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What to know about Michigan before they play Ohio State

Michigan’s just about everyone’s pick to win the Big Ten. Can they live up to the hype?

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State football season will be here before you know it, and even if you’ve only been paying semi-close attention this offseason, you’re probably aware of the major storylines with the program. This is going to be an exceptionally young, but talented and athletic team. There’s a lack of proven production at wideout, running back, and defensive back. They return the best QB in the conference, and should at least compete for a Big Ten title.

But you may not know a lot about the specific teams on Ohio State’s schedule. We’ll get into a lot more detail before the actual games, but you may want a primer so you can sound smart at the bar, or at the barbecue, or in the grocery store checkout line.

We wrap our looks at Ohio State’s opponents this year with a familiar foe, OSU’s archrival, the Michigan Wolverines.

So, dare I ask, what was Michigan’s story last year?

The start to the improbable Jim Harbaugh era went about as well as could’ve been expected. They lost a tough, close opener against a Utah team that before injuries, were looking like the Pac-12 South favorites. And then aside from a black swan event against their other rival you probably remember well and a bizarro second half egg laying against the Buckeyes at home in Harbaugh’s The Game head coaching debut, UM was pretty darn good the rest of the season.

The advanced stats loved them. The eye test did the same. And then they destroyed a fairly talented Florida team in their bowl game despite their quarterback still being banged up from The Game to finish 10-3. That seems about as good as realistically could’ve been expected.

Satellite camps, though! Did Michigan use all those to get every good out-of-region-player ever?

Agnostic of satellite camps, Michigan’s recruited at a pretty strong clip the past couple seasons. They closed fairly strong after Brady Hoke’s firing left the 2015 cupboard bare, then bounced back to finish fifth in the country in 247Sports’ Composite Team rankings in 2016. They’re 10th in the country for next February’s class heading into the fall. Of course recruiting wasn’t so much the problem under the previous regime as talent development.

The early return on satellite camps seems more multiplier effect oriented than anything. Jim Harbaugh’s done an arguably brilliant job marketing his program by putting himself in the 24/7 modern news cycle just about constantly. Even if all they managed to pluck was a couple three-stars, that alone would be a net win in all likelihood.

Alright so what about the 2016 team. Do they have enough firepower to score more than the 13 they did against Ohio State last year?

Maybe! Message board rumors claim ginormous redshirt junior Wilton Speight’s beaten out somewhat ballyhooed redshirt junior transfer John O’Korn. Speight’s 6’6 with a big-ish arm to match and game experience.

He got some action against Ohio State last season after Joey Bosa impaled Jake Rudock. Then he did this:

On the plus, he did tackle Joey Bosa. Ohio State also ended that drive with a turnover on downs so ... Little victories?

Even if Speight proves just replacement level, that should be more than enough. Senior wide receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are back and senior tight end Jake Butt is too. That trio alone should be enough to make even the most outstandingly mediocre college quarterback look pretty decent.

The running game is ... Well, it should be solid? Senior De'Veon Smith is back. So is redshirt sophomore top backup Drake Johnson. Smith particularly is pretty good out of the back field with his hands. And do-everything linebacker/hybrid/freak Jabrill Peppers will get plenty of touches on offense as well.

Did we mention Michigan has eight fullbacks on their roster?

Michigan has eight fullbacks on their roster?

They sure do:

  • Henry Poggi
  • Joe Beneducci
  • Brian Chu
  • Bobby Henderson
  • Spencer Dickow
  • Nick Volk
  • Michael Hirsch
  • Khalid Hill

David Shaw’s derivative offense of what he and Jim Harbaugh ran at Stanford’s featured tight end heavy sets for the Cardinal. Maybe we can get a five fullback look from the Maize and Blue sometime this fall?

What about the defense? Is it still terrifying?

Yup.

The nation’s best defense for much of 2015 returns tons of talent and despite coordinator D.J. Durkin heading to Maryland, new defensive coordinator Don Brown coached a bad Boston College team to the No. 1 ranked defense in the country a year ago. Big time recruiting inexperience aside, he seems like a home run hire on paper.

Other than some kind of Job-ian injury bad luck, even if Brown’s philosophies don’t integrate seamlessly, it seems hard to imagine the Wolverines not having a Top 5 defense this fall.

The best cornerback in college football for my money a season ago, Jourdan Lewis, returns. As does the aforementioned Peppers.

Whether he’s technically a safety or a linebacker, he’s going to be blowing people up, making plays on the ball, and doing the kind of things to produce hyperbole we haven’t seen from a Michigan defender since Charles Woodson.

That seems like insanely high praise

He’s that good.

What’s The Game’s ledger looking like these days?

58-47-6 in Michigan’s favor, though six wins and a tie came before the forward pass was legalized. If you count just college football’s modern era (1970-present) and disregard OSU’s vacated win in 2010, the Buckeyes have a slight edge of 23-19-1.

Michigan’s only won three times against their biggest and most hated rival in the 2000s, but they may never have a better opportunity to get one than they do this November.

Is Michigan going to be good this year?

Very good.

Though the Buckeyes are ahead of them in the first AP Poll and last year’s edition of the rivalry game showed the Wolverines still have a gap to close, the Buckeyes are -- as you know — in a bit of transitional year, while the Wolverines return a lot more experience.

Even with a Buckeye edge in recruiting stars, recent history, and homefield advantage, it’s extremely conceivable the Wolverines head into Columbus 11-0 (their schedule is very, very forgiving) while Ohio State’s looking at one or more losses.

Regardless of the slight talent differential, put two teams with very different things to play for and even in a rivalry game, you may have the one with the better season prevail.

How worried should Ohio State fans be about this game?

A lot.

Michigan were ever so slight favorites in last year’s and we all know how that turned out. It won’t have any bearing on this year’s of course, which should be an extremely close, hard fought contest.