Modest Expectations For Michigan Football
Michigan football comes into the 2017 season with expectations a bit tempered. The Wolverines lost their final two games of last year in crushing fashion—first the double-OT heartbreak at Ohio State that cost Jim Harbaugh’s team a shot at the College Football Playoff. Then a narrow Orange Bowl defeat at the hands of Florida State. More important for this season, the Wolverines also lost 17 starters.
Nevertheless, we know that college football is a coach’s game and we know that Harbaugh is a good coach. As such, whenever a chance to invest in a good coach at a potential value price exists, it at least has to be seriously explored. That’s the case with Michigan’s Over/Under for the coming season—they’re at a modest 8.5.
On the surface this can almost look too easy. Harbaugh has won 10 games each of his first two seasons so he could decline by a game and an Over still be picked up.
Let’s pencil the Wolverines in for home wins over Cincinnati, Air Force, Michigan State, Rutgers and Minnesota. It’s also reasonable to assume they’ll win on the road against Purdue, Indiana and Maryland. That gets Michigan to eight victories. These swing games would then decide the ultimate fate of an Over/Under wager…
*Florida (in Cowboys Stadium on September 2)
*at Penn State (October 21)
*at Wisconsin (November 18)
*vs. Ohio State (November 25)
On the surface this can look too easy—Michigan needs only one more win to clinch the Over and they’d still get a bowl game if all else fails. But are they good enough to beat any of these four opponents? And are they experienced enough to take care of the eight games we’ve given them, with no margin for error?
Michigan will start ten players who are either freshman or sophomores. The good news is this—those are the classes Harbaugh recruited entirely on his own and they each ranked in the top five nationally. College football might not be like college basketball in terms of instant impact from recruits, but it’s more that way today than it’s ever been. Particularly at the skill spots and the Wolverines are loaded with young talent at receiver and running back.
The Wolverines will also start nine seniors. This was the last class fully recruited by Harbaugh’s predecessor Brady Hoke. Whatever Hoke’s flaws as a coach he recruited well, so that’s a talented group. The junior class—where recruiting was messed up by Hoke’s firing and bringing on Harbaugh midstream—is the only area where there’s a roster weakness. The most notable junior starter is quarterback Wilton Speight. He’s a known commodity and a pretty good one.
In a physical conference, Michigan still has some its best players up front. Offensive tackle Mason Cole, who protects Speight’s blind side, is one of the nation’s best. The same goes for defensive end Rashan Gary. There’s work to be done developing the interior of the offensive line, but this is an area that Harbaugh has consistently excelled at, from Stanford to the 49ers and now at Michigan.
There’s work to be done in Ann Arbor, but the right people are in charge, the raw talent is in place and the expectations modest. That’s a combination you don’t see every day.