Year three of the Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor will officially be underway in less than a month. After back-to-back 10-3 seasons, a vast majority of analysts, reporters, and fans have developed an assumption that Michigan will regress due to a heavy loss of talent to the NFL draft, and to seniors’ eligibility expiring.
Michigan will be the least experienced team returning in any college football power-5 conference, only returning 5 starters total (4 offense, 1 defense). Most preseason polls keep the Wolverines either in, or near the top ten; after losing 3 out of the final 4 games of 2016, losing over 40 seniors (11 NFL draft picks), the sole reason people are speaking so highly of Michigan in these polls is solely due to Jim Harbaugh: people respect him, and understand that he’s a helluva football coach.
The Wolverines’ schedule is no cake walk in 2017, taking on four heavy hitters in Florida, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State (two on the road, one neutral, one @ home). Road struggles defined the collapse of Michigan’s 2016-17 campaign, and you have to imagine that they’re hoping for a very different outcome for this season.
WEEK ONE: Saturday, September 2nd (vs. Florida)
Jim Harbaugh & Jim McElwain’s 2nd meeting, and let’s just go ahead with saying that the first meeting was a tad lopsided. The funny thing about this particular matchup is that both of these teams are arguably two of the biggest question marks entering the season, mostly because nobody knows if either team can be a true contender or not. It’s either a blessing or a curse for Michigan’s youthful, inexperienced roster for them to be thrown into the national spotlight in week one.
Florida’s offense adds ex-Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire, and he is expected to be the starter. Zaire gets the golden opportunity to test out Michigan’s brand new secondary, and unless Michigan’s hyped up front seven is able to lay down the pressure, the Gator QB might be able to have a field day with this youthful defensive backfield.
Michigan’s offensive potential is huge, if you were to ask me: Wilton Speight is the starter, plain & simple, no question. An experienced, healthy, Speight is good news for this young receiving core featuring Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, etc. Florida’s defense, like Michigan’s, lost some big names to the draft, and now look to serve their talented youth. Maurice Hurst, Michigan Senior d-tackle, took to the media in saying that Michigan’s offensive line is the “most improved unit”, which is very good news considering how subpar Speight’s protection was a season ago.
Like most games, the team that makes the fewer mistakes will win this game very easily. In other words: this is the type of game where coaching will serve a monumental role in the outcome, and if it’s ever a game of coaching between Harbaugh & McElwain, you’d better believe that I will take Harbaugh every time.
28-17 Michigan starts 1-0.
WEEK TWO: Saturday, September 9th (vs. Cincinnati)
The home opener is always a highly anticipated game, which never fails to fill up the Big House. Returning home after a big signature win on a national stage, this young team will have nothing but confidence. Luke Fickell will likely be leaving Ann Arbor with an 0-2 record as a head coach against the Wolverines.
This Bearcats team has a newfound energy, and is currently undergoing a culture change for the better under Fickell, but it will not be enough to take down Jim Harbaugh’s team in the Big House.
31-10 Michigan is 2-0.
WEEK THREE: Saturday, September 16th (vs. Air Force)
Air Force came to Ann Arbor back in 2013, and gave Michigan fans a scare when they were able to take Brady Hoke’s Wolverines to the wire. The offensive attack that the Falcons feature can be very dangerous if you let your team lets their guard down. This is definitely a game that Michigan should be able to win easily, but not a game to look past, and to prepare for any differently.
45-14 Michigan is 3-0, comfortably in the top ten.
WEEK FOUR: Saturday, September 24th (@ Purdue)
Conference opener, first true road game. Short and sweet: let’s just say that Purdue is better than Rutgers, fair?
56-7 Michigan is 4-0, 1-0 in conference play.
WEEK FIVE: BYE WEEK
The longest week of football season for Michigan fans. Extra week of preparation before they take on their in-state rival.
WEEK SIX: Saturday, October 7th (vs. MSU)
Michigan is expected to be a heavy favorite going into this rivalry game. After a 3-9 season, rape investigations, and a not-so-impressive recruiting class, people aren’t giving Mark Dantonio’s once playoff bound program any love. It’s been going downhill for the Spartans, and there has been zero reason to believe things will get any better. However this game will be competitive to an extent, Mark Dantonio has yet to lose in this rivalry by more than two possessions, he understands the importance of this game, and not a lot of people want to win it more than he does.
35-21 Michigan is 5-0 overall, 2-0 conference.
