A month and a half ago, there wasn't much optimism felt by Michigan fans, despite coming off one of the best seasons in program history with their first appearance in the College Football Playoff. Jim Harbaugh's NFL flirtations dominated the headlines for weeks, followed by several coaching changes during the offseason carousel, including a publicized departure of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
Fast-forward six weeks and the grass is as green as can be with the Wolverines in the heart of spring practices. Harbaugh is back, and Michigan brings in a top-10 recruiting class while returning a roster littered with talented playmakers, particularly on the offensive side of the football. A return appearance to the CFP in the cards for the Wolverines in 2022? Here are some reasons as to why that might not be too much of a stretch.
Related: Big Ten Spring 2022 Power Rankings
1. Dynamic ground attack
The Wolverines finished 15th in the country last season in rushing, averaging 214.4 yards per game on the ground, and there is a strong chance Michigan is just as good, if not better, in that department in 2022, despite losing leading rusher Hassan Haskins. Back is junior Blake Corum, who averaged 6.6 yards per carry on 144 attempts; he finished with 11 rushing touchdowns and would have topped the 1,000-yard mark had it not been for a late-season ankle injury. He'll be joined by rising sophomore and former 5-star recruit Donovan Edwards, who saw increased reps as the season went along, including an 11-reception, 170-yard performance against Maryland in late November.
The Wolverines will also boast one of the best offensive lines in the country in 2022, already coming off a year where the group won the Joe Moore Award for that distinction. Three starters are back, and Michigan will add in prized Virginia transfer Victor Oluwatimi who will immediately start at center. Listed at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, Oluwatimi started all 12 games for UVA in 2021 — 32 straight games started in total — and was graded as the country's second-best center in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus.
2. Offensive playmakers in the passing game
Michigan hasn't exactly lit up its opponents via the pass during Harbaugh's tenure as head coach, and that likely won't happen in 2022 either given what we just discussed with the running game. That said, this might be the best collection of talent Harbaugh's had in the passing game since his tenure began. The highly anticipated quarterback battle between incumbent Cade McNamara and rising sophomore J.J. McCarthy is put on hold, unfortunately, while the latter recovers from a shoulder injury suffered late last year, so he is not throwing during spring ball. While fans wanted to see their 5-star quarterback, the Wolverines are in good hands with McNamara, who completed 64 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2021.
At receiver, Michigan returns 88 percent of last year's production and will get back No. 1 wideout Ronnie Bell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. There is also some excitement surrounding 6-foot-2 sophomore Andrel Anthony, who might have the highest upside of any in the group after what he displayed in Week 9 vs. Michigan State with 155 receiving yards and two scores. Senior tight end Erick All is a potential All-Big Ten first-teamer in 2022, finishing second on the team with 38 receptions and two touchdowns.
3. Beneficial schedule
Calling Michigan's non-conference schedule in 2022 a cakewalk would be an insult to cakes. The combined record of its three non-conference opponents — Colorado State, Hawaii, and Connecticut — in 2021 was 10-27. Digging into the heart of their Big Ten slate, the Wolverines benefit from not facing West Division favorite Wisconsin for the first time in six years. A perfectly-timed bye week is scheduled in Week 8, sandwiched in between matchups with Michigan State and Penn State, both of whom have to travel to Ann Arbor. The Game against the Buckeyes in Columbus will be an absolute meatgrinder for the Wolverines, given the beatdown they put on their rivals a year ago, but everything leading up to the finale sets up well for Michigan to have another successful year.
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— 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.