Michigan Championship Game Preview and Prediction

March has come and gone and, in the blink of an eye, we’re now in April. The NCAA Men’s championship game is here and the matchup is set.

The game features a 1-seed in Villanova that many picked to get here and many chose to win it all. Their opponent is the 3-seeded Michigan Wolverines, who once sat at 19-7 after a loss to Northwestern in early February.

But that was their most recent loss, U of M is arguably the hottest team in college hoops at the moment. They are on a 14 game winning streak and that has led them to a Big 10 tournament championship and their spot in the championship game tonight. But it will be a mighty tough task if they want to keep that streak alive.

While Michigan might be the hottest team in the country, the team they are facing just may be the best squad in the nation. Villanova is on a ten game winning streak of their own and have annihilated their competition in the tournament. They’ve won every game of the tourney by double-digits, with their smallest margin of victory being 12 against West Virginia and Texas Tech and their biggest margin being 26 against Radford.

Oh, and the Wildcats just might have the best player in college basketball in Jalen Brunson. The AP Player of the Year and Wooden Award finalist has averaged 17.6 points per game in the five game of the tournament. That is slightly under his season average of 19.2, but he is still a fantastic player who is tough to stop.

He also has a teammate, Mikal Bridges, who is most likely a lottery pick in this years NBA draft. He has averaged 14.8 PPG during the tournament, which is also under his season average of 17.6, but these two are a dynamic duo who are tough to contain.

But the Wolverines have a dynamite combination of their own. Moritz Wagner and Charles Matthews have played great during Michigan’s tourney run and are going to be huge keys in this game. Wagner has averaged 14.8 PPG game during the tournament, a little above his 14.6 season average. He also went off in U of M’s Final Four matchup against Loyola-Chicago, and scored 24 points and had 15 rebounds.

But Matthews has been the key cog in the Maize and Blue’s offense all tournament long. He has averaged 16.6 PPG in the five games, which is well above his 13.1 season average. He has played more aggressively and been the spark this offense needs when its leading scorer, Wagner, hasn’t played up to par.

This game is a clash of two teams who are polar opposites. Villanova has been an offensive juggernaut all year and deadly from deep. They’ve averaged 84.8 points per game and they’ve shot 42% from behind the 3-point line during the tournament. That percentage from deep is actually a little better than their already great 40% on the year.

Michigan, on the other hand, has shot poorly from beyond the arc during the tournament. They are shooting an abysmal 31.7% from 3 and that is largely bolstered by a 14-24 showing against Texas A&M. They are also only averaging 70.2 PPG in their five games, which is also inflated thanks to the 99 they scored against A&M.

But John Beilein’s team has prided itself on its defense all year, and that has been the biggest reason they’ve made it this far. Michigan, during its five games in the tourney, has held their opponents to 58.6 PPG and a measly 24% from downtown. They will need to continue this stellar defensive play if they want to stay in this game.

There are also two players, besides Wagner and Matthews, for U of M who need to come up big if they want to come out victorious. Those two guys are Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.

Simpson is the floor general for Michigan’s offense and will need to play better than he did against Loyola. He was scoreless and only had three assists in Saturday’s game. He will need to score, at least a few points, for his team to win this one. Simpson is also the leader of this defense, but he will have a tough task in guarding Brunson. He is used to hounding the opposing point guard and had played great all year on that end, but Brunson will be his hardest matchup by far. Slowing him down may be the key to a U of M victory.

As for MAAR, he will need to be a spark for this offense. He went 2-11 from the field for 7 points against the Ramblers on Saturday. He will need to be a lot more effective against Villanova if he wants to end his Michigan career as a champion.

Now for my prediction. While the betting line in Vegas currently sits anywhere between Nova being favored by 6 and 7, I think this game will be closer than most think. Both teams are talented and can be dangerous from deep. But I think Jay Wright ultimately gets his second championship and the Wildcats win 84-79.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wolverines got hot like they did against Texas A&M and get U of M’s second championship in school history. After all, I predicted this team to get to the Final Four before the tournament started and they exceeded that by reaching the title game.

This team definitely has the talent to leave San Antonio as NCAA champions. Only time will if they will.

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Prediction for Michigan’s NCAA Tournament Journey

Selection Sunday has come and gone. The brackets are made up and teams are either happy, upset, or content with where they were/were not seeded and placed.

The Michigan Wolverines coming off a strong 28-7 record and a Big Ten tournament championship were rewarded with the 3 seed in the West Region. While some may have thought they deserved a 2 seed after reaching number 7 in the AP and Coaches Poll, a 3 seed seems pretty fitting to me.

Their first game will be Thursday night at 9:50 p.m. ET against the Grizzlies of Montana. The Griz received a 14 seed after a 26-7 record and winning the Big Sky tournament.

I’ll go through each round for Michigan and predict whether they will win and advance or lose and head back to Ann Arbor. For the sake of making too many predictions, I will just assume the higher seed will win in Michigan’s potential games.

