ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan and Minnesota both had top-20 football teams last year, but now Jim Harbaugh and P.J. Fleck are trying to replace several starters on both sides of the ball. The questions is: Which team lost more talent from 2019 to 2020?
Attrition is the theme of every offseason in today’s college football. Between players graduating, leaving for the NFL draft, transferring and now opting out, rosters are constantly in flex. Depth and adaptability are keys traits for success.
Fleck led the Golden Gophers to an 11-2 record last season, while Michigan went 9-4 with four losses to top 11 teams. But which coaching staff has more talent to replace?
What Michigan lost
Josh Gattis is entering his second season as Michigan’s offensive coordinator, and there won’t be much continuity on the offense.
He’s replacing starting quarterback Shea Patterson, three of the team’s top four receivers, four starting offensive linemen and the No. 1 tight end.
Only the backfield, which returns both Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins and also adds Chris Evans back into the fold, is fully intact.
Patterson wasn’t an elite playmaker at Michigan, but he put together two very solid seasons, and replacing a starting quarterback is always a major transition. New starter Joe Milton will be without Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black -- an opt out, an early NFL draft departure and a transfer.
Between the three of them, Collins, Peoples-Jones and Black combined for 96 catches, 1,490 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019.
Meanwhile, Ed Warinner gets starting right tackle Jalen Mayfield back, but has to replace Jon Runyan Jr., Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Michael Onwenu -- all NFL draft choices who were excellent multi-year starters at Michigan.
The four of them combined for 166 career games played -- that’s a lot of experience to replace for a unit that benefits greatly from continuity.
On defense, Michigan lost three starters in the secondary: lockdown cornerbacks Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas, as well as safety Josh Metellus.
Josh Uche (SAM linebacker) and Khaleke Hudson (viper) played specialty linebacker positions for Don Brown, and their unique skillsets will be missed.
Jordan Glasgow was also a valuable linebacker, and Mike Danna added depth to the pass rush.
Hudson, Glasgow and Metellus were Michigan’s leading tacklers in 2019, while Thomas and Hill accounted for six of the team’s nine interceptions.
Last year, those seven defensive players combined for 392 tackles, 18.5 sacks, 24 pass break-ups and eight interceptions.
What Minnesota lost
It’s no coincidence Minnesota broke its school record for most players selected in one NFL draft (since it was cut to seven rounds) right after an 11-win season. The Golden Gophers were loaded with talent last year, and some of that will have to be replaced.
On offense, the departures were more about quality than quantity. The entire offensive line returns alongside star quarterback Tanner Morgan, but two of the team’s top weapons moved on to the NFL.
Rodney Smith had a ridiculously productive college career, rushing for 4,125 yards and catching 65 passes for 521 more yards.
As a senior, he rushed 228 times for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns while catching seven passes for 70 yards.
Meanwhile, in the receiving game, Tyler Johnson was quite literally as productive as Collins, Peoples-Jones and Black combined. He caught 86 passes for 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In his final two seasons, Johnson caught a combined 164 passes for 2,487 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Minnesota also loses secondary weapons in Shannon Brooks, who rushed for 408 yards and two touchdowns last season, and Demetrius Douglas, who caught 14 passes for 157 yards.
Mohamed Ibrahim -- a 1,000-yard rusher in 2018 -- and Rashod Bateman -- 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns last year -- will help lessen the blow of the departures. Chris Autman-Bell is a solid No. 2 receiver coming off a 28-catch season in which he racked up 371 yards and five scores.
The biggest holes for Minnesota to fill are on defense, where, like Michigan, the top three tacklers will need to be replaced.
Star safety Antoine Winfield Jr. left early for the NFL after picking off seven passes and leading the team with 85 tackles.
Kalam Martin, Thomas Barber and Carter Coughlin will be a difficult linebacker trio to replace. They combined for 181 tackles, six sacks and six pass break-ups last season.
- Nico Collins ‘not currently’ on Michigan football team, Jim Harbaugh says
- Jim Harbaugh makes Michigan football’s starting offensive line official
- Joe Milton vs. Cade McNamara: Harbaugh avoids naming Michigan’s starting quarterback
- 4 players still fighting for Michigan’s No. 2 starting cornerback spot
Chris Williamson was a solid all-around player -- 56 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three pass break-ups and a pick-six. He’ll leave a hole in Minnesota’s secondary.
Departed defensive lineman Sam Renner led the team with five sacks and also batted down four passes.
Minnesota is fortunate to return a cornerback duo of Michigan transfer Benjamin St-Juste and Coney Durr. But the defensive line and linebacking corps will need to be rebuilt.
Micah Dew-Treadway is the only returning starter on the defensive line. He made 13 tackles and had a half-sack from the nose tackle position in 2019.
Who lost more talent?
Both teams are undergoing makeovers this offseason, but it’s pretty clear Michigan is replacing more talent than Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers might have lost the two most productive individual players in Smith and Johnson, but beyond that, the offense is mostly intact thanks to Bateman’s return.
Michigan not only has to break in a new starting quarterback, it will do so with an almost entirely new offensive line and receiving corps. Other than the running back room, nothing about this unit is proven.
- 2 players still battling for Michigan’s starting kicker, punter positions
- Michigan vs. Michigan State will kick off at noon on Halloween
- 12 takeaways from Jim Harbaugh’s pre-Minnesota press conference
On defense, no loss is greater than Michigan’s cornerback tandem, which allowed Brown to be aggressive up front and creative with his blitzes. The absence of two lockdown corners will test his entire defensive philosophy.
It’s worth noting that Michigan is inherently going to lose more talent than Minnesota in any given year because of the obvious advantages in recruiting. Harbaugh’s roster is just generally more talented. But the Wolverines aren’t the ones who went 11-2 last season. In fact, they haven’t done so in almost a decade.
Michigan is used to replacing NFL talent year-in and year-out, while Minnesota’s 2019 was a bit of a surprise. Now the Gophers will have to prove they can overcome attrition to sustain that success.
Fleck has done it before, and keeping Morgan, Bateman and Ibrahim in the boat is a nice start.