It’s almost magazine season, that stretch in mid-to-late May between spring graduation and summer school when college football is low on news and high on rampant speculation.
The first national previews on Michigan are due to hit newsstands soon, although the ones coming this spring might have to be taken with one particular grain of salt. Keep in mind that most reputable mags — Athlon and Lindy’s, primarily, the industry standards — have copy deadlines that passed well before the announcement in late April that Shea Patterson would be eligible to play quarterback for the Wolverines this fall.
Patterson’s not an unknown, or a what-if, anymore. And so former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard and Land of 10 writer-columnist Sean Keeler decided to cash in their Barnes & Noble gift cards and offer up where they think the preseason periodicals ought to slot the Wolverines this fall …
Q: WHERE SHOULD THE PRESEASON MAGAZINES RANK MICHIGAN IN THE BIG TEN EAST?
CHRIS HOWARD: SECOND
According to most publications and college football experts, the Michigan Wolverines have one of the toughest schedules entering the 2018 college football season.
Jim Harbaugh and his team open the season against Notre Dame in South Bend. The last time the Wolverines played in South Bend they got completely dismantled in what would be Brady Hoke’s final season. While there is a lot of hand-wringing by the fan base, I personally see the Wolverines walking away with a much-needed road victory. However, it’s important to not let the outcome of this one game determine the rest of their season — because it only gets tougher from there.
Michigan’s Big Ten regular-season schedule includes three of the toughest teams in the West in Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern. In its own division, Michigan has its annual battles with Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. To make things even more interesting, the Wolverines play Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State consecutively. If you want to do something special, this is the schedule you do it against.
I see a lot of similarities between my 1997 national championship team and this team. Both teams were coming off disappointing seasons and faced difficult schedules. There were questions at quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver. Some questioned the coaches and both defenses were solid. I’m not saying this Michigan team is going to win a national championship, but I am a bit more bullish on where they’ll finish in the Big Ten. There are a few factors for my optimistic point of view:
- The Wolverines return one of the most dominant defenses in the country and, according to Don Brown, this defense could be better than last season’s. Because of this, Michigan will have a chance to win every game. Can the Wolverines get some help from their offense? That’s the question. It’s hard to imagine that the offense this season could be remotely as bad as if was last season. I just can’t see that happening.
- I believe Shea Patterson will be the starting the quarterback vs. Notre Dame. I think he will have earned it because he will have been pushed in a competitive quarterback competition. He will give the Wolverines what they’ve been missing at the position: a confident leader who will take charge of the offense, make the proper reads and not let the moment overwhelm him.
- Quarterback wasn’t the only area offensively that needed an upgrade. With the additions of coaches Ed Warinner and Jim McElwain we should see improvement on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Warinner has come in and simplified things, and from all reports has been a difference-maker. The wide receivers were a disappointment last season. After the loss of Tarik Black, Michigan could never find consistency at the position. There is way too much talent at the position for them not to be successful. I think McElwain will have these guys performing at an extremely high level.
- After watching the Amazon Prime series All or Nothing, you could see on the coaches’ faces that there wasn’t much confidence in the offense last season and it affected the play calling dramatically. Still, it’s this offensive staff’s responsibility to make adjustments to come up with a game plan that allows you to be competitive. Stability, familiarity at the offensive line, wide receiver and quarterback positions should give Pep Hamilton and Jim Harbaugh the confidence they need to run a more effective and efficient offense.
Can this team finish better than third in the Big Ten East? Yes. Michigan was in every game they lost last season except Penn State. Despite the offensive breakdowns at various positions, if they could have gotten above-average quarterback play in each of those losses, Michigan would have won those games.
The offense will be better, and the defense will be just as dominant. Barring a rash of injuries at key positions there is no reason why this team shouldn’t finish better than third in the Big Ten East. I think they break through and could potentially play for their first Big Ten East championship.
Now don’t get me wrong — this is going to be a challenge. And a lot more things need to go right than wrong if this team wants to be successful.