First Round: Michigan’s first round game, as mentioned earlier, will be against the Montana Grizzlies. While the Grizzlies had a nice season and won the Big Sky, I believe the Wolverines will be a tough matchup and handle them rather easily. Their two leading scorers, Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine, make up the backcourt. Michigan has a dynamic defensive duo in their backcourt, Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, that I think will more than hold their own. Michigan advances with a 76-59 win.

Second Round: Michigan’s second round match-up would come against the Houston Cougars. Houston had a pretty solid season with a 26-6 record and 14-4 in the AAC. They rely heavily on the play of senior guard Rob Gray who averages over 18 points a game. However I think Duncan Robinson and Charles Matthews will carry this squad to a close victory in this one and a second consecutive Sweet 16 berth. Michigan wins 71-65.

Sweet 16: Michigan’s Sweet 16 match-up may be their toughest match-up throughout the entire tournament. They would face the North Carolina Tar Heels, who defeated U of M 86-71 earlier in the season. Michigan was a struggling team back then and hadn’t quite found themselves yet. I think this time around things can and will be different. Zavier Simpson has grown and his battle with Joel Berry II will be a fierce one. I believe Michigan will come out victorious in this one 68-66 and advance to the Elite 8.

Elite 8: The Xavier Musketeers would be the team Michigan would face in the Elite 8 if the seeding held true. They have a high scoring offense and average over 84 points a contest. Senior Trevon Bluiett leads the offensive attack by scoring over 19 points a game. He is a fantastic talent and Michigan will have to work as team to slow this young man down. But I believe the Maize and Blue will come out ready to rock and roll in this one and Moe Wagner will show up and produce a double-double and lead his team to the victory. U of M advances to the Final Four in San Antonio with a 81-74 win.

Because predicting the Final Four match-ups would lead to too much of a guessing game (and picking the highest seed doesn’t seem right as the odds of all the number 1 seeds making it there are highly unlikely) I will just finish up my prediction this way.

I honestly believe this is one of John Beilein’s best teams he’s ever coached and has the potential talent to reach the Final Four. I think when they are on offensively, they can hang with and beat anyone in the country because of the way this team plays on the defensive end. They play as a team and take care of the ball. They also don’t commit many fouls, which will bode well in a one and done style format as well.

Michigan has a legitimate star in Moe Wagner. The others who contribute are no slouches either and they all do their part to lead this team. Simpson, Matthews, Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman have all carried their own weight and had their moments this season. And that also goes without mentioning players such as Isaiah Livers, Jordan Poole and Jon Teske, who have also contributed greatly to this team.

I’ll end with making a final prediction for this squad. I truly believe they will make the Final Four, but will ultimately end up losing to either Virginia or Arizona in their match-up with the South Region winner. Just because I don’t have them winning it all or making it to the championship game, I wouldn’t be shocked if this team did cut the nets down April 2nd.

This team can do it, but will they?

That’s the fun part of March Madness. Everyone thinks they know who will advance, but upsets are awaiting unsuspecting teams and Cinderella’s are waiting to be born.

Let the madness begin.

What does this recruiting class mean for Harbaugh, Michigan?

The 2018 Michigan Football recruiting class was ranked as low as it’s been since the Rich Rodriguez/Brady Hoke transitional period.

This class was ranked at the no. 21 spot nationally according to 247Sports. Third in the Big Ten conference, behind both Ohio State and Penn State.

Four star LB Otis Reese jumped ship on his prior commitment to Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, signed with Georgia instead. The Wolverines were also unable to land primary target five-star OT Nicholas Petit-Frere, as he signed with Ohio State. Missing out on Petit-Frere wasn’t exactly a surprise given recent events leading up to this week.

Ultimately, Michigan wasn’t victorious on national signing day. Harbaugh and his staff were unable to land a third consecutive top ten recruiting class.

If the 8-5 season wasn’t enough of a reality check (which it should be), then look no further. How long can a program continuously fail to win important games, be nationally irrelevant, and still land major recruits?

For years, Michigan has been one of the nation’s easiest recruiting jobs. National exposure, biggest stadium in football, the hype, the tradition, the brand. Kids wanted to come be apart of this rebuild that fans have been waiting on for well over a decade.

Add first year head coach Jim Harbaugh to the equation, runner-up head coach in Super Bowl 47. He’s a celebrity, he dabs, he hangs out with the Migos, he climbs trees, and he’ll even come sleep over at your house.

Appealing for recruits, right? Absolutely, but do you know when that stops being cute? When he goes 1-5 against his chief rivals for his first three seasons, doesn’t finish better than third in his own division, and goes 1-2 in bowl games. Did I mention that Michigan pays Harbaugh $9 million per year?

Look, this post wasn’t intended for Harbaugh criticisms, we can cover that another day. The point I’m getting at: recruits aren’t buying into Harbaugh and Michigan anymore.

Why aren’t they buying into it? Quite simple. They’re realizing that Michigan has been all bark and no bite for quite some time now.

You can sell hope to these kids for so long, but when it becomes a trend to sell hope, obviously results are scarce. Recruits don’t want the preseason top ten ranking, they want a trip to Indy and to win something of national relevance.

