The University of Michigan football team finished 2016 with 10 wins for the second year in a row under Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Finishing the top 10 in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls might be big for most teams but not for Michigan. After starting out 9-0 the Wolverines finished their last four games with a 1-4 record losing to Iowa, Ohio State, and Florida State. Michigan loss those three games by a combined 5 points.
So, after such a disappointing end to last season how will Michigan come back. Coach Harbaugh certainly has his work cut out for him. The Wolverines are returning only six starters from last year’s team. Only one of the retuning players is on defense. Last year’s Michigan defense finished ranked number 1 overall and only allowed 12.5 points per-game. Replacing the likes of Jourdan Lewis, Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton, and Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers won’t be easy. However, Michigan has finished ranked 6 in recruiting in 2015 and 5 in 2016. Most of the players starting this season will be for and five star recruits who had play good competitive minutes in the last two seasons. Now it’s time to see how they all play with consistent minutes. Sophomore Rashan Gary was the nation’s number one over all recruit two years ago and after an exceptional freshman year he is expected to lead a Michigan defensive line that is replacing all four starters from a year ago.
Offensively Michigan is returning 5 of 11 starters. Including last year’s starting quarterback Wilton Speight. Although Coach Harbaugh said at the Big Ten media day all three Quarterbacks were “tied for first” the job is Speight’s to lose. While the QB position might not be in question most other offensive positions are. There are no returning wide receivers and only two returning offensive linemen.
The Beginning of the season doesn’t leave much room for error. Michigan starts the season out with a tough test in a neutral site game against Florida. The game will be played September 2 in Arlington Texas. Both teams struggled at the end of last season but this looks to be an exciting game to start the season. The difference might come down to Wilton Speight as Florida is looking for a starting Quarterback that can advance their offence. Defensively both teams should be tough to play against and this game should be tight and come down to the end.
Games two and three of the season see Michigan play Cincinnati and Airforce at home respectively. These games should give the Michigan coaches a good chance to get some younger players that aren’t starts good minutes to see what the team has for the future. Putting the future in prospective will be a common theme throughout the season.
Big ten conference play starts September 23rd with an away game against Purdue. The Boilermakers finished last season with a 3-9 record. Last time these two programs met was in 2012 a game that was won by Michigan. This should be another good opportunity for the Michigan coaching staff to see the younger players.
After an off week, Michigan plays Michigan state at home. You can never predict a rivalry game. Even though the Spartans had a disappointing year last year they look to rebound. In what should be a tightly contested game that challenges both teams. This is the type of early season test that could build or break a team.
October 14th the Wolverines head to Bloomington to face the Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana finished 4th in the big ten last season with a 6-7 record. They played Michigan tightly in a game that game down to a fourth quarter surge by the Wolverines. This look to be Another test for Michigan in a game that could come down the fourth quarter again.
In what should be the only real Big road challenge for the Wolverines this season they head to Penn State. An always raucous at Beaver Stadium looks to have a big outcome on the game. This is a game that could go either way and could come down to the last play of the game. Penn State looks to bounce back after a disappointing loss to Michigan last season that will be fresh in the minds of players left from last year’s Nittany Lions team. These two-traditional big ten powerhouses collide on October 21st.
The Wolverines Hope that they come home after two consecutive weeks on the road celebrating a win. Rutgers comes into the Big House October 28th. Last year Michigan Shut out Rutgers 78-0 and depending on how the season plays out much of the same might be in store. This game will present a good opportunity for the more inexperienced players to get solid minutes in a Big Ten game.
Michigan was able to take home the Little Brown jug the last time these two teams met in 2015. They look to do the same two years later. The Golden Gophers look to take the jug back to the students in Minnesota. The Gophers finished last season at 9-4 and look to put up a fight against Michigan in a rivalry that has traditional about bragging rights.
Bryd Stadium in College Park Maryland host the Wolverines next. Last season the Terrapins lost big to Michigan. 59-3 this game should be closer as Maryland is an improved team. If the season works out the way Michigan hopes they could be in the hunt for a spot in the Collage Football Playoff and a loss at this point would be devastating.
Michigan goes to Camp Randall Stadium in Wisconsin next. Last year Michigan won in the last minutes against Wisconsin and this year look to be just as close of a game. The Wolverines need to not be looking ahead to what could be a huge matchup the following week and take care of business in Wisconsin first before the even think about Ohio State.
The final game of the regular season brings the Ohio State Buckeyes to Ann Arbor. Last year the game went to double overtime and propelled the Buckeyes into the playoff. This year’s game could have the same implications. Win and you’re in. lose and you’re playing a bowl game it might be hard to get excited for. The name of the game is championships and both teams look to bring a championship home. In order to do that you need to beet your rival. Traditionally this is one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports and can be as contentious as anything you have ever seen. November 25th could be the date to circle on your calendar for a great college football game.
The Michigan fans will have to struggle through some growing pains for a young team. The beginning of the season will be what sets up a great season or what many fans will see as a disappointment. This Wolverines football team has a lot of great raw talent. If coach Harbaugh can prove again that he has the ability to get the best out his players. Than this could be an exciting season. If Michigan stumbles at the beginning of the season with a loss to Florida than it will be hard for them to gain a spot in the playoff. For the second season in a row the entire season could come down to the final game.
The advantage that Michigan has is that with the exception of the Penn State game all of their big tests will be at home in Ann Arbor. Playing at home could be a huge advantage for a young team as the season progresses. If the Wolverines Build good momentum than the sky is the limit for this team. This team could make the playoff and win a championship. Either way this season will be a good stepping stone towards the future of Michigan Football. Coach Harbaugh has put a lot of time and effort into rebuilding this program into a tradition powerhouse. We will continue to see the growth of his program as he and his staff set up what could be Michigan dominance for years to come.
The expectations are high at Michigan. Higher than they have been in a long time. Now it’s time for the coaches to coach and the players to play up to all their potential. The start of every football season brings much hope but as quickly as that hope comes every August it could be taken away with just one loss.