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2020 Big Ten Preview: Michigan Wolverines

Michigan Wolverines
Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines leads his team onto the field before a game on September 10. (DAVE REGINEK/GETTY IMAGES)

The Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh needs to make a statement this year, plain and simple. There is no doubt that Michigan is one of the top programs in the Big Ten conference, but they have a large hump to get over every year, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Despite posting three 10-win seasons, Harbaugh’s squads have been defined by their inability to win the big game. During the Harbaugh era, Michigan has gone 10-14 against ranked teams, including five straight losses against their rivals from Columbus.

Since the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is one of the most anticipated games in every season (it is referred to simply as ‘The Game’), going 0-6 would likely mean that Michigan may consider moving on from their current head coach.

Will this be the year that Harbaugh’s team can live up to the hype? Let’s take a look:

Although on-field experience will be at a huge premium this year, Michigan fans find themselves excited to move on from the inconsistency at quarterback from Shea Patterson.

Let’s call it like it is: Shea Patterson was terrible. Terrible. The Wolverines are more than happy to break in a new quarterback, Joe Milton, who is the only realistic heir to the position following the decision by Dylan McCaffrey to hit the transfer portal. In limited playing time, Milton has been able to show off his arm talent and his respectable ability in the run game. While the Cam Newton comparisons may be a little bit premature, Milton could certainly fit the mold with his 6-5, 245-pound frame.

Milton will be looking at a fair amount of turnover in his receiving group. With Donovan Peoples-Jones leaving for the NFL, Nico Collins opting to prepare for the NFL draft, and Tarik Black transferring to Texas, Michigan will look to younger players to step up in the passing game. The Wolverines will rely heavily on junior Ronnie Bell, who posted 48 catches for 748 yards in 2019. Other than that, Giles Jackson will look to earn an expanded roll in Josh Gattis’ offense.

In terms of the run game, Gattis will also look to break in four new starting offensive lineman. However, the bright side is that Michigan will return two exciting running backs to drive their run game. Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet earned most of the carries last year and will continue to do so in 2020. Together, Haskins and Charbonnet rushed for 1,348 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as one of the best up and coming running back duos in the entire country.

On the bright side, it has been evident since Gattis started that his system was held back by his personnel. In a year where there is a lot of turnover on the offense, it may be the perfect opportunity for Gattis to tailor his group to his system.

Defensively, Michigan Looks to build on a year where the defining issue was giving up the big play. While Don Brown’s defense is usually good, last year’s squad had a nasty habit of letting opposing offenses get behind them.

Fortunately for the Michigan Wolverines, they will be returning many players from last year’s team. Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson will look to hold down the edge, while Carlo Kemp, who received a sixth year of eligibility, will return on the inside. Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton will fill in the other defensive tackle spot on a rotational basis.

As far as linebackers, Cameron McGrone had a great season last year following the injury of John Ross. With Ross back this year, McGrone will likely remain in the interior while Ross will be shifted to one of the two outside linebacker spots. A vital role in the Wolverines’ defense has been the ‘Viper’ linebacker. The Viper usually plays a hybrid safety-linebacker role and will be filled by Michael Barrett, who saw most of his action last year on special teams.

In the secondary, Brad Hawkins and Daxton Hill will return after solid 2019 campaigns. The corner position will be up for grabs after Ambry Thomas’ decided to opt-out and prepare for the NFL draft. These positions will likely be filled by DJ Turner and Vincent Gray, who have limited game experience. Turner and Gary will need to step up in a big way this year if Don Brown’s defense is to limit big plays.

Overall, the Michigan Wolverines are up against all odds this year. While it is likely that they are still a top-three team in the Big Ten, they will be hard-pressed to compete against another powerful Ohio State team. Unfortunately, even if they are the second-best team in the Big Ten, they will not have a chance to compete for a conference championship if they do not beat the Buckeyes, who are in the same division. They likely will.

2020 season record prediction (Big Ten): 7-1

Check in later for our last Big Ten preview!

Up next: the Ohio State Buckeyes

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