I won’t act as if this class was a total failure because Michigan most definitely signed some kids who will contribute significantly. They just lack the heavy hitters, the five stars, the kids you expect to sign with a big name like Michigan. There was not one recruit ranked in the top 100 for this class.

This has been Harbaugh’s quietest offseason yet regarding headlines for Michigan, and I believe that speaks volumes. He’s been humbled by the 8-5 season and understands that he needs to attend to his program.

To regain an upper-edge on the recruiting trail yet again, the formula is easier than you think. It’s not about hiring better recruiters, it’s not about cool uniforms, it’s not about going to France for Spring Break, and it’s not about sleepovers. Sure, those things are fun and can help in certain scenarios. But it’s about winning.

Recruiting is fun to evaluate and analyze. It makes the college football offseason worthwhile, good way to compare programs off the field. However, at the end of the day, stars are stars and players make plays. The coaches put those players in the position to make said plays; here’s an unpopular example most Michigan fans will cringe at:

Mark Dantonio consistently recruits classes with a slightly similar talent caliber to Michigan’s 2018 class on a good year. The results are there, the program is in good hands.

Dantonio has beaten Harbaugh two out of three times, won a Big Ten Championship, appeared in the playoffs,  and beaten Ohio State. They’re doing okay for themselves outside of their recent 3-9 season.

Michigan State landed just 21 four/five-star recruits combined in the 2015, 16, 17, and 18 classes. Michigan, on the other hand, has landed 47 four/five-star recruits combined in the same time period.

The bottom line is that Harbaugh has a roster with raw talent and he’s not developing them, thus far at least. I used Dantonio as an example because he clearly gets the most out of what he gets.

It’s a luxury to have a top 25 ranked class in the nation and refer to it as a disappointment. While it currently is trending downward, Michigan is still an easy recruiting job. It will continuously plummet if results remain to be nonexistent.

Michigan should not expect kids to keep coming to their school when they evidently see that talent leaves un-accomplished. Jabrill Peppers? Rashan Gary? What do these two five-star recruits have under their belts? Good individual performances, of course. But zero wins against the Buckeyes (so far, Gary has 1-2 more seasons).

Four senior classes at Michigan have went all four seasons winless against Ohio State since the turn of the century. That is an unappealing stat for recruits to look at.

This class shows that Michigan is hurting, something we already knew, but no one should be surprised by the outcome. This is a direct product of the 2017-18 season. It’s going on year four now, and Harbaugh has quite the job ahead of him. Win big games, and you can win big recruits again.

Good Week for Michigan Hoops (Which Could’ve Been Even Better)

This past week the Michigan Wolverines basketball team played three games. Two of them came against top five ranked programs. They took on the Purdue Boilermakers at home in the Crisler Center and traveled to East Lansing to take on MSU. U of M then came back home to take on Maryland. They went 2-1 in those games and had a great chance to have gone 3-0.

The Purdue game was a good test for this Wolverine squad as they were hosting the number five ranked team in the country and their fantastic big man Isaac Haas. It was also their second game against a ranked opponent this season after losing to the North Carolina Tar Heels in late November.

It was a hard-fought game with Purdue leading throughout the night and by as many as 14 points early in the first half. But U of M clawed their way back and took a 64-61 lead with just under five minutes to go in the second half. Ultimately, they ended up losing 70-69 and fell to 3-2 in Big Ten play.

Michigan then traveled to the Breslin Center to take on the fourth-ranked Spartans. Michigan State, which was coming off a blowout loss to Ohio State and a close overtime win over Rutgers, had to be fired up to play their arch rivals, especially after losing to them 86-57 the last time they met.

But that was not the case. Michigan State held a slim 37-34 lead at the break but it was Michigan who came out to play in the second half and arrived back home in Ann Arbor with a 82-72 win over their in-state rival and a 4-2 record in conference play.

The Maryland game was also a hard-fought battle with the Terps leading by as many as 14 in the first half but the Wolverines coming out victorious 68-67. They also ran their Big Ten record to 5-2, good for third in the conference. It probably shouldn’t have come down to that as Michigan led by ten with just under six minutes to go, but a win is a win regardless of how you get it.

Over the course of these three games, the Wolverines showed plenty of things to be happy about moving forward, but there was also some signs for concern as well.

The biggest positive over this past week was the play of junior big man Moritz Wagner. While his game against Purdue wasn’t his best (11 points on 5-11 shooting and 6 rebounds), he showed up against the Spartans.

He scored a career high 27 points and grabbed four boards. He also shot 8-8 from the free throw line which is a good sign as he came into the game shooting just 65% from the charity stripe.

He also came to play against Maryland. He racked up a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds and was a big spark for his team in the second half. And while many will still say he is inconsistent, which is fairly true, he showed he has tremendous talent and can show up in the biggest of games.

Another positive for this team over the past three games was the play of their underclassmen. Zavier Simpson set a career high in points scored with 15 against Purdue and bested himself again with 16 against MSU. And while his game against the Terrapins wasn’t anything to write home about with five points, he still dished out five assists too.

