Michigan Wolverines 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#5 Michigan Wolverines
Big Ten East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jim Harbaugh, 10-3 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Drevno | DEF. COORDINATOR: Don Brown
Jim Harbaugh has Michigan back among the nation’s best, and the Wolverines should be in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2016. Road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State will determine just how high Michigan climbs in rankings, but the pieces are in place for a run at the Big Ten title. While a new quarterback must emerge to replace Jake Rudock, the supporting cast is strong with four returning starters on the line and one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps. New coordinator Don Brown inherits six starters from a defense that limited opponents to 16.4 points a game in 2015.
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Previewing Michigan’s Offense
For the first time since 2013, the bulk of Michigan’s returners on offense are playing in the same system for a second year in a row. Head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno aren’t installing major parts of the team’s pro-style offense. Instead, they’re fine-tuning it. However, the Wolverines are faced with the same major question they were a year ago at this time: Who’s the quarterback?
Jake Rudock set career highs in every major passing category last year under Harbaugh (3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns, 64 percent completion rate). But now, Rudock’s gone and Harbaugh (along with quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch) is tasked with breaking in a new signal caller. Houston transfer John O’Korn is the presumed frontrunner, but he will find himself in a tight race with sophomore Wilton Speight and junior Shane Morris in preseason camp.
O’Korn has thrown 34 touchdowns as a college quarterback. The rest of Michigan’s scholarship passers have combined to throw one.
The good news here? Michigan’s eventual starting quarterback will have the benefit of throwing to three very experienced targets. All-America tight end Jake Butt, All-Big Ten receiver Jehu Chesson and fifth-year senior Amara Darboh are all back. A year ago, those three combined for 159 catches, 2,145 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Up front, Michigan returns four of its five starting offensive linemen but will be playing with a twist this year. Starting left tackle Mason Cole has moved inside to center as a replacement for the departed Graham Glasgow, pushing sophomore Grant Newsome into the first five as the team’s blindside tackle. Michigan will look to improve on what, statistically, was a pedestrian run game a year ago (158.2 ypg).
Previewing Michigan’s Defense
Michigan will have a new look on defense this season after defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin left to run Maryland’s program in December. Harbaugh then hired Don Brown — the architect of the country’s No. 1 overall defense last season — away from Boston College.
Brown will inherit plenty of returning talent from Michigan’s top-five defense from 2015. All-America corner Jourdan Lewis and All-America rover Jabrill Peppers are back — though the latter will have a new role. After playing mainly as a nickel/safety last season, Peppers will occupy Brown’s hybrid strong-side linebacker position in 2016. Brown’s defense relies heavily on pressure and blitzes and will place Peppers — the team’s best athlete — in the box with hopes of creating more havoc in opposing backfields.
The Wolverines lost defensive tackle Willie Henry to the NFL Draft, but senior ends Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley (12 combined sacks) are back, as are tackles Ryan Glasgow and Maurice Hurst. Bryan Mone, who missed last season with a broken leg, will return as well. The Wolverines will get a huge boost up front this fall from incoming freshman Rashan Gary — the country’s top-ranked recruit.
Previewing Michigan’s Specialists
The Wolverines return starting placekicker Kenny Allen (18-of-22 last season) but lose punter Blake O’Neill. Allen may end up handling all of the team’s kicking duties this season, unless incoming freshman Quinn Nordin can win one of the three jobs. The team’s return game should still be in great hands. Peppers averaged 11.4 yards per punt return last season, while Lewis was second in the Big Ten with 25.2 yards per kick return.
The Wolverines were one fumbled punt snap against Michigan State away from being in the College Football Playoff conversation last November. If Harbaugh can work his magic on another quarterback once again, this team has the goods to push Ohio State for the Big Ten East Division championship and a shot at this year’s CFP.