Emphatic wins over rival Ohio State and Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game freed Michigan of two lengthy droughts and propelled the Wolverines to their first College Football Playoff.
After reaching two important milestones of the Jim Harbaugh era, how about another couple? Michigan is just two wins away from its first national championship since splitting the 1997 crown with Nebraska.
A College Football Playoff Semifinal matchup with Georgia awaits, and while the Bulldogs looked untouchable throughout the regular season, their loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game suggests this is the most open playoff since the first. That also was the last time a Big Ten representative won it all.
5 Reasons Why Michigan Will Win the College Football Playoff
1. Fighting fire with fire
Coming into the SEC Championship, Georgia boasted one of the best defenses statistically in college football history. The Bulldogs' dominance on that side of the ball consumed much of the oxygen in the room when it came to defensive conversations, but Michigan built its Big Ten title foundation on a defense of similar prowess.
Aside from the aberration of the Michigan State loss, the Wolverines have been excellent against all comers — including holding Ohio State, the nation's highest-scoring offense, to 27 points.
Georgia was successful in suffocating opponents then opening the floodgates, in part because no opponent had a defense to match the physicality, intensity and talent of its own. Michigan can match Georgia defensively in the Orange Bowl.
2. Under pressure
Michigan's tandem of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo bringing pressure sets the tone for the Wolverines' outstanding defense. Against Georgia, Michigan offers the same kind of challenge the Bulldogs faced from Alabama. The Crimson Tide had three sacks, six tackles for a loss, and five quarterback hurries, which turned into takeaway opportunities.
Should the Wolverines parlay that into a National Championship Game trip, Michigan's blitzing duo can overwhelm a Cincinnati offense that has been prone to lulls this season, or apply the pressure to Heisman Trophy favorite Bryce Young that Georgia was unable to in Atlanta.
3. Steady offense
The consistency of Michigan's offense complements its defense well and turns stops on one end into scoring opportunities on the other. The result is a deluge that spans into second halves.
It starts with an effective rushing attack, ranked in the top 10 nationally at 223.9 yards per game. Hassan Haskins earned first-team All-Big Ten and possible Heisman consideration with his 1,288 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Combined with Blake Corum, who has 939 yards and 11 scores on the ground, Michigan arguably has the best rushing attack in the playoff.
The Wolverines quarterbacks don't commit many mistakes, which provides balance. J.J. McCarthy's explosiveness carrying the ball adds another layer for defenses to be aware of.
4. Winning the explosive-play contest
No team in college football has generated more explosive plays of at least 50 yards than Michigan's 17. Alabama's tops among the playoff field for explosive plays of 20-plus yards, but what the Wolverines' proficiency in creating those half-a-field-or-more plays says is that when they find gaps, they capitalize in a way virtually guaranteed to generate points.
Conversely, the Wolverines have been excellent at denying opponents explosive plays. They have the best ratio of creating and limiting gains of at least 30 yards among the final four.
5. Playing its best down the stretch
Of the four playoff teams, Michigan has arguably been the most consistent over the past month. The Wolverines hit their stride late in the season, most evident in their multiple-possession wins over Ohio State and Iowa.
Michigan came into 2021 boasting a bevy of experience, and the Wolverines have only improved throughout the campaign.
Podcast: Instant Reaction to the Top Four and Early CFB Playoff Predictions