As everyone under the sun begins to release their preseason top-25 lists, one thing is sure to have caught Ohio State fans' eyes, and its not the Buckeyes' ranking -- Michigan is nearly a unanimous preseason top-15 team.
Preseason rankings, even by respected media members, are largely educated guesswork and largely meaningless. But even Vegas bettors are buying Michigan stock, as the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook gives the Wolverines the second-best odds at winning the playoff.
I was genuinely surprised by all of the love for the Wolverines. I know it's "Year Two" for Harbaugh and Company, that they signed the number one overall recruit in Rashan Gary, and that they're fresh off shellacking Florida 41-7 in their bowl game, but these prognostications seemed to ignore Ohio State and Michigan State's recent dominance vis-a-vis the Wolverines. Not to mention their quarterback situation.
So I decided to take as objective a look as possible at the Wolverines for next season. First, today, I wanted to take a look at all of the various preseason projections to get a reference point.
First, Mark Schlabach put the Wolverines at fourth way back in January:
Michigan will bring back almost everybody on offense, although losing quarterback Jake Rudock and center Graham Glasgow is significant...Defensively, Michigan will have to replace its entire linebacker corps, but its defensive line figures to be one of the country's best. New defensive coordinator Don Brown led one of the stingiest defenses in the FBS at Boston College this past season.
Schlabach questions whether Houston transfer John O'Korn can take over for the departed Jake Rudock, who was also a transfer. We'll dig in to O'Korn and the quarterback battle more later on.
Next, Athlon is the first big season preview magazine to release their top-25, and they ranked Michigan fifth:
The Wolverines were one fumbled punt snap against Michigan State away from being in the College Football Playoff conversation last November. If Harbaugh can work his magic on another quarterback once again, this team has the goods to push Ohio State for the Big Ten East Division championship and a shot at this year’s CFP.
They note that Michigan has two All-Americans in the secondary in Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers, Rashan Gary on the defensive line, and also an experienced wide receiver corps.
Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel both think highly of the Wolverines, ranking them fifth in their respective top-25s. For Stew, it all comes down to:
In a word: Harbaugh. All these lofty prognostications (mine included) are largely because we've seen the guy do it before at Stanford and with the 49ers. It's similar to when Nick Saban got to Alabama and Urban Meyer to Ohio State; you knew it wouldn't take them long, and indeed, both took undefeated teams to their respective conference championship games in their second seasons. Something similar seems like a more-than-attainable feat this season for a veteran Michigan team that came within a botched punt snap against Michigan State from winning its first seven Big Ten games.
Bruce looks at Michigan's schedule and likes what he sees, outside of late-season road games with Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State:
The non-conference schedule is much easier this year. No road trips and they face three teams that were a combined 7-31 last year.
So, based on this slew of top-25s, you get the picture of a team with a lot of solid experience in the secondary, in the receiving corps (including tight end Jake Butt), and on the defensive line. The schedule is extremely favorable until the end of the season. And then there's Harbaugh leading the charge. Figure out a starting quarterback and this team looks golden, right?
In our next edition, we'll dig in to the Wolverines' schedule, and arguments for and against a top-5 Michigan based on accumulated recruiting talent, Harbaugh, and key position battles.