clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

B1G Thoughts: Five offseason questions for Michigan

Michigan enters 2023 as the Big Ten favorites after back-to-back conference championships. What must happen for a three-peat? 

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Texas Christian at Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 season has come to an end. It was a great season that leaves many questions to be answered as we enter the 2023 offseason.

Michigan won the Big Ten for the second year in a row, taking the crown from Ohio State. Ohio State enters 2023 a field goal away from a national championship appearance, but now has to replace C.J. Stroud. Will this be the first time in almost a decade that the best quarterback in the conference doesn’t wear scarlet and grey?

Nebraska, Purdue, and Wisconsin enter 2023 with new coaches, while Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Indiana’s Tom Allen enter on the hot seat. Penn State has high expectations, Illinois will try to rebound from a late-season collapse, while Minnesota is trying to replace four of the best players in program history.

This is the final offseason before USC and UCLA enter the conference and the new TV deal starts. Teams must build a foundation that will last in the ever-changing landscape of college football. The 2023 offseason is essential for every program, so let’s dive in and see which five questions each team must answer before the actual season begins.

How does J.J. McCarthy improve going into his second season as the starter?

McCarthy enters 2023 as the unquestioned leader of the Michigan Wolverines. He also enters the offseason as one of the most experienced and most talented quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Draftniks are already talking about him entering the 2024 NFL Draft, and in theory he should be the best quarterback in the Big Ten.

Ohio State and Penn State will be rolling out first-year starters. Taulia Tagoiloa is maybe the most experienced quarterback, but if he was a great quarterback he would be in the NFL and not returning for a fourth season.

Again, in theory, J.J. should enter 2023 with the expectation to lead Michigan to a third-straight Big Ten Championship, plus another trip to the College Football Playoff after a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.

For all of this to become true, McCarthy will have to make some marked improvements during the offseason. After throwing for 2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions with a 65% completion percentage in 2022, McCarthy will need to be better this time around.

Under Harbaugh, Michigan will always be a run-first offense, but McCarthey has to be able to make the throws when they count. He is very inconsistent in throwing from the pocket, and tends to airmail deep passes. The goal for McCarthy should be to perform like he did against Ohio State — but consistently.

Against Ohio State, he showed patience and poise. At the beginning of the game he ran early, which set up the passing game and he connected on a big time throw until the running game got in sync. Immediately following that game, he turned back into a pumpkin missing wide open receivers against Purdue and TCU.

For much of the season, McCarthy will not have to be special, and Michigan will win games. But for Michigan to three-peat or win a game in the CFP, he will need to be a bigger weapon passing the ball and possessing the ability to take over a game through the air. Most college quarterbacks take a jump their second year as a starter. J.J. will need to improve as a passer for Michigan to reach the mountaintop for a third consecutive time.

Will the team be able to drown out the off-field drama?

Once again the Wolverines start the offseason with drama. Last year it did not affect the team, but can they show the same resolve?

We’re not even a full month into the 2023 calendar year, and Jim Harbaugh has flirted with the NFL — again — before deciding to come back. There is pretty obvious discord between the coach, the athletic director, and the school president. On top of that, Michigan has been hit with NCAA violations that could lead to sanctions after Harbaugh was accused of lying to the NCAA during their investigation.

All of that would be tough to ignore, but it wouldn’t be Michigan if we stopped there. To add insult to injury, co-offense coordinator Matt Weiss has been fired after being accused of computer-access crimes — whatever that means.

Michigan has all the goods to three-peat as a champion, but after three years of drama, multiple dalliances with the NFL, and consistent changes on the staff, will they be able to continue to win the battle of attrition?

Michigan has been a team led by older players who could lead the team through the noise and set a culture despite the nonsense. With many of those players running out of eligibility or heading to the NFL, it’s up to newly minted upperclassmen like J.J. McCarthy, Donovan Edwards, and Will Johnson to be able to lead the Wolverines past the BS and into the 2023 season.

Who steps up on the defensive line?

Since 2020, the Michigan front seven has lost defensive linemen and linebackers, Josh Uche, Kwity Paye, David Ojabo, and Aidan Hutchinson. All four players were top-60 picks in their respective NFL Drafts, and without Ojabo suffering a late injury causing him to slide to the second round, three of them would have been first-round picks. You can now add reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Mike Morris and stud Mazi Smith to this list.

Going into the offseason, it will be imperative for Michigan to replace Morris and Smith. It’s impossible to be successful in the Big Ten without a stout defensive line. The Wolverines enter spring ball without a surefire answer to who fills the big shoes left by those two players. It’s easy to say that at a program of Michigan’s caliber, they should be able to slide another stud into their place and not miss a beat, and they’ve done that the past three seasons.

For them to reach their goals, they need to find a stud — preferably two on their defensive line — or risk a serious regression that could come back to bite them against top competition.

Can they get consistent and impactful play from the wide receivers?

Name Michigan’s best wide receiver from last season. Matter of fact, name their best wide receiver from any of the past three seasons.

Unless you’re a Michigan fan, you probably can’t. The Wolverines have been in a perpetual state of waiting for a star wide receiver. They convinced themselves for the past few seasons that it was going to be Ronnie Bell. They drooled over Andrel Anthony after he had one solid performance against Michigan State in 2021, but overall there has not been much to write home about.

Michigans run game clearly works, and they can win the Big Ten with it, but after back-to-back losses in the playoffs, it’s time for them to find and develop wide receiver talent or there will always be a ceiling on this program. Whether it be developing young players or getting someone from the transfer portal Michigan, needs to enter the 2023 season with a legit No. 1 wide receiver.

That process starts with being honest about the talent on the roster, the wide receiver coach’s ability to develop them, and an in-depth look at the transfer portal. Harbaugh has used the portal in the back-to-back season to shore up their offensive line. Maybe it’s time to turn that attention to the wide receiver corp. This becomes even more important after losing Andrel Anthony and Erick All to Oklahoma and Iowa, respectively.

What does the running back rotation look like?

Blake Corum was one of the best running backs in the country for 90% of the season before suffering a knee injury that essentially ended his 2022 campaign. Former five-star running back Donovan Edwards played well with him on the sidelines, and was probably expected to be the No. 1 back finally after sitting behind Hasan Haskins and Blake Corum for the past two years.

Instead, Corum decided to put off the NFL and return to college — a decision that seldom works out for the returning player. I’m sure the Michigan coaches and fans are happy about Corum’s return, but you have to wonder what the rotation looks like. Will Edwards be okay with spending his last season before draft eligibility as a backup? Can Corum return to his 2022 form? How do they keep Edwards happy so he doesn’t enter the portal in May to become a No. 1 back for someone else?

There are a lot of teams in the country who would make him the no. one back immediately, no questions asked. The return of a star player can be a good thing, but it will require Corum and Edwards to be on the same page with running backs coach Mike Hart or else discontent could come into the room. If they can find a way to keep both players happy, they’ll enter 2023 with one of the best two-back rotations in the country.