The stage is set for year three of the Jim Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor, and the pressure to win the big one is as heavy as it’s ever been. Most Michigan fans will express the contentment of what Harbaugh has done in two seasons as the head man for the maize & blue, considering the state of the program which he had inherited.
The former San Francisco 49ers coach is 20-6 overall, 13-4 in conference play, and 1-3 in major rivalry games for Michigan. Back-to-back 3rd place finishes in the Big Ten East Division.
Michigan has been suffering through an ongoing conference title drought for over a decade now (since ’04). Not to mention only being able to edge archrival, Ohio State, once since 2003; winless in Columbus since the turn of the century.
If you’re like me, and you try to keep it as real as it gets: you have to wonder when the seat could possibly get hot for Jim Harbaugh. With saying that, I’ll also point out that as I feel like 2016-17 was as disappointing as it can get, coming from a life-long supporter of a Michigan program that has been irrelevant for a vast majority of my young life.
Please do not get me wrong: I still like what I’ve seen from Harbaugh’s program, and it looks promising to only get better from here on out. Judging by the quality of talent he’s bringing to Ann Arbor, the experience of the coaching staff, his track record of success prior to Michigan, it all points to nothing but a good future for this program.
Let’s talk about what we’re working with this season, 2017-18. An experienced upperclassmen quarterback in Wilton Speight, who in my mind is very primed to win the starting job this fall. I truly believe that returning Speight may be the biggest X-factor for this young Wolverines roster, his development into a top Big Ten pocket passer, and a leader for Michigan is more than crucial.
A young receiving core with a mess of potential: Grant Perry (status varies depending on trial in late July), Kekoa Crawford, and Eddie McDoom who both showcased both speed, and stability in emerging into reliable targets for quarterbacks to rely on. Addition of two true freshman expected to see playing time like no one’s business, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Tarik Black.
A considerably disappointing unit for Michigan in 2016-17 was the offensive line, a group that featured experience failed to live up to the hype. Heavily struggling to get a consistent push on Florida State’s defensive front. Look for this unit to rely on a to-be 4 year starter in now-center, Mason Cole, to emerge as the leader of a group. Jim Harbaugh may be forced to rely on one or two of our true freshmen. Protection for Speight is a top concern for this team.
On defense, which finished as the #1 total defense in the nation in 2016-17, will only be returning a singular starter, LB Mike McCray.
While this defense is set to reload talent, the biggest question mark lies in the secondary. Replacing All American CB, Jourdan Lewis, and All Big Ten CB, Channing Stribling is easier said than done. Returning defensive back, Tyree Kinnel, has a healthy amount of experience at safety, likely to be a starter within this unit. Michigan has recruited fairly well, but experience lacks. This unit will be tested this season, and will most definitely be looked at as a vulnerability within this defense.
The linebacker unit features the one & only returning defensive starter, Mike McCray. Devin Bush Jr will be looked at to make a leap for this season, and make his name known within the program. Bringing in a group of four-star recruit linebackers, it seems certain that we’ll get a chance to see playing time for each of them. Khaleke Hudson will be expected to take over the “viper” position on this defense, to replace Heisman finalist, Jabrill Peppers. Viper is a hybrid position for outside linebacker, defensive back, type players, who can lay the big hits, utilize versatility/speed and be utilized at more than one simple position. It’s known to be a very unique position that is used frequently in a defense like Don Brown’s, in other words it takes a skilled ball player to succeed at said position.
Michigan’s defensive line is a unit that will be closely looked at by NFL scouts, and draft experts all season long. Many are quick to say that former #1 overall recruit, Rashan Gary, will be the overall best player for the Wolverines. Look for him to emerge as a force to be reckoned with, quickly. DT, Maurice Hurst, will be a huge contributor to this line, as will DE Chase Winovich, and DT Bryan Mone, who have all seen a good amount of snaps in their careers at Michigan. This is one group that won’t disappoint come fall.
As far as special teams go, Jim Harbaugh will look to his former sleepover pal, Quinn Nordin, to be the team’s kicker. Losing Kenny Allen to running out of eligibility.
Urban Meyer & Ohio State faced a similar situation as far as losing talent to the draft, and to graduation in 2016; ended up overcoming the replacing starters concern & cracking the college football playoffs for the 2nd time. Harbaugh’s path to success in his third year with the program will be one that is earned not given.
Kicking off the season on the big stage in Arlington, Texas in the “Advocare Classic” against a familiar foe in the Florida Gators. Harbaugh & Florida head coach Jim McElwain had previously met in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day last year, let’s just say that Florida would like the outcome of this game to be almost any other way than how the bowl game ended.
Road struggles were what hurt Michigan in 2016-17, losing three of their last four. Traveling to Penn State for a “white out” primetime matchup will be a game circled in red on Michigan’s calender, despite taking down the Big Ten champs 49-10 in 2016, James Franklin’s Nittany Lions are the team to beat.
Traveling to Madison, Wisconsin isn’t something to be worried about, offensive progress for the Badgers seems to be unlikely in my opinion, but you can’t take any game lightly, especially a road game in the Big Ten.
I believe this youthful Michigan team will, at most, have 1-2 losses entering “The Game”, and they will face a similar situation they did a season ago: Beat the Buckeyes, earn the trip to Indy to play in their first Big Ten title game. It is extremely probable that a top ten ranked, well-oiled machine, from Columbus will be coming to Ann Arbor, and be a heavy favorite entering this anticipated final week of the regular season.
How many more seasons can Michigan & Jim Harbaugh fail to not only beat Ohio State, but fall short of a Big Ten title, before we begin to criticize Jim Harbaugh, and his staff? As Michigan fans, we tend to have the highest of expectations for the winningest-program in college football history.
2017 is a HUGE season for Harbaugh’s tenure, and the collapse in November of 2016 is simply something that this fanbase will be unable to stomach if repeated. We don’t need Jim Harbaugh to become the John Cooper for Michigan.
It’s Big Ten title or bust for Michigan, whether you agree or not, it’s time for Harbaugh to put this program on the map, and finally live up to all of this hype. He’s the highest paid coach in college football, time for him to show us why.
10-3, with a 3rd place division finish is fine for now, but 2017 needs to be different.