Isaiah Livers scored 10, 6 and 7 points respectively in the three games and has provided John Beilein a nice option over the struggling senior Duncan Robinson. He even made the beautiful half-court pass to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman that set up the game winning free throws against the Terps.

Even lesser used young bucks like Jordan Poole, Eli Brooks and Jon Teske have held their own. Those three have come in and answered the call when they give starters like Wagner and Simpson a break.

Poole may have even forced his way into more playing time with his performance against Maryland. He scored 11 points on 4-5 shooting in 13 minutes and was the only other Wolverine besides Wagner to score in double figures. He also went 3-3 from beyond the arc in a two-minute stretch which saw Michigan go from being down seven to up by four.

The biggest negative takeaway from this past week of games has been the play of the two seniors who see playing time in Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson. MAAR shot 8-29 from the field and 3-10 from the 3-point line for a combined 28 points over the three games.

Robinson shot 4-11 from the field and 3-7 from beyond the arc for a total of 13 points. He was also replaced by Livers in the starting lineup for the MSU game.

And while Abdur-Rahkman hit the two clutch free throws to beat Maryland and became the 52nd Wolverine to score 1,000 points in his career (which is an awesome feat), he still needs to play better as the most tested veteran on this budding team.

Another negative from these past three games has been the free-throw shooting. They haven’t been good all year as their team percentage has hovered in the low to mid 60s all year and the Purdue game was no different. They shot 7-11 (63%) and lost by a point. Against Michigan State they actually shot 80% (28-35), but started off 20-20, and went 8-15 down the final stretch of the game when they mattered the most which gave MSU life. The Maryland game wasn’t good either with the team shooting 7-12 (58%) and Zavier Simpson missing two near the end of the game, which almost cost his team a win.

But even with those negatives, this Michigan team proved they can play with anybody in the country. Purdue is no joke and is currently ranked behind only Villanova and Virginia in the latest AP poll. Michigan State is still a good team with the talent to make some noise come March. Maryland is no slouch either and should end up in the top half of the conference.

U of M also entered the AP Top-25 for the first time this season with a number 23 ranking after their victory against MSU. And while they almost lost it right after they earned it with the nail-biter against Maryland, they should be a mainstay in the rankings for the rest of the season.

Coach Beilein always has his teams prepared as the season goes on and this team is no different. Michigan fans should be excited for the rest of this season, especially after this past week.

The Wolverines are a very young team as they rely on five underclassmen to perform and contribute. So while that could be a negative, I think it will be a positive, as they are only getting better. This past week clearly proved that.

A 2-1 record in your past three games may not be what many teams would want to write home about but, with the three teams they played and how they played, Michigan should be excited for what is yet to come.

Jim Harbaugh: From God to National Punching Bag

The 2017-18 season was nothing short of a nightmare scenario for the Michigan Football program. In Jim Harbaugh’s third season with the program, the Wolverines went an unexpected 8-5 after a preseason top ten ranking, losing to both rivals. Michigan’s best win of the season was a 28-10 win against a 7-win Purdue team. Three different starting quarterbacks for Michigan strung together just 9 passing touchdowns on the season for an offense that struggled all season long.

Sitting at a 28-11 overall record, 1-5 in rivalry games, and 1-2 in bowl games, is Jim Harbaugh’s tenure going how anyone expected it to? Under Harbaugh, Michigan has finished 3rd, 3rd, and 4th in the Big Ten East Division. Looking at a big picture, the first three seasons of the Harbaugh era have been a disappointment.

When Jim Harbaugh arrived to Ann Arbor, one could compare it to the welcoming of the messiah. The Michigan fan base was kissing the ground that the former 49ers head coach had walked on, expectation for success was affirmative. This was considerably the home-run hire of the off-season in all of sports. It was a very popular opinion that Michigan would be back in the conversation for the playoffs very shortly because of Jim Harbaugh’s reputation to turnaround programs quickly much like he did at Stanford and in San Francisco.

Year One:

2015 came along, the first season under the “prodigal son” of Michigan Football, Jim Harbaugh’s, leadership. Expectations were high, but somewhat realistic in knowing that this was previously a 5-win ball club just a season prior.

The season started off with a disappointing Thursday night prime-time loss to Utah on the road. The tides took a turn several weeks later once Utah started emerging into a national contender, and it just so happened that Michigan was playing their best brand of football with three straight shutouts against BYU, Maryland, and Northwestern. To this day, that was arguably the best three-week stretch Harbaugh has had at Michigan.

After the trifecta of shutouts, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans come to the Big House on a two-game win streak over their in-state rival. Most of you know where this is going; Blake O’Neil happened, he fumbled the snap and yes the ball was free. Jalen Watts-Jackson was in the right place, at the right time for an MSU fluke, heart-breaker win in Ann Arbor.

Michigan still sat comfortably in the top 25 following the loss with a lot of hope for the remainder of the season going into the bye week. The Wolverines went on a four-game win streak and felt pretty good about their chances going into the rivalry matchup in Ann Arbor against the Buckeyes, who were coming off a loss to MSU. Let’s go ahead and say that the first meeting between Harbaugh and Urban Meyer was a lopsided one, OSU wins 42-13.