WEEK SEVEN: Saturday, October 14th (@ Indiana)
The Hoosier’s new head coach Tom Allen looks to take this program in the right direction, but a program like Indiana usually doesn’t respond well to a transition season like this one. Home-field advantage can only help out so much in against a bigger school like Michigan. These schools have had a trend in recent history of keeping it tight, and putting on a show for the fans, ending in the same outcome annually though.
Very important for Michigan to stay focused, and not look ahead to the big game one week after.
34-13 Michigan is 6-0 overall, 3-0 conference.
WEEK EIGHT: Saturday, October 21st (@ Penn State)
Prime time white-out in Happy Valley, scary situation, and it never sounds appealing to any team. After James Franklin’s banged up, early season, Penn State team was routed in the Big House in 2016, they ran the regular season table, won the Big Ten, and lost the Rose Bowl. By week eight of this season, Michigan’s underclassmen should be in mid-season form at full swing. Franklin is 0-3 against Michigan, and you have to imagine that he has the Wolverines right where he wants them this season.
Saquon Barkley is Penn State’s big man on campus this season, and many are projecting him to be a Heisman Trophy finalist. Despite a quiet day in Ann Arbor last season (15 carries, 59 yds), Barkley was a mere 4 yards shy of cracking 1,500 yards, 5.5 YPC, and 18 scores on the year. #26 is the X-factor in every big game for PSU this season, and if he’s not playing well, then that’s bad news for Penn State. This will be as true of a test as it can get for Michigan’s front seven, and if you ask me: they will impress you.
The maize n’ blue offense will be lining up against a very different defense rather than the one that Penn State brought to town last season, however the linebacker depth still runs thin on this roster. At this point in this season, Michigan should be averaging a little over 30 points a game, and I do not see that trend continuing for this one.
I see Penn State with a two possession lead headed into the 4th quarter. Wilton Speight nearly leads a late, comeback win, but falls a possession short of the big win on the road.
27-24 Michigan falls to 6-1 overall, 3-1 conference.
WEEK NINE: Saturday, October 28th (vs. Rutgers)
Rutgers has ways to go before they’ll be able to compete in the Big Ten conference. Perfect week to beat up on a bad team, and build some confidence moving forward to November.
63-7 Michigan is 7-1 overall, 4-1 conference.
WEEK TEN: Saturday, November 4th (vs. Minnesota)
P.J. Fleck has a lot on his plate at Minnesota for year one, whether it’s his quarterback, his offensive line, his secondary, you name it. He’s just looking to establish his program, they won’t be ready to come to Ann Arbor. Michigan wins by a large margin, keeps the Little Brown Jug. Harbaugh & P.J. Fleck share some sort of light hearted, verbal exchange that’ll make a headline, just a fun prediction that is more likely than you’d think.
38-14 Michigan is 8-1 overall, 4-1 conference.
WEEK ELEVEN: Saturday, November 11th (@ Maryland)
Jim Harbaugh’s former defensive coordinator has been doing an exceptional job on the recruiting trail, and in establishing a winning mindset going into his 2nd season as the head coach of Maryland. DJ Durkin & company didn’t exactly impress in the Big House a season ago after they left Ann Arbor without scoring a touchdown.
The Terps’ 2016-17 campaign went better than some expected, and they don the talent to showcase a solid, talented, defensive unit this season. I believe this Maryland team has a potential to make some plays, and give Michigan a nail-biter in the first half on their home turf, but in the long run: I see the maize and blue pull away to win by at least 3 or more possessions.
42-24 Michigan is 9-1 overall, 5-1 conference.
WEEK TWELVE: Saturday, November 18th (@ Wisconsin)
This looks like a game for the playoff committee to keep a close eye on; I have Michigan with one loss going into this, and I see Wisconsin potentially going into this unbeaten, given that they’re able to take down Nebraska on the road.
The 14-7 final score of last season’s meeting between the teams truly doesn’t do it justice. Michigan dominated the game in the trenches, Wisconsin couldn’t get first downs, but the Wolverines simply had a what you could call a dysfunctional kicking game (missed 3 very kickable field goals).
This is a game for Wilton Speight to prove that he can be of use in the clutch, up to this point he’s had zero ‘down to the wire’ wins against any team of quality talent. I see another low-scoring defensive slug fest that will be taken to overtime. I feel as though the Badger offense lacks the competence to be able to keep up with a superb, talented, defensive roster like Michigan’s in an overtime situation like this one. Michigan will survive, and take down a top ten Wisconsin team for the 2nd season in a row; Harbaugh gets his first signature win on the road as Michigan’s head coach.
24-20 Michigan is 10-1 overall, 6-1 conference.
