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Looking ahead to Michigan football’s schedule, starters, expectations in 2022

Wolverines should bring back several starters from Big Ten championship team

Donovan Edwards #7 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 31, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Michael Reaves, 2021 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan’s excellent season came to an end last week in the College Football Playoff, but after winning 12 games and a Big Ten championship, the program has momentum heading into 2022.

Jim Harbaugh helped the Wolverines break through a number of barriers this season, ending a losing streak against Ohio State, a conference title drought and some unsightly trends in big road games.

Now, Michigan will have to build on this year’s success.

Schedule

It’s impossible to know how difficult a schedule is going to be at the start of a college football season.

Take this year, for example. People were wondering if Michigan would have trouble making a bowl game because the schedule looked so daunting in the offseason. Washington, Northwestern, Indiana and Penn State were all ranked in the preseason polls. Wisconsin and Nebraska also turned out to be a bit underwhelming.

So it’s difficult to gauge how challenging the 2022 slate will be for the Wolverines. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try.

Obviously, the end-of-the-year trip to Columbus will be the greatest task, especially with Ohio State coming off its first loss to Michigan in nearly a decade. The Buckeyes will once again be the most talented team in the Big Ten, and that environment will be even more toxic than usual.

A.J. Henning #3 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with teammates after a touchdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the first quarter at Michigan Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (2021 Getty Images)

The other toughest challenges: a road game at Iowa and home dates with Michigan State and Penn State. Iowa is always a menace, especially at Kinnick Stadium. That could end up being a night game that makes or breaks Michigan’s season.

Other than those four games, Michigan’s schedule -- at this point -- appears to be manageable. Colorado State, Hawaii and Connecticut shouldn’t be overly worrisome in the non-conference portion. Maryland, Illinois, Rutgers, Indiana and Nebraska could improve, but they shouldn’t be as difficult as, say, Michigan traveling to Wisconsin, Nebraska or Penn State this season.

Nothing is ever easy in the Big Ten East, but Michigan is clearly positioned to post another double-digit win total in 2022.

Starters

Many of the starters who helped Michigan get to the College Football Playoff will be back next season.

Offense:

  • Quarterback: Cade McNamara or J.J. McCarthy
  • Running backs: Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards
  • Wide receivers: Ronnie Bell, Roman Wilson, Andrel Anthony, Cornelius Johnson, Mike Sainristil and A.J. Henning
  • Tight ends: Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker
  • Offensive linemen: Ryan Hayes, Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan

There’s a chance some players unexpectedly opt for the NFL draft or the transfer portal, but most of these major contributors should be back in the Maize and Blue. With Olusegun Oluwatimi replacing Andrew Vastardis at center, it’s possible the offense will only need to replace one starting lineman.

Hassan Haskins is a major loss -- who wouldn’t miss a player with 20 touchdowns? -- but Michigan is in good position at running back, especially with how Edwards came on at the end of the season.

A few freshmen could join the mix, as well. Darrius Clemons, Tyler Morris and Amorion Walker have already enrolled, so they have a chance to make an early impact.

Defense:

  • Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith
  • Junior Colson, Michael Barrett and Nikhai Hill-Green
  • D.J. Turner and Rod Moore

The defense has much more to replace than the offense, particularly on the line. Star edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo are expected to be first-round draft picks, and safety Daxton Hill could be, too.

Michigan desperately needs to hold onto Hinton and Smith to provide some stability on the interior of the defensive line. Then, talented underclassmen such as Braiden McGregor, Rayshaun Benny, Derrick Moore and others can join the likes of Mike Morris, Jaylen Harrell and Taylor Upshaw on the edges.

Michigan defensive end Mike Morris (90) runs off the field after Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, left, was sacked during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The secondary will also undergo a transformation without Hill, Brad Hawkins and potentially some of Michigan’s top cornerbacks. If Vincent Gray and Gemon Green return, cornerback depth would become a strength.

If not, fortunately, the secondary is one of the positions Michigan has hit hardest in recent recruiting classes, and players such as R.J. Moten, Makari Paige, Will Johnson, Keon Sabb, Kody Jones and others will have to step in.

Expectations

Even though Michigan dipped its toes into the elite waters this season, it’s probably a bit premature to consider Big Ten championships and College Football Playoff appearances as yearly expectations.

Michigan should be one of the best teams in the Big Ten once again, and double digit wins is a very realistic benchmark.

The difference between a good season and a special season could very well come down to Nov. 26 at Ohio State. But there’s so much to get through before even considering that matchup.

First of all, there will be NFL draft decisions, transfers and perhaps a few more recruits signed over the coming months. For Michigan, some of the players I’m watching closely in terms of deciding whether or not to return include:

  • Ryan Hayes
  • Erick All (yes, I know his Instagram post sounds like he’s staying for another season)
  • Chris Hinton
  • Vincent Gray
  • Gemon Green
  • Jake Moody
  • Brad Robbins

As for additions, Michigan has already signed the majority of its recruiting class, but a proven edge rusher and a short-yardage running back could be positions to watch if the Wolverines want to scour the transfer portal.

Then, during summer camp, the quarterback competition will likely be the talk of Ann Arbor. For me, however, the more important questions will be:

  • Who replaces the edge rushers and pressures opposing quarterbacks?
  • How does the new offensive line fit together?
  • Will there be enough speed at linebacker and in the secondary to once again compete with Ohio State’s elite offensive weapons?

Michigan football will have a very different vibe heading into 2022 after being unranked with no expectations this season. There’s plenty of reason to believe it could be another special year.


About the Author:

Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.