Michigan enters the 2022 season with plenty of question marks.
Chief among them, of course, has to do with whether Jim Harbaugh's team can reprise last season's improbable magic act, which included a long-awaited victory over Ohio State, a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff berth.
There were a lot of hurdles cleared last fall.
But with a pair of super-talented edge rushers gone and some holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, what can the Wolverines muster for a sequel?
Previewing Michigan's Offense for 2022
This unit is posed to be highly productive again this fall, whether Cade McNamara wins the starting quarterback job again or J.J. McCarthy gets the nod. Either player is capable (and it's very possible we'll see some of both), and the starter will have plenty of weapons around him to execute Michigan's plan under new coordinators Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore, in for the departed Josh Gattis (hired by Mario Cristobal at Miami). McNamara gives the Wolverines a proven leader, one who can operate the offense efficiently and win games. McCarthy, who was sidelined much of spring with a shoulder injury, has the stronger arm and greater playmaking ability.
While the Wolverines lose two starters along their Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, there are many familiar faces returning up front. Two-year starting left tackle Ryan Hayes is back, as is the experienced Zak Zinter at right guard, while Trevor Keegan will finally get his shot at left guard. Sixth-year graduate transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi, a Rimington Trophy finalist last year, is expected to anchor the group at center. As long as they can stay healthy, don't expect much (if any) drop-off from this group.
In the backfield, running back Blake Corum returns after falling just short of 1,000 yards rushing last fall. He was hampered by a high-ankle sprain down the stretch, limiting his carries and impact. But he's expected to get the bulk of the carries. Donovan Edwards will also see plenty of action.
Outside, Michigan gets its top receiver back in Ronnie Bell, who was sidelined with an ACL injury in Week 1 last season. He brings plenty of experience to the receiver room, a fairly young and inexperienced group led by Cornelius Johnson (40 catches, 627 yards, three TDs). Mike Sainristil, Andrel Anthony and Roman Wilson will be called upon to step up, in addition to a trio of freshmen wideouts whom the Michigan coaching staff really, really likes.
Previewing Michigan's Defense for 2022
Michigan has its third defensive coordinator in as many years in Jesse Minter, who takes over for the departed Mike Macdonald, now the defensive coordinator for Harbaugh's brother John with the Baltimore Ravens. And while there's a new coordinator in town, Minter is calling this "Year 2" of the scheme. Expect more odd-man fronts, foreign blitz concepts and dime packages in the backfield. This year, however, the personnel is a bit different. Michigan must replace Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson and All-Big Ten edge rusher David Ojabo, and the Wolverines will turn to a trio of players on the outside (Mike Morris, Taylor Upshaw, Jaylen Harrell) for production, along with some help inside. Look for plenty of rotations early to find the best combinations, a tall task compared to a year ago when the coaching staff knew precisely what it had. This year, the front is thin inside and inexperienced on the edge.
It's a different story at linebacker, where Junior Colson and Nikhai Hill-Green both saw extensive playing time last fall and are expected to slide into starting roles. Colson has been the talk of the staff for two years now and will be a player to watch.
The backfield must replace three starters, including do-it-all safety Daxton Hill, but it appears to have found an answer at nickel with converted receiver Mike Sainristil. DJ Turner and Gemon Green are front-runners to start at corner, while two underclassmen (Rod Moore, R.J. Moten) are ready to step in at safety after learning on the job in 2021.
Previewing Michigan's Specialists for 2022
Special teams was another strength for Michigan last year, and kicker Jake Moody and punter Brad Robbins are both back for one more season. The only question with this group pertains to returns. A.J. Henning handled punt-return duties after Ronnie Bell was sidelined due to injury, while Blake Corum fielded a bulk of the kick returns. Don't be shocked to see Bell back there again, with someone new handling kickoffs (Anthony and Wilson are potential candidates) so Corum, the team's No. 1 back, doesn't take any extra punishment.
Michigan should be much more explosive throwing the football this year, which is important because the offense will be leaned on to carry the team while the defense breaks in new pieces. They have the talent and depth up front, playmakers at running back and receiver and the winning pedigree at quarterback to make it work.
But a thin defensive line remains the Wolverines' biggest liability, and an injury could spell trouble.
Luckily for Michigan, there's enough talent in the middle and on the back end to remain competitive in Big Ten play, where the Wolverines host key opponents Michigan State and Penn State and travel to Iowa for their toughest crossover game of the season. A 4-0 start to the season is likely, setting the stage for another run in the Big Ten East.
National Ranking: 6
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