WEEK THIRTEEN: Saturday, November 25th (vs. Ohio State)
Here’s the game that the fan base has been clamoring for ever since J.T. Barrett converted the double overtime, controversial, 4th down conversion. I have both teams going into this game in a spot worthy of cracking a trip to Indy for the Big Ten Championship game, and very possibly the CFB playoffs. Worth noting that I have Ohio State handling Penn State at home very easily, thus putting Michigan in a position of controlling their own destiny with a victory in “The Game”.
Jim Harbaugh, and the rest of this Michigan team have an unresolved, bad taste in their mouths from what happened in the horseshoe in last year’s game. Home-field advantage didn’t serve Harbaugh’s first Michigan team very well in 2015 after getting routed 42-13.
The Buckeyes are expected to be, and likely will be the popular favorite almost unanimously in my personal opinion, but why wouldn’t they be? Michigan has only beaten their archrival a singular time since 2003. Urban Meyer’s playoff bound team from a season ago is returning a gruesome amount of top-tier talent, just look at the recruiting classes.
This game will be two great teams, two great coaches, throwing heavy punches at one another, in other words they’ll both be playing their best brands of football. In the first half I believe that the Buckeye rushing attack featuring J.T. Barrett, and Mike Weber will make Michigan’s top front seven look silly, but the second half will be a different story after certain halftime adjustments. Speight will be playing sharp with his home crowd behind him, little to no mistakes, getting help from his young receivers, and veteran Grant Perry, all making plays.
Michigan kicks a late, game winning, field goal, and they snap the losing streak, the underclassmen show out, and the veterans fight hard for this long-awaited victory over a very, talented Ohio State football team.
My hot take is one that will make me appear biased, and delusional, so please allow me to explain: a Jim Harbaugh football team defying statistical odds is not a far-fetched thing by any means considering it’s happened before. By this final regular season game, inexperience isn’t huge, the young guys have gotten their fill, and are in full-go. I simply see this as a Michigan team that displays plenty of upside potential, and I compare them to that sophomore studded 2014-15 Ohio State football team that was supposed to be ‘a year away’ from winning the big one. There’s plenty more motivation for Michigan to win this, rather than Ohio State, who has dominated 21st century of the rivalry, and it hasn’t even been close.
34-31 Michigan is 11-1 overall, 7-1 conference, and is headed to Indianapolis.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK: Saturday, December 2nd (vs. Wisconsin)
Two weeks after the overtime thriller that delivered Wisconsin their one & only loss on the season, they will receive their shot for redemption, and both teams will be playing for their first CFB playoff berth. Michigan will be not only be playing in their first Big Ten title game, but for their first conference title since ’04.
There isn’t much to say about what I think will happen in this rematch game, I’ll put it this way: Jim Harbaugh & his coaching staff are a top five staff in America college or pro. They are smart, football minds, and they know exactly what they’re doing. When you’ve played a team already earlier in the same season, you know exactly what to expect, what to prepare for, what works, what doesn’t work, how to stop what, their strengths, and their weaknesses. That is not in any way a shot at Paul Chryst’s staff, and program, clearly they’ve been successful in what they’re doing. There just aren’t a lot of football programs in the nation that feature as many years of professional experience as Michigan does.
35-21 Michigan finishes the regular season 12-1 overall, 8-1 in conference play. Big Ten Champions, and taking their first trip to the CFB playoffs.
SUGAR BOWL PLAYOFF SEMIFINALS: New Year’s Day (vs. #1. Alabama)
Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan team have exceeded everyone’s expectations, and made it to their first playoff ranked at #4. My final four is Bama, USC, FSU, and Michigan.
I believe this big game between the two big name schools won’t exactly go how it went in 2012, but a very similar result may occur. Michigan will be able to keep it close going into the half, they’ll keep it within a score or two, and may even be able to keep it close headed into the fourth quarter. Nick Saban’s experienced team is able to pull away from Michigan, and take care of them quite easily by two scores.
31-20 Michigan finishes their season at 12-2 overall, 8-1 conference. Jim Harbaugh is now 32-8 at Michigan in just three seasons, and will be a bigger favorite for the national title come 2018-19.
At a first thought, I honestly did not think that Michigan was capable of cracking the playoffs, then I took an in-depth look at their schedule, the possibilities, and potential scenarios that can very well go down. I really don’t believe that I’m going out on a limb in making a prediction like this one, but yes it is bolder than most predictions will state. This is just my opinion, and it doesn’t have to be yours — I look at how good of a developmental, experienced coaching staff Michigan has, and how much talent has been flooding into Ann Arbor. This also comes down to if Michigan can find a way to overcome his team’s road struggles.