- Michigan is coming off an undefeated regular season and CFB Playoff berth.
- The Wolverines return the most production in the Big Ten.
- Michigan returns the country’s No. 5 running attack and six starters on defense.
Rolling in Ann Arbor
Michigan stormed through the Big Ten last year, posting an undefeated regular season and seeing only two opponents—Maryland and Illinois—come within 10 points of the Wolverines. Michigan then blew up Purdue in the Big Ten championship game to win the league title and clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff, where the Wolverines were shocked by TCU in the opening round.
Now here’s the bad news for the rest of the league: Michigan returns more production than any other team in the league, and, nationally, the Wolverines rank fifth overall. According to ESPN calculations, the Wolverines return 81% of their production from 2022.
That list of returnees starts at quarterback, where 2022 third-team All-Big-Ten passer J.J. McCarthy is back. He passed for 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns last year with just five interceptions. He’s joined by Heisman candidate Blake Corum at running back. An injury cut short a Heisman run last year after he’d tallied 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns.
His backup, Donovan Edwards, who nearly hit 1,000 yards filling in, is also back. They combined to give Michigan the No. 5 rushing attack in the nation last year.
McCarthy will need to find a new set of targets as leading receiver Ronnie Bell and tight end Luke Schoonmaker, both All-Big Ten selections, are gone. The top returnees are Cornelius Johnson and Roman Wilson. The team also added Indiana transfer AJ Barner.
The offensive line returns a pair of first-team All-Big Ten guards in Zac Zinter and Trevor Keegan. The Wolverines also added Arizona State transfer LaDarius Henderson.. Karsen Barnhart, honorable mention all-Big Ten last year, also returns.
Michigan had the top run defense in the Big Ten last year and held three opponents to less than 10 points. The Wolverines return six starters on defense this season.
The secondary has plenty of returning talent, including corners Will Johnson and DJ Turner. The Wolverines also added depth at cornerback in UMass transfer Josh Wallace. At safety, they return Mike Sainristill and Rod Moore, giving the Wolverines nine interceptions and 23 pass breakups from their four returning contributors in the secondary.
The defensive line needs to be rebuilt, with Mazi Smith and Mike Morris both getting drafted. Michigan brought in Coastal Carolina’s Josiaiah Stewart, however, to pair with Kirs Jenkins.
Linebacker should be the strength of the defense with second-leading tackler Michael Barrett back, along with All-Big Ten second-teamer Junior Colson. Michigan also adds Nebraska transfer, Ernest Hausmann.
Michigan gets a long, slow ramp into the season with a non-conference schedule that shouldn’t induce any nervous sweat. The Wolverines open with home games against East Carolina (Week 1), UNLV and Bowling Green, then have a homecoming game for its Big Ten opener in Rutgers. Michigan’s Big Ten schedule does not include Wisconsin, Illinois or Iowa, which is a break in the Wolverines’ favor.
The road schedule in the Big Ten is filled with possible traps. Michigan will undoubtedly be favored in all of them, but the potential is there for trouble. The road swing opens with back-to-back trips to Nebraska (Week 5) and Minnesota. The Gophers got a first-place vote in the preseason Big Ten poll and is picked for third in the West Division. Two weeks later, Michigan heads to cross-state rival Michigan State (Week 18) and they already are a 19-point favorite as per the latest NCAAF odds.
Michigan has Ohio State (Week 13) at home to close the regular season, in a game that always promises to be the biggest on the schedule. Two traps lay in front of it, however, as the Wolverines head to Penn State (Week 11) and Maryland in the two weeks prior. Penn State got two first-place votes, while Maryland was one of the two foes to come close to Michigan last year, losing by seven in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines will likely be favored every time they suit up this regular season, with more returning talent than anyone in the league. They got a break from the schedule makers in dodging the top two teams in the West Division.
Still, the league is too tough to count on another undefeated run. Look for Michigan to drop one of the road games or the showdown with Ohio State … but probably not both.
NCAAF Pick: Over 10½ Wins (-135) at BetOnline
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