The Citrus Bowl had a different tale of the tape for Michigan, going up against Jim McElwain’s Florida Gators in a favorable matchup with a banged up Florida offense. Jake Rudock made his case for NFL teams on why he should be drafted; 20 for 31, 64.5 completion percentage, 278 yards, and 3 touchdowns against a top SEC secondary. Michigan won 41-7, finished 10-3 for the 2015-16 season.

Harbaugh’s first season was good not great, didn’t win the big games, the majority being content given it was his first season with the program. A lot returning talent coming back in 2016, Michigan was the favorite to win the Big Ten title, primed for a playoff run with the only question mark being the quarterback position. Another off-season of hype at the midst no doubt. The fan-base still praising Jim Harbaugh as if he were divine.

Year Two:

Through the first nine games, just two road games, Michigan looked like the playoff contender that the hype insisted on them being. At this point, Jim Harbaugh was being looked at like a Nick Saban, or an Urban Meyer. The resume was a pretty one, three wins over what were top ten teams, sitting at no. 2 in the nation.

November 12th featured a prime-time game against a non-ranked, below average Iowa Hawkeyes team in Iowa City at Kinnick Stadium, which in my opinion is one of the most underrated environments in college football. The 9-0 Michigan Wolverines were having the worst night of the season, nothing was going right for them offensively. In the final seconds, a late field-goal stunned Michigan and shattered perfection, 9-1.

The upset in Iowa City was a reality check for Michigan, but didn’t change the playoff picture much as Harbaugh still controlled his team’s own destiny by winning out. Two teams in front of them for the program’s first berth to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game for what would’ve been a rematch against Wisconsin, whom they bested at home 14-7 earlier in the season.

After handling Indiana at home, Michigan would move on to the big one in Columbus. This game lived up the its hype, and went down to two overtimes. 4th & 1 in 2 OT, Michigan up 27-24 after kicking a field goal, Ohio State will go for it.

J.T. got the first down, at least that’s what the call on the field was initially and even after further reviewing the spot, the Buckeyes converted. It was a close call, some are calling it a controversial one to this day. A play later, Curtis Samuel took it 15 yards to the house six, Ohio State wins it at home 30-27. Jim Harbaugh was fined about his rant regarding incompetent officiating following the overtime loss.

Finishing the regular season inside the top ten with a 10-2 record earned Michigan and Harbaugh a major bowl game bid in the Orange Bowl to take on Florida State. What was almost a comeback classic, ended up being a disappointment of a finish for Michigan. 33-32 Florida State win.

The biggest end of the season letdown for Michigan since 2006, from 9-0 just to finish the season 1-3. This team was talented, and experienced, had 11 players selected in the NFL draft. What did they have to show for the talent? Zero wins against the Buckeyes, zero divisional nor conference titles, this is an absolutely frustrating dose of reality if you’re a Michigan fan.

How do the fans feel about Harbaugh at this point? Some were calling for his head, but he still has the majority on his side insisting that we need to give him time. There were critics who said he was overrated and overpaid, people were really divided on their stance of the former Michigan quarterback.

Year Three:

A lot of fans, critics, and outside observers seemed to agree on that this was going to be a transitional season for Michigan. The program lost over 40 seniors to graduation, not to mention 11 drafted to the NFL. The Wolverines returned enough starters on offense and defense combined to count on just two hands, barely. There were people who expected a similar coaching job to what Urban Meyer did in 2016 after losing a similar amount of talent and taking his team to the playoffs.

The offense never established an identity in 2017 and struggled to score in the red-zone. Wilton Speight and John O’Korn were both put ahead of redshirt freshman Brandon Peters on the depth chart, and people questioned it from day one.

Michigan ended the regular season with an 8-4 record. Play-calling was a big criticism, and incompetent quarterback play seemed to be a trend despite Jim Harbaugh supposedly being a “quarterback guru”.

In Jim Harbaugh’s offense, quarterbacks aren’t asked to win games on their own, but in this team’s case, the quarterback play was so bad that it lost three out of the four regular season games. Youthful, inexperienced receivers struggled to create any separation and emerge into reliable targets. The tight ends were rarely utilized in the pass game. There was an evident switch-up in the passing game’s scheme when Jedd Fisch left Harbaugh’s staff and then added Pep Hamilton to the staff.

The run-game was inconsistent and didn’t have any noticeable presence against quality opponents, but Karan Higdon had a solid season for Michigan falling just short of a thousand yard season (164 attempts, 994 yards, 6.1 YPC, and 11 TDs).

Prior to the Outback Bowl, I was one of the people who thought that the missing piece for Michigan was simply a quarterback, considering that three out of the four regular season losses could have potentially been avoided with better quarterback play. I even thought Brandon Peters was about to make his case for the starting job in 2018.

People expected a similar result to the 2015-16 beat down over Florida in what felt like an easy match-up against a weak South Carolina team, Michigan was more than a touchdown favorite on New Year’s Day. This was arguably the worst performance for a Jim Harbaugh team at Michigan. Blowing a third quarter 19-3 lead, just to fall apart and lose 26-19 says it all. Three turnovers (two INTs, one fumble) from Brandon Peters on what was the furthest thing from an audition for the starting job for next season and another two fumbles from Karan Higdon and Donovan Peoples-Jones.

