2017 Record: 8-5 (5-4) – Lost in Outback Bowl
2018 Coaches Poll Top 25 Rank: No. 14
For the first time in four seasons as a college coach, Coach Jim Harbaugh’s squad failed to reach ten wins in a season. Harbaugh’s Wolverines went 10-3 in each of his first two seasons with the program, an impressive feat considering the team suffered four of those six losses to teams ranked in the top 10.
2017 was a different story, as the team’s ferocious defense was failed by a putrid offense (25.2 PPG, -15.1 PPG from 2016). But the arrow is pointing up for Coach Harbaugh in the Wolverines in 2018, thanks to the arrival of a fresh face at quarterback, Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson. The Wolverines are playing coy about Patterson’s status as the starter, but expect to see the former five-star recruit be under center on September 1st when the team battles Notre Dame in South Bend in Week 1.
That showdown is one of several key match-ups for Michigan, who will have to earn double digit wins if they’re going to accomplish the feat once again. Five tough contests loom of the schedule, including road games against the Irish (September 1st), Michigan State (October 20th), and Ohio State (November 24th). Add in home contests against Wisconsin and Penn State and the Wolverines face quite a gauntlet.
Fortunately, the team might have the best defense in all of college football, given the quality of their entire starting group. No, they don’t have four top notch pro prospects like the Clemson Tigers, but Gary, Winovich, Bush, Hudson, Hill and Long are all candidates to be top-100 selections.
Add in a physical offensive line and a two headed rushing attack in Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, this team can play ball control.
But the team’s success will ultimately come down to opening up the passing game. The previously mentioned Patterson under center will look to pairs of physically impressive tight ends (Zach Gentry/Sean McKeon) and wide receivers (Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones). Production hasn’t been there with this group, but then again Michigan has only logged over 200 passing yards per game in three of the last seven seasons.
The Wolverines have the talent to knock off several premiere opponents in 2018. Defensively they match up well against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Penn State. With Patterson getting the passing attack on track, look for this team to win 10+ games and be in play down the stretch for a Big Ten Championship appearance. It will come down, as it usually does, to that date with the Buckeyes on November 24th.
Top 5 Draft-Eligible Prospects
1. DL Rashan Gary
National college football pundits have been raving about Gary for several years now and rightfully so. Gary is a surreal athlete along the defensive line and his upside is immeasurable. Yes, Gary has further development to illustrate before he locks himself into a top draft slot. But Gary is just a true junior who is only scratching the surface of what he can do. Even without further development, NFL coaches will be confident that they are the ones to unlock his potential.
2. CB Lavert Hill
A physical press corner, Hill certainly plays higher than his listed measurements of 5-foot-11, 177 pounds. Hill has great patience at the line of scrimmage and has a knack for effectively flipping his hips up the field to turn and run with opposing receivers. With plus ball skills and and precision in contesting the football at the catch point, Hill has an opportunity to make a lot of noise in 2018.
3. LB Devin Bush
Devin Bush is lightning quick, a twitchy athlete who has all the range in the world. But how well will Bush hold up at a lean 222 pounds? The spacing of today’s NFL will give him a shot. Bush led the team in tackles (credited with 100) in 2017 and is one of the leaders of this defense. Devin Bush will have plenty of space to work with an experienced, stout defensive line in front of him, meaning that burst and range to make plays in space will be key for the Wolverines defense for yet another season.
4. DE Chase Winovich
Is Winovich a top tier NFL Draft prospect? No, not particularly. But he’s a stout defender along the line and can be a reliable run defender. Without much upside as a pass rusher, Winovich will have to get by with hustle and smarts. He showed both in 2017 and this upcoming season figures to be more of the same. Winovich will be a mid-round prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft with a repeat performance from last year.
5. LB/S Khaleke Hudson
Hudson is Michigan’s most diverse weapon, he’s an effective run defender in the box, pass defender in the intermediates and blitzer off the edge. So why so low on this list? I’m not certain where Hudson is going to play in the NFL. Hudson has reportedly added weight from last year’s listed 205 poudns, but now he needs to prove he can sustain his explosiveness with the extra weight. If he can, it will be time to revisit his placement among his peers at Michigan.