Jim Harbaugh has turned Michigan into a recruiting force, and that’s a good thing considering all the talent the Wolverines are replacing. A total of just six starters are back with only one of those being on defense. Harbaugh does have a veteran quarterback in Wilton Speight and plenty of young, hungry guys ready to take advantage of more playing time. The key will be how quickly all of the pieces come together, as Michigan’s margin for error is small as it relates to the difference between being a good team and a College Football Playoff contender, especially in what figures to be a rugged Big Ten East Division.
Previewing Michigan Football’s Offense for 2017
Michigan loses a ton of experience across the board. That’s the bad news. The good news? Jim Harbaugh does bring back his quarterback in Wilton Speight, and he was able to get a boatload of younger players into games last season to develop critical experience moving forward.
Speight will be the team’s starting quarterback unless something unexpected happens, as he threw for more than 2,500 yards to go along with 18 touchdowns and a 61.9 percent completion rate a year ago. He’ll have all new receivers, though, as Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt are off to the NFL. Michigan boasts plenty of young talent — players like Kekoa Crawford, Eddie McDoom and five-star freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones — but none of it is proven. Sophomore Chris Evans, who averaged 7.0 yards per carry last season, leads an experienced running back group, the only experienced group on this side of the ball.
Up front, things will be a challenge. And, frankly, the offensive line will once again be the determining factor in how far Michigan goes in 2017. Last year’s group was experienced, but it faltered in three losses against Iowa, Ohio State and Florida State. Michigan brings back versatile senior Mason Cole and talented sophomore Ben Bredeson, but Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will need three new starters. And the pool they’ll be choosing from has one combined start to offer.
Previewing Michigan Football’s Defense for 2017
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Michigan loses 10 starters from the country’s top-ranked defensive unit, including Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers, captain Chris Wormley, star corner Jourdan Lewis and sack leader Taco Charlton. But it does bring back coordinator Don Brown, who helped push this unit to the next level with his high-pressure blitzing scheme last year. And, as was the case offensively, Michigan rotated a ton of youth here last season, so inexperienced players don’t have much to show on the start chart.
End Rashan Gary is an athletic freak and might be the best player on the team right now. Maurice Hurst turned down a chance to go pro early and is back as a leader up front at tackle. Elsewhere, hungry sophomores Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson, Josh Metellus, David Long and Lavert Hill will look to make their mark in starting roles. They have big shoes to fill, but all of them got real-time reps last year at linebacker, safety and corner, respectively.
Previewing Michigan Football’s Specialists for 2017
When Michigan lost Kenny Allen and Peppers, it lost basically everything in terms of special teams. Allen handled all the kicking and punting duties last year. And Peppers’ ability as a punt returner was the main reason why this team led the country in field position last season. Redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin will have to live up to his former No. 1-ranking as a recruit. And freshman Brad Robbins, the top-ranked punter in 2017, will have to adjust quickly.
Harbaugh’s demanding enough as a coach to push a team to more wins than its talent and/or experience level typically produce. He’s proven this on numerous occasions. But he’ll be kicking himself for not getting more out of a supremely talented 2016 group.
Now, he’ll have to circle the wagons and live with growing pains — especially on offense — throughout 2017 as he’ll have one of the youngest squads Michigan’s had in some time. This team does get Ohio State at home, but a road trip to an improved Penn State squad won’t be easy. Neither will a season-opening game against Florida in Texas.
If Michigan can speed up its development process this offseason, it has the talent to grab double-digit wins. If not, it’s young enough to be staring an 8–4 year in the face.
NATIONAL RANKING: 10
BIG TEN EAST PREDICTION: 3
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