In what was supposed to be a statement bowl game, turned out to be an embarrassment game that has made Michigan a national joke with a perceived overrated head coach. I wouldn’t say Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat just yet, but it’s definitely getting warm at the very least.

How do the fans feel about Jim Harbaugh now? They now, hopefully, realize that he’s human and has a lot to prove regarding if he’s anything special like people say he is. There’s no excuse for how the program was showcased in 2017-18. In year three, how do you not have one quarterback ready to perform? There was absolutely no reason for why a redshirt freshman like Brandon Peters wasn’t better prepared and ready to start in week one. There needs to be an immediate change in the coaching staff, both Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton’s jobs should not be safe.

What’s Next for Michigan, Harbaugh?

Right now, a majority of fans are demanding results in 2018 or declaring it a bust for Harbaugh’s tenure. A losing record against rivals (Notre Dame, MSU, OSU) will not be stomached well in Ann Arbor. If Michigan goes 0-3 against rivals, and fails to win his division yet gain, Harbaugh’s seat will undoubtedly be hot, if not on fire.

Michigan is paying Harbaugh $9 million per year to win big games, rivalry games, conference and national championships. So far, he’s only beaten one rival (3-9 MSU), has an 0-3 against Ohio State, an 0-2 against Michigan State at home, hasn’t been able to finish better than 3rd place in his own division, and has gone 1-2 in bowl games.

2018 will be a big season for Jim Harbaugh because we’ll get to find out what he’s made of 100 percent. Year four is the golden opportunity to showcase how you’ve built your program, the recruiting has been great, the talent is there, transfer quarterback from Ole Miss Shea Patterson might be eligible to play immediately, inexperience is no longer a factor, it’s time for results and if Harbaugh can’t produce said results, then he’s just not a great coach. That’s about all there is to it, the results just aren’t there and if they aren’t there one year from now, then Jim Harbaugh is a fraud.

 

THE GAME: Ohio State @ Michigan Predictions

The Big House. The Horseshoe. The Maize and Blue. The Scarlet and Grey. Bo Schembechler. Woody Hayes. The Ten Year War. The Big Two and the Little Eight. Jim Harbaugh. Urban Meyer.

This will be the 100th consecutive meeting between the arch-rivals, 113 meetings in total. Records and rankings are thrown out the window because after kickoff, the only thing that matters is beating that team on the other sideline, it’s an absolute war. To keep it short, these schools don’t like each other and that’s just how it is.

(9-2) no. 9 ranked, Ohio State, will come to Ann Arbor and play (8-3) unranked, Michigan. This rivalry is widely considered to be one of the best in all of sports, despite the 21st century being a tad-lopsided in favor of the Buckeyes.

The Block M Insider has just four contributors for both our blog and to run our Twitter pages, and this article is featuring opinions and predictions on how “The Game” will potentially unfold come this Saturday:

Shane: 

Not many will be predicting a Michigan victory in Ann Arbor come Saturday when the Buckeyes will come to the Big House as a likely double digit favorite. Wolverine season-ticket holders everywhere have been looking to sell their tickets, feeling similar to the 2013 game that held little to no confidence throughout the fan-base.

I’d love to sit here and say that the intensity of this rivalry is going to lift this younger, inexperienced, lesser coached, less talented Michigan team to a victory come Saturday but that simply hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I don’t think this team is good enough to hang with the Buckeyes, but I’m also a firm believer that in college football on any given day, anything is possible.

This Michigan defense is a stout unit with a front to be reckoned with, however they have a inexperienced secondary with plenty of vulnerabilities that have been exposed to man coverage specifically this season. Overall, this group is arguably atop in the nation in terms of quality, they’d be able to perform at a higher level had their offense give them time to rest in between possessions. Going up against this Buckeye offense who has more dimensions than one, they’ll be able to spread it out to attack these said vulnerabilities within the Michigan defense. This will be the best total offense that Michigan has gone up against this season, Penn State being the 2nd best as they put up 42 points. Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown must prepare their best game-plan along with unanimous execution to limit the Heisman hopeful, J.T. Barrett, freshman RB, J.K. Dobbins, and the rest of the Buckeye play-makers.

Offensively in Ann Arbor, this season has not been a favorable one and it’s difficult to say things will change this week. We’ve seen three different quarterbacks under center for Michigan this season and Brandon Peters, the fan favorite, is not a guarantee for play on Saturday, remains in concussion protocol. Wilton Speight’s status remains in non-contact for practice, not likely he dresses. If both are out for the game, that would likely leave it up to John O’Korn, or Alex Malzone if they wanted to risk playing someone with no experience. It’s no secret that the offense has clicked the most efficiently while having Peters in the huddle and it would be in Michigan’s favor to have him ready to go, but the real bread and butter to this unit are two men named Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. The passing game struggle has allowed the run game to open up several times this season; Higdon is 124 yards away from being Michigan’s first 1,000 yard rusher in a season since Fitz Toussiant in 2011. Evans has carried his weight as well with a 594 yard season thus far. Unfortunately for the offense, Ohio State’s run-defense is their strength and Iowa, who routed the Buckeyes, were able to expose their secondary. I can’t express how crucial it is for Michigan to have Brandon Peters’ arm, gives them the best chance to move the ball in my opinion because we’ve seen the John O’Korn offense and I really don’t think there’s a chance with him under center.

