Here we go again — expectations are high for the Michigan Wolverines heading into 2019. The Maize and Blue are ranked No. 4 in Athlon Sports' Top 25. The Big Ten beat writers agree as they gave Michigan 17 of 34 votes to win the conference at Media Days. Is the hype warranted?
The roster is in excellent shape thanks to the success on the recruiting trail by head coach Jim Harbaugh and staff. Twelve starters are back from a year ago and there were some changes to the coaching staff, namely on offense, that have many believing the on-field production will be vastly improved.
Will that result in a College Football Playoff appearance for the Wolverines in 2019?
Three Reasons Why Michigan Will Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Seven starters back on offense
We still don't know exactly how the offense will look under first-time play-caller Josh Gattis, but there will be no shortage of weapons to work with. Four starters are back on the offensive line which is considered one of the best in the conference. There's a mixture of size and speed at wide receiver, including three NFL draft prospects in Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black. There's a senior quarterback in Shea Patterson who should be a perfect fit in the new spread system. If Gattis can successfully mold these pieces, the offense should no longer be the hindrance that it's been in year's past.
2. Matchups against rivals are at home
Michigan's upcoming schedule this season is no cakewalk. Cross-over games with Wisconsin and Iowa. The non-conference features both Notre Dame and Army, teams that went a combined 23-3 in 2018. And then there are dates with yearly divisional foes Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. Where the Wolverines catch a break is that the Spartans, Buckeyes and Irish all have to travel to Ann Arbor where Michigan has lost just four games since Jim Harbaugh took over.
3. Little to no drop-off on defense
The Wolverines had to replace as many as 10 starters after the 2016 season, yet Michigan still finished third in total defense and 13th in scoring defense the following year. Not quite the same turnover this year with five starters back on that side of the ball, but some big-name pieces must be replaced in the form of Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, and others.
That said, some of those players stepping into starting roles this season — Aidan Hutchinson, Ambry Thomas, Josh Ross — all gained valuable experienced last year because of the way defensive coordinator Don Brown rotates guys in and out of the lineup. This is a group that should remain atop the Big Ten.
Three Reasons Why Michigan Won't Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Lack of a true RB1
During Big Ten Media Days, Harbaugh announced that former walk-on Tru Wilson is the team's current starting running back heading into fall camp. Wilson was the third on the team last season in rushing with 364 yards on 62 carries, and actually had the highest yards per carry average of any back on the roster.
Redshirt freshman Christian Turner will be in the mix this season after starting the bowl game against Florida, and the Wolverines will also welcome in 4-star recruit Zach Charbonnet who should be 100 percent healthy entering fall camp. It's a talented group, but one that lacks both experience and depth, and neither of the three have proven they can be a lead back at the collegiate level… yet.
2. Ohio State
Remember when Michigan was a 3.5-point favorite heading into “The Game” last season? That didn't turn out so well. There's been a lot of talk this offseason about the Buckeyes having a new starting quarterback, not having Urban Meyer and losing nine players to the NFL draft.
Is this Michigan's best shot at finally topping their archrival? On paper, perhaps. But this is a hurdle that the Wolverines have continually failed to jump past which has kept them out of the CFP conversation.
3. Key contributors lost on defense too much to overcome
Michigan has shown the ability to withstand losses on defense in recent years as we mentioned above, and the recent string of success on the recruiting trail should help avoid any major drop-off. But losing your top two pass rushers, one of the best middle linebackers in program history, and your best cover corner in one offseason is nothing to scoff at. Aside from the on-field production, Michigan also loses a tremendous amount of leadership in Winovich and Bush that is difficult to replicate. A minor regression would not surprise anyone.
Athlon ranked Michigan as the preseason favorites within the conference. The Big Ten writers did the same. But at this point, the Wolverines have given us very little proof that they will rise to the occasion on the biggest stages when the lights are brightest.
Could 2019 be different? Recent history is not on their side. Best to err on the side of caution and say the Wolverines will not make the College Football Playoff.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 4
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 12-1 (8-1 Big Ten)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5
5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5
— 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.