despite the presence of a trio of four-star prospects on the roster, including Brandon Peters, who started four of the final five games this past season.

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.