As a fan, I’m hoping for a close game that comes within a possession or two at the very least, but I’m taking Ohio State in this one and expect them to cover the spread. This isn’t Michigan’s season, but a win over your rival would essentially forgive the losses this season strictly due to transitional circumstances after losing over 40 seniors and returning less than 5 total starters. Michigan is the least experienced team in the FBS to my understanding, currently fighting for a 9 or 10 win season while the Buckeyes are trying to make their case to the committee for yet another college football playoff appearance.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Michigan 14.

Mark:

Weird things happen in sports.  It’s the unpredictability that makes fans go crazy.  For Michigan fans, it’s “The Game.”  There have been so many upsets in this rivalry.  They are actually easy to remember.

1969 – Michigan 24, Ohio State 12

1987 – Ohio State 23, Michigan 20

1996 – Michigan 13, Ohio State 9

2016 – Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (2OT)

Why do I list all of the more memorable ones?   That’s the point.  This game is SPECIAL.  This game is TRADITION.  And for both fan bases who reside on the internet like they know it all, those four games above prove that when you least expect it, we know nothing.

So now let’s move on to 2017…

QUICK FACTS

  • Michigan has allowed 14 points or less in the last 10 home games.  Last team to score more than 14…Ohio State in 1015.
  • Not a player on Michigan’s roster has beaten Ohio State.
  • Ohio State has only scored less than 30 points twice (Oklahoma & Iowa).
  • Michigan has only given up more than 24 points in a game once (Penn State).

Do you know what the problem with facts can lead to?  Short-sighted conclusions based on insufficient evidence.

So let’s get to it.  To the casual observer and to the most loyal fan, this seems to be a game that Ohio State should win. This is the game that Michigan has been preparing for since last year’s loss in the Horseshoe.

The Buckeye offense is potent and features playmakers all over the field…including a dual-threat quarterback.  J.T. Barrett is good enough to make Michigan fans sick to their stomachs.  Why?  Barrett is the only real quarterback that is going to force Michigan into a “Spy” situation.  Don Brown will have to assign somebody to mirror Barrett because the “Cover 10” defense that Michigan uses is the most vulnerable to a scrambling quarterback.  While OSU has made recent gains in the run game with Dobbins and Weber, there is nothing to suggest that they will be able to run against Michigan.   In the passing game, it’s about containable pressure on Barrett while winning the individual matchups outside.

Will he play?  Earlier in the week, my sources around Schembechler Hall thought it was more likely that Peters would play.  As the week has gone on, that outlook has dimmed just a bit. As I pen this prediction, my gut tells me that O’Korn is the starter.  Most Michigan fans just clicked to another website because they think that tells the whole story but let me add a twist to their perceived ending.  Here’s what UM has to do to be in position to win:

  • Be efficient in the intermediate passing game (5-15 yards down field)
  • Stay out of ’22’ personnel and run the ball while spreading out the Buckeye defense
  • Use designed runs/rollouts to enable O’Korn to be on the move
  • Take shots downfield as the Buckeye defense starts to roll to the line of scrimmage as the game is much tighter than they expect.

In both OSU losses, you see the OSU defense lose steam in the second half.  Why?  This Buckeye team is really not built to dominate for four quarters.  They are much more like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.  They are going to try to knock you out early.  Harbaugh and Co. has to put the Rocky Balboa shorts on and just keep punching.

That’s how upsets happen.  Being told you can’t win can motivate but does this Michigan team have enough toughness to stand in and punch with the B1G Ten’s Drago (no matter how flawed they are).

The answer…yes and it’ll shock the hell out of most of us.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12. 

Now let me get back to my Rocky training montage.

 

 

Brandon: 

First played in 1897, the 2017 edition will be played in Ann Arbor at the Big House. The Ohio State-Michigan game is one of, if not the, biggest rivalries in sports.

This year’s Buckeyes team comes into this game ranked no. 9 by the College Football Playoff Committee while the Wolverines will be unranked. Ohio State is sporting a 9-2 record with a tough loss to a good Oklahoma Sooner squad along with a blowout loss to Iowa on the road. Michigan will come into this one with an 8-3 record with close losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin and a drubbing at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

So while these teams are only separated by a game in the standings, they’ll be playing for completely different reasons. OSU has already clinched the East for a spot in the conference title game, a win against Michigan on the road and a victory against the Wisconsin Badgers in Indy gives the Buckeyes and the Big Ten a resume worthy of potential consideration for the CFP final four. Michigan on the other hand is looking to beat their rival for the first time since 2011 and have a chance at their third consecutive 10-win season under Jim Harbaugh.

