TAMPA, Fla. — It’s might be difficult to muster some optimism for Michigan in the wake of the 26-19 loss Monday to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. But here are five reasons to be optimistic for the Wolverines in 2018.
Another quarterback competition
Every year, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh makes his quarterback competition into a game of sorts — he takes two or three quarterbacks, has them compete for the starting job through the course of August, and then doesn’t announce his No. 1 quarterback until right before Michigan’s first snap in its season opener.
He’ll do it again this year with incoming transfer Shea Patterson, redshirt sophomore-to-be Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey, who will be a redshirt freshman this fall. Much hinges upon Patterson’s eligibility, which will likely be determined in the next few weeks, but Michigan will have no shortage of options, including Peters, who looks to build off his four starts in 2017.
“This will light a fire under me,” Peters said after the Outback Bowl. “Just take everything that’s happened this year and learn from it and just take it into next year. And be better.”
Older, more experienced wide receivers
Remember all those dropped balls, those passes that were a little too far out of reach and those routes that couldn’t be completed? Michigan’s receivers remember those, too — and almost all of them will return. So will tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry.
Grant Perry will return as a senior, Kekoa Crawford as a junior, and Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black as sophomores. Nico Collins and Oliver Martin should also factor into the 2018 receiving corps; Collins had 2 catches for 15 yards against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
Black (11 catches for 149 yards, one TD) sustained a broken bone in his foot in September and missed all but three games. Michigan plans to pursue a medical redshirt for Black this season.
New blue blood
Michigan started welcoming its 2018 class this week; early enrollees Joe Milton and Taylor Upshaw moved in this weekend, while Myles Sims will join the program after the Under Armour All-American Game on Thursday.
247Sports currently ranks Michigan’s incoming 2018 class third in the Big Ten and 14th in the nation, and it includes 16 players who signed national letters of intent in December. One thing that stands out about this class is that it’s home-grown. Four of its players are from Michigan: defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (Dearborn Divine Child), tackle Jalen Mayfield (Grand Rapids Catholic Central), tackle Ryan Hayes (Traverse City West) and tight end Ben VanSumeren (Essexville).
A rivalry renewed
A few hours after Michigan’s loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, defensive lineman Michael Dwumfour posted two words on his Twitter account:
— Michael DwumFour (@MikeHoncho_50) January 2, 2018
That’s right. Michigan opens the 2018 season in less than nine months — on Sept. 1 in South Bend, Ind. Michigan will renew its rivalry with Notre Dame for at least the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The Wolverines and the Irish meet after a three-season hiatus, and the season opener will give Michigan a chance to immediately test its wares and its experience against a College Football Playoff Top 25 team.
When we win it all the next couple of years. Watch the fans jump back on the bandwagon
— JKP (@JKellypowell) January 2, 2018
Michigan isn’t just tabbing itself as a College Football Playoff hopeful. Some are already projecting the Wolverines to make a run at the four-team playoff for the second time in three seasons.
Fox Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt put Michigan at No. 3 — two spots ahead of Ohio State, and behind Alabama and Clemson — in his“Way Too Early” Top 10 for 2018.
.@joelklatt's Way (WAY) Too Early Top 10 for 2018 (sponsored by @drpepper)
5. Ohio State
10. MSU pic.twitter.com/NdwcuPOIc1
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 21, 2017
Michigan loses only two starters on one of the nation’s top five defenses: linebacker Mike McCray and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. (Chase Winovich has yet to announce if he will return for his final year of eligibility.) Michigan loses five starters on offense: center Patrick Kugler, left tackle Mason Cole, right tackle Juwann-Bushell Beatty and fullbacks Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi.