For Michigan, expectations don’t change.
The Wolverines have put together a five-year run of sustained success under coach Jim Harbaugh, going 47-18 with annual New Year’s Day bowl appearances.
But getting past Ohio State has been the stumbling block for the Wolverines during the Harbaugh era. Michigan is 0-5 against the rival Buckeyes since Harbaugh took over in 2015. As a result, Michigan is still seeking its first Big Ten championship under Harbaugh and first conference title since sharing the crown with Iowa in 2004.
Michigan returns just four starters on offense, but there is hope second-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis can build off the success the Wolverines showed moving the ball in the second half of last season. Michigan averaged 34.8 points over its last six games.
The Wolverines return their top two receivers — Ronnie Bell (48 catches, 758 yards, one TD) and Nico Collins (37 catches, 729 yards, seven TDs) — and top two running backs — Zach Charbonnet (149 carries, 726 yards, 11 TDs) and Hassan Haskins (121 carries, 622 yards, four TDs) – but need to find a quarterback to replace departed senior Shea Patterson. Senior Dylan McCaffery and junior Joe Milton will battle for the starting quarterback job in camp. McCaffery is the more mobile option, while Milton has the stronger arm.
“We didn’t have spring ball, but through the virtual meetings, the virtual workouts, doing the right things, it’s very important to them,” Harbaugh told the Toledo Blade, when asked about the quarterback competition. “The upcoming season, they’re training and being good leaders on the team for the other guys, as well. So they’re excited about the opportunity this year.”
Defensively, the Wolverines return six starters, including standout defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles in 2019), emerging linebacker Cameron McGrone (65 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) and preseason All-Big Ten cornerback Ambry Thomas (seven pass breakups, three interceptions).
Here’s an early look at Michigan heading into the 2020 season:
WHAT THEY LOST
Patterson finished his up-and-down career passing for 3,061 yards with 23 TDs and eight interceptions as a senior in 2019. Two-time, All-Big Ten cornerback Lavert Hill, who posted two career interceptions and 20 pass breakups, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Ben Brederson, a four-year starter on the offensive line at guard, was taken in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens. Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (34 catches, 438 yards, six TDs) ranked second on the team in receiving TDs while also returning punts.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
Incoming freshman linebacker Kalel Mullings has a chance to contribute right away in defensive coordinator Don Brown’s attacking scheme. Incoming freshman safety R.J. Moten is a strong all-around athlete who will provide depth in the secondary. William Mohan, an incoming freshman, likely will contribute on defense as well as a hybrid linebacker-defensive back.
PROSPECTS FOR 2020
Michigan has enough firepower returning to be potent on offense again in 2020, but a consistent quarterback must emerge in camp. Turnovers (20) were another issue offensively the Wolverines must fix. Michigan fumbled the ball 1.85 times per game in 2019, ranking 125th out of 130 teams nationally. The defense should be solid again, but, as always, success will be judged based on whether the Wolverines can slow down Ohio State. Michigan has allowed an average of 59 points in its last two meetings against the Buckeyes. That must change in order for the Wolverines to achieve their goals of knocking off their bitter rivals and winning a Big Ten title.