I believe this game will come down to the battle of the quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett leads this Buckeye team and they are currently the fourth ranked offense in the nation when it comes to yards per game as they are averaging over 546 total YPG. They are also averaging over 44 points per contest as well.

Michigan, on the other hand, comes into this game having played three different QBs this season (Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters) with Speight being sidelined due to injury, O’Korn being benched due to poor play, and Peters playing decent but he is now hurt as well and is uncertain for Saturday’s matchup.

If OSU is going to be victorious, they will need two key elements. First, their defense will need to contain the run game that Michigan employs; Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Ty Issac provide the offense with a lethal backfield when clicking on all cylinders. When Michigan’s ground game is going, it helps their defense by allowing them to control the time of possession battle. Second, they will also have to not get picked apart by the weak air attack that U of M employs, regardless of who is under center. Iowa put up 55 on the Buckeyes a couple of weeks back and they accomplished it primarily through the air.

If the Wolverines are going to come out of this game with a win, they will have to do two things as well. First, whoever is playing at quarterback will need to attack the weak part of Ohio State’s defense, which is their secondary. Secondly, they will have to put pressure on J.T. Barrett. He one fine player, but when you contain him and make him throw from the pocket, he isn’t himself. This will be a tall task for this Michigan defense, but it is a must if they want to leave the Big House on a high note.

As for my final score prediction, I believe this one could get ugly. Ohio State is a double-digit (I’ve seen anywhere from -11 to -14) favorite in Vegas and I think they will cover the spread. Not saying Michigan can’t shock the world and pull of the upset, but I just see that as a long shot. J.T. won’t be short this year, folks.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 13.

Michael:

November 25th, 2017 3:50 pm. The ESPN ticker scrolls along, you catch a glimpse of something deceives your eye, you check again and it was true. Michigan defeats Ohio State.

Harbaugh finally gets his signature win, on the heels of a defensive masterpiece constructed by Don Brown. Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton dig up their best game plan, and the offense clicks just enough to pull of the upset.

Prediction: Michigan 28, Ohio State 7.

Playing for Bragging Rights; 10 Win Season on the Line for Michigan

8-3 Michigan’s prior narrow, division title hopes were officially crushed on Saturday as undefeated Wisconsin put away the Wolverines by two touchdowns in Madison. The game was 14-10 at the point of the Michigan offense losing their freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, for the remainder of the game. After Peters was carted off the field, so was Michigan’s shot at offensive ball movement; the game took on a final score if 24-10 in favor of the home team.

Not many expected Michigan to win last Saturday, the game very well could have had a different outcome had Michigan been able to keep their quarterback, but to put it shortly: the better football team most definitely won.

Michigan’s expectations for this season were up in the air depending on your confidence in the coaching staff as some were predicting a playoff run, few were saying a 7-8 win season, and others were saying anything in between. When any college program loses over 40 seniors and returns 5 or less starters, it’s really a hit or miss season.

One thing Michigan has at least done so far in 2017, with the exception of the MSU game, they’ve beaten every team they were expected to beat. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the obvious shortcomings: something this program has struggled with in recent seasons primarily is winning the big games; Michigan is 0-16 in road games against ranked teams since 2006.

Michigan might not even crack top three in their own division to end the season, which isn’t a good look. In their slight defense, the Big Ten East is about as tough as a college football division can get. Nevertheless, the highest paid coach in the conference, Jim Harbaugh, should be able to finish better than third or fourth in a division in three seasons right? He’ll get just one more pass for a disappointing conference finish, but excuses are running thin come next season.

What’s next for Michigan? What is left for this nightmare of a season?

  • A chance to beat your rival, something this program and fan-base needs like none other.
  • Win a bowl game.
  • Opportunity to win 10 games for the third consecutive seasons.
  • Showcase what fans can expect come 2018-19.

Much like last Saturday, Michigan will be an Vegas underdog; Ohio State opened as a 13 point favorite in Ann Arbor.

Uncertain of who will be under center on Saturday, Harbaugh just announced today that Peters is in concussion protocol and could potentially be out of protocol by Wednesday or Thursday, or not at all, it’s up to the doctors. We will find out more information on Peters as the week progresses, chance to play is “hopeful”. Wilton Speight’s status is doubtful for Saturday, was cleared for non-contact last week. Harbaugh also said that Lavert Hill was cleared for practice this week.

The Buckeyes are coming off two blowout wins over a respected MSU team (48-3) and over Illinois (52-14). Michigan hasn’t scored more than 36 points in any game this season, they’ll look to their defense as an asset to keep them in the game on Saturday. A healthy Brandon Peters can potentially lower the line for the game, the freshman QB gives this Michigan offense a better chance to open up the passing game.

Despite having their primary goals out of reach yet again for the season, there’s still plenty motivation for this Michigan team to come out fired up this Saturday and for the bowl season. The confidence is scarce, but Jim Harbaugh has pulled off major, statistical upsets at prior coaching jobs.

A lot of this team still has fond memory and a bad taste in their mouths from what some players and many fans feel was an officiating wrong-doing in Columbus a season ago, rivalries can give teams a newfound motivation to up their play and execute.