ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football will enter the 2022 season ranked No. 8 in the AP poll after winning the Big Ten title and advancing to the College Football Playoff a year ago.
Expectations have done a full 180 from last offseason, when the Wolverines were left out of both polls and received only a handful of votes. Michigan rebounded from a disastrous COVID-shortened 2020 by going 12-2, beating Ohio State, winning the Big Ten title, and losing to Georgia in the playoff semifinal.
This year’s team brings back almost every single meaningful contributor on offense, with the exception of star running back Hassan Haskins, starting center Andrew Vastardis, and starting right tackle Andrew Stueber.
Haskins’ carries will be split between Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. Both are dangerous offensive weapons with better speed and receiving skills than Haskins, but neither can fill his shoes in terms of dominating short-yardage situations.
That will be a concern for this year’s offense, especially given Jim Harbaugh’s third-and-short philosophy.
Michigan replaced Vastardis with Olusegun Oluwatimi, who transferred from Virginia a year after being named a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s top center.
The battle for the vacant right tackle spot is still ongoing, but Michigan feels good about its options there, especially since whoever wins the job will be playing next to four decorated linemen.
Holes to fill on defense
The major questions for Michigan going into this season come on the defensive side of the ball. The Wolverines lost two All-American caliber defensive ends in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, as well as first-round defensive back Daxton Hill.
Hutchinson and Ojabo helped mask any defensive weaknesses for the Wolverines a year ago, and