Preview 2017: Michigan Wolverines
Previewing and looking ahead at the Michigan Wolverines season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Michigan Offense
Almost perfectly balanced last season – with 213 rushing yards and 212 yards passing per game – the offense scored 40 points per game with an efficient, occasionally explosive attack. Now it needs to replace a whole slew of the playmakers who made it all happen.
The basics are solid, though, and the rest of the pieces should fill in fast.
It starts by having a veteran quarterback in Wilton Speight, who’s good enough to be in the NFL right now, but now is the key leader to make all the young parts better. If you’re going to have one settled area, of course, this is it – the Wolverines are going to be just fine here.
Unfortunately, the top three receivers are done with almost all of the top-end production gone. There’s talent, but it’s all really, really young. Star recruits Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones could rock right away, while Eddie McDoom has the game to go along with the name – it’ll be trial by fire.
Leading rusher De’Veon Smith might be gone, but tough-scoring FB Khalid Hill is back, and there should be an excellent rotation with Chris Evans leading a four-headed monster working behind a strong, versatile line.
Biggest Key To The Michigan Offense
The receivers have to play up to their recruiting snuff. If Peoples-Jones wasn’t everyone’s No. 1 receiver prospect, he was in the top three, while Black, Nico Collins, and Oliver Martin would each be star-of-the-class level receiver gets for just about any other class.
This is coming off a good haul of receivers that came in from the 2016 class, and with a few other good prospects already in place. But as good as this group is and should be, it still has to be instantly as good as Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and TE Jake Butt if Michigan is going to realistically be in the Big Ten title chase.
What You Need To Know About The Michigan Defense
This should be fun. The Wolverines have to replace 11 of the top 13 tacklers from the nation’s No. 1 defense – no biggie.
How sound is the system and how good is the coaching? Like everywhere else on the 2017 team, there’s unquestioned skill and talent, but how quickly can everyone start playing like they’re eventually supposed to?
The line is a good place to start, with Maurice Hurst among the top senior NFL defensive tackle prospects, and last year’s top recruit Rashan Gary now about to get a full-time gig after rotating in last year.
Linebacker is more of a concern with Mike McCray a decent veteran with a whole lot of uncertainty around him. Forget about replacing Jabrill Peppers and everything he was able to do, but losing Ben Gedeon is going to be a problem, too.
It’ll be an open casting call at corner with several options still getting a shot late this summer to rise up and take over, while it’ll take a rotation to make up for the inexperience at safety.
Biggest Key To The Michigan Defense
The secondary just has to survive. All 13 of last year’s interceptions are gone. Jourdan Lewis, Delano Hill, Channing Stribling and Dymonte Thomas all all-stars who have to be replaced – that’s not going to be as easy as simply hoping the several-star recruits can be great right away.
However, Florida won’t be able to throw all that well in the opener. Michigan can’t lose to Cincinnati and Air Force because of their passing games, and while Purdue will start winging it, and Michigan State will be able to push the ball a bit more, it’s not like Texas Tech and Washington State are on the schedule over the first half of the season.
There’s time for the secondary to get its feet wet.
The run defense will be fantastic again, and all the new guys in the secondary will have to do is survive until they have to deal with Indiana and Penn State. Those are the only teams that can do damage through the air until the Ohio State game to close things out. By that time, the defensive backs will be all grown up.
Michigan Will Be Far Better If …
It lives up to several cliches pieced together at once. Go ahead, crank up the “no one believes in us” line. Get ready for the “too young to know any better” rhetoric.
Yeah, it’ll be “us against the world” when it comes to several big games. But for a young team full of new starters in massive roles just about everywhere, this type of motivational poster stuff might be just what it needs – along with using the word disrespect a whole lot.
There’s no denying the skill. Harbaugh has recruited well enough, he has a veteran quarterback to lead the newbies, and most of the new starters saw enough time throughout last season to be ready. It’s just a question of how quickly everyone can get there. Next year this might be the nation’s No. 1 team considering everyone who’ll be back, but the 2017 version needs to mature first.
It’s going to be good enough to beat Florida. It’ll be strong enough and talented enough to beat Penn State and Wisconsin on the road, and should be mature enough by the end of the season to handle Ohio State. Now it has to do it.
Best Michigan Offensive Player
QB Wilton Speight, Sr. – Where is he going to fall in the pecking order of NFL quarterback prospects? While he’s hardly a sleeper in the process, few already-on-the-radar QBs can go from good to franchise-level faster, depending on how he does cranking up the offense with so many new starting receivers.
There’s no questioning the 6-6, 243-pounder’s arm strength, next-level size, or his downfield passing skills – but now he can’t have any weeks off. He made his share of big plays, but he also did a whole lot of drinking and dunking while struggling in the critical final stretch.
He struggled in the loss at Iowa, threw two massive picks in the loss to Ohio State, and failed to do much of anything down the field against Florida State. There’s no room to be inconsistent this season – he has to be around 65% each and every weekend, and he can’t throw the big picks to put the young defense in bad situations. By the way, Florida is coming up first on the slate.
2. OT/C Mason Cole, Sr.
3. FB Khalid Hill, Sr.
4. RB Chris Evans, Soph.
5. C Patrick Kugler, Sr.
Best Michigan Defensive Player
DE Rashan Gary, Soph. – Maurice Hurst might be the team’s best player going into the season, but in terms of talent and upside, it’s Gary. Whether he plays inside or out, the nation’s No. 1 recruit two years ago has to play up to the hype – now.
Last year he was able to work his way into a rotation up front as a key reserve. The starting gig is his now, and the 6-5, 287-pounder has to be a force in the backfield to make up for the loss of Taco Charlton, along with the other key parts.
There were signs of being special at times with 24 tackles, a sack and five tackles for loss, but now the line is his to dominate. There’s no questioning his talent, but the faster he produces at an all-star, top-recruit level, the better.
2. DT Maurice Hurst, Sr.
3. DE Chase Winovich, Jr.
4. LB Mike McCray, Sr.
5. LB Devin Bush, RFr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Wilton Speight, Sr. – With so many stars gone on both sides and so many new, young parts waiting to show what they can do, Speight has to be a leader who makes everyone better. He’ll get the time to work behind a strong line, and there’s plenty of talent around him, but he has to be the conductor.
He has to be the one who uses his experience and fringe-NFL talent to be fantastic. It won’t be just about bombing away down the field. It’ll be up to him to hit the key third down throws, limit mistakes, and do everything else needed to take over games. Eventually, everyone will get up to speed and all should be fine. Until then, he’s got to take charge and be the reason the team wins.
The Michigan Season Will Be A Success If …
The Wolverines win the Big Ten East. Who cares about all the personnel turnover? So what that the division is nasty and the showdowns against the West are tough? Penn State is good again, Ohio State is Ohio State, and Michigan State won’t be nearly as bad? Whatever.
In the third year under Harbaugh, nothing else matters – win the Big Ten East, and take the conference championship, too, while you’re at it. This is supposed to be a reloading program now, not a rebuild, but that all starts by pulling off a huge win …
Key Game To The Michigan Season
Sept. 2 vs. Florida (in Arlington) – In terms of what Michigan might be dreaming of, is the road game at Penn State bigger, or will the Ohio State showdown be more important for the Big Ten race? How about the home date against Michigan State, or even the interdivisional road test at Wisconsin? They’re all going to be vital, but it would be nice to have a buffer. Beat the Gators, and that’ll bring the CFP cred needed to carry the rest of the way.
If everything works out, Michigan gets through the Big Ten season with just one loss. That’s not that big a deal if there’s a solid victory over Florida on the resume – see Ohio State over Oklahoma last year.
Attitude might mean everything considering just about everyone needs to be replaced. Beat Florida in AT&T Stadium in a battle the Gators need for almost the exact same reasons – they need the momentum off a big start, too – and the perception of what might be possible changes in a hurry.
2016 Michigan Fun Stats
– 1st Half Scoring: Michigan 293 – Opponents 80
– Rushing TDs: Michigan 41 – Opponents 9
– Red Zone Scores: Michigan 62-of-68 (91%) – Opponents 20-of-28 (71%)