Back-to-back 10-3 seasons are normally a cause to celebrate at most schools in the country… not Michigan.
Last season was setting up to be a special campaign until two late losses to Iowa and Ohio State effectively eliminated the Wolverines from a possible appearance in both the Big Ten Championship Game and College Football Playoff. A crushing defeat in the Orange Bowl to Florida State only added to the sentiment that last season was a massive wasted opportunity.
Looking towards 2017, the Wolverines are replacing 16 starters (17 depending on who you ask) with a roster littered with first- and second-year players. The hope is that all of the recent success head coach Jim Harbaugh has had on the recruiting trail will now show itself on the football field. If that is the case, Michigan is set up quite nicely for this year and those to follow.
Can Michigan make a run at the College Football Playoff despite such a youthful roster? Athlon Sports polled a few writers to get their take on Michigan’s realistic 2017 win/loss prediction.
Michigan Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Mike Bainbridge (@MBainbridgeCFF)
The young Wolverines will be thrown right into the fire the first week of the season against the Florida Gators before the schedule lightens up significantly until late October. If Michigan can get through the opener unscathed, it “should” be undefeated leading up to a Week 8 clash with Penn State in Happy Valley.
Closing out the season the Wolverines have a brutal two-game stretch, heading to Madison to take on the Badgers before preparing for The Game against the Buckeyes the following week. If the Wolverines can somehow earn a split amongst those four matchups, they could put themselves within striking distance of reaching Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. Asking that of a team with potentially 17 new starters might be a stretch though.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Jim Harbaugh lost a good chunk of talent from last year’s team, I still expect the Wolverines to be in the hunt for the Big Ten title. At minimum, a third consecutive 10-win season should be expected. The offense is headlined by a deep stable of running backs, while junior Wilton Speight and talented redshirt freshman Brandon Peters are set to battle this fall for the starting job at quarterback. The receiving corps and offensive line need to develop, but Harbaugh should be able to lean on the ground game to carry this team until a key Oct. 21 showdown at Penn State. The defense was the hit the hardest by offseason departures and returns only one starter. But forget about the one returning starter number on defense: This unit is going to quickly reload. Senior Maurice Hurst and sophomore Rashan Gary anchor the trenches, while senior Mike McCray leads the way at linebacker. If Michigan heads into the Nov. 25 matchup against Ohio State with one loss, the annual clash with the Buckeyes could decide the East Division champion.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
It's a testament to Jim Harbaugh's coaching record and that of his terrific staff that the loss of so much talent to the NFL is met with a little bit of a shrug. The Wolverines have recruited at such a high level in recent years to develop some good depth and have a chance to be even more explosive than years past. Having a returning quarterback who is risk-adverse will help mitigate some big losses and the defense in particular has several candidates who could turn into all-conference selections. It's doubtful Michigan in 2017 is as good of a team as it was a year ago but that might not matter when it comes to the Wolverines’ record at the end of the season this year.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Michigan will once again be a very good team in the Big Ten this season despite having to replace quite a bit of talent from last year’s team. And the Wolverines have an excellent chance to get into late October without a loss, if they can get by Florida in Arlington. That is one of a handful of toss-up games for Michigan this season, and I think it goes their way. Conference play will see some stern obstacles though with a revenge situation on the road at Penn State and a tricky late-season road trip to Wisconsin just before hosting Ohio State. Despite my predictions for back-to-back losses to close out the regular season, I do feel confident in suggesting Michigan will actually be a better team at the end of the season than it will at the beginning of the year.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
We'll see how well Jim Harbaugh and his staff can develop top-flight high school players into elite college players this season. Harbaugh's young Wolverines will face a tricky schedule in 2017. After opening with a monster of a game against Florida; Cincinnati and Air Force visit in back-to-back weeks before the Big Ten slate commences. Trips to Penn State and Wisconsin pop off the page, while games at Indiana and Maryland are more intriguing than they've been in recent years.
Michigan fans should feel good about the continuity at quarterback in the form of Wilton Speight and the dominant defensive force that will be Rashan Gary. That said, this is a green squad that will be tougher at the end of the season than in the beginning. I see the Wolverines dropping three conference games – all on the road – but winning the biggest game on the schedule to round out the year.