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Michigan Football: 2021 Team Awards

Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan Wolverines Football

Aidan Hutchinson's monster season helped the Wolverines finally get over the Ohio State hump, win a Big Ten title and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff

Years in the making under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan Wolverines are heading to the College Football Playoff after an incredible 2021 regular season. After some close calls over the years and some relatively down seasons given the expectations for the program, Michigan finally got over their Ohio State hurdle and dominated their way to a Big Ten championship to grab one of the four spots in the playoff.

No matter what happens in the playoff, whether the Wolverines lose in the national semifinal to Georgia or they celebrate a national championship for the first time since 1997 and its first undisputed national championship since 1948, there is plenty of praise to offer all around the program for the 2021 season.

Offensive MVP: Hassan Haskins, RB

Haskins has been steadily improving during his time in Ann Arbor, and he led the charge for the entire offense in 2021. Haskins ended the regular season with 1,288 rushing yards and a Big Ten-leading 20 touchdowns.  Haskins was a big reason for Michigan's success with some of his best games when the Wolverines needed it the most. Haskins rushed for at least 150 yards against Washington, Indiana, Penn State, and Ohio State.

Defensive MVP: Aidan Hutchinson, DE

This was an easy pick this season. Michigan's fierce defensive end was relentless this season against opposing offenses, which is a big reason why Hutchinson finished as the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting to Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. Hutchinson was the perfect embodiment of Michigan's defense this season and he had 15.5 tackles for a loss and a Big Ten-leading 14.0 sacks.

Best Freshman: Junior Colson, LB

Michigan may have gotten a glimpse at a key player in the years to come with Colson making some contributions to the defense this season. He was Michigan's fourth-leading tackler this fall with 56 total tackles, two fewer than Hutchinson.

Best Play of the Season: Erick All's game-winning touchdown at Penn State

You could probably take your pick of highlights in the regular-season finale victory over Ohio State, but the moment that kept Michigan alive in the Big Ten and playoff hunt happened two weeks prior on the road at Penn State. With the Nittany Lions holding a slight lead with under four minutes to play, the Wolverines took the lead for good courtesy of a long touchdown catch by All, who raced uncontested down the right sideline as the Penn State defense let him slip through the cracks in the defense at the best time possible for the Wolverines.

Best Performance (Player): Haskins shreds Buckeyes

Hassan Haskins picked the perfect time to have a career day. With the Big Ten East title on the line against Michigan's nemesis, Ohio State, Haskins rushed for a career-best 169 yards and five touchdowns in Michigan's 42-27 victory. Ohio State had no answers for Haskins and the running back was comfortable putting the game on his shoulders to send Michigan to their first Big Ten Championship Game.

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Best Performance (Team): A big road win at Wisconsin

It is true that Wisconsin started the season off on a rough footing with losses to Penn State and Notre Dame. But the Wolverines made an early statement at the expense of the Badgers. Michigan's defense held Wisconsin to just 210 yards while putting together a solid 38-17 victory in a place that is generally not too easy to win, Camp Randal Stadium in Madison.

Defining Moment: Beating Ohio State

Simply put, Michigan seasons can be defined by whether or not they beat Ohio State. And for the first time under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines got a chance to celebrate a victory against their most hated rival. No matter what happened or happens afterward, the victory over Ohio State was one that will be talked about all season in Michigan.

Biggest Surprise: Cade McNamara finally gives Michigan a QB to work with

McNamara wasn't a player that was about to reset the passing records for Michigan or the Big Ten and beyond, but he turned out to be one of the more significant reasons for the Wolverines' success. McNamara made some key passes and proved to be a reliable decision-maker with 2,470 passing yards and 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions entering the playoff.

Biggest Disappointment: Letting one slip away at Michigan State

The only blemish on Michigan's 2021 schedule came on the road against Michigan State, and it is a game the Wolverines would love to get back if they could. Michigan led the Spartans 30-14 midway through the third quarter but Michigan State rallied with three touchdown drives while only allowing the Wolverines to tack on three more points in the game. Michigan threw all over the Spartans defense with 406 passing yards but the unit came up with some big stops, including a fumble recovery, a turnover on downs and an interception down the stretch.

Senior That Will Be Missed the Most: Josh Ross, LB

It will be incredibly difficult to replace Aidan Hutchinson, but the nod here will go to Ross. He leads Michigan with 95 tackles this season, at least 30 more than any other player on the roster. Ross also led the Wolverines in tackles during the abbreviated 2020 season.

Player to Watch in 2022: Blake Corum, RB

With Hassan Haskins no longer around to carry the ball, Michigan will likely turn to Corum as their main running back in the offense. And he should be ready for the responsibility after rushing for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns of his own this season as a perfect complement to Haskins. Corum should be able to pick up where Haskins will leave off.

Offseason Storyline: Raising the bar in Ann Arbor

Expectations have historically always been high for the Michigan program, but the bar has now officially been raised. A long-awaited Big Ten championship season has seen Michigan clear some difficult hurdles over the years, including topping Ohio State. But now that those have been accomplished, and perhaps more to come in the playoff, how will the Wolverines continue to improve so they can make this success the true norm in Ann Arbor? It will be easy for many to suggest Ohio State will continue to be the team to beat in 2022 when the preseason previews start coming around, but Michigan's formula for success has opened the door a bit in the conference.

Jim Harbaugh managing to keep his staff together will be key as well, especially after the success of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis continues to improve his profile in the coaching ranks.

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, and Like him on Facebook.