The college football season officially begins on Aug. 24, but it's never too early to start thinking about what might transpire this fall. Athlon Sports released its College Football Top 25 Rankings today and the Michigan Wolverines came in at No. 4.
Here's why: Predicting the champion of the Big Ten East Division was one of the toughest picks for Athlon Sports this offseason. A couple of factors swung this debate in favor of Michigan. Urban Meyer retired, the Wolverines have an edge at quarterback with Shea Patterson returning for his senior year, and most importantly, the game is in Ann Arbor this season. Everything is in place for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan to break through and win the division and claim a berth in the CFB Playoff in 2019. That doesn't mean the Wolverines are short on question marks entering this season, however. Harbaugh is handling the play-calling duties to Josh Gattis – a first-time offensive coordinator – and Michigan is planning to go up-tempo and use more spread/RPO looks to utilize Patterson's talent. A healthy Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Mike Sainristil form a deep group of options at receiver and should benefit from the switch in offensive style. The uncertainty surrounding running back Chris Evans' status for 2019 means the Wolverines need former walk-on Tru Wilson, and freshmen Christian Turner (redshirt) and Zach Charbonnet (true) to handle the bulk of the carries this fall. The offensive line showed marked improvement under assistant Ed Warinner in 2018 and could be the best in the Big Ten with four starters back. Michigan's defense allowed 103 points over the final two contests last season and a run to the playoff will require coordinator Don Brown to get this group back on track. The bad news: Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, David Long, Brandon Watson and Tyree Kinnel are gone. That's a lot of talent to replace in one offseason, but the cupboard isn't bare. Kwity Paye, Aidan Hutchinson, Central Michigan transfer Mike Danna and hybrid end/linebacker Josh Uche should keep the pass rush performing at a high level. Josh Ross will get the first opportunity to replace Bush in the middle of the linebacker unit, while this position group would benefit from a bounce-back season by Khaleke Hudson. Lavert Hill is poised to rank among the top corners in the nation, while Ambry Thomas is the favorites to fill the void left behind by Long on the other side. Incoming freshman Daxton Hill is expected to push for a starting job at safety. Trips in Big Ten play to Wisconsin and Penn State are challenging, but Michigan gets three of its biggest games – Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State – in Ann Arbor.
*An important note on Athlon's Top 25 for 2019: This is not a preseason ranking of teams going into the season. Instead, this ranking takes into account where we project teams to finish after the national championship in January. Here are Athlon's projected top 25 teams in college football for 2019.
Check out Athlon's entire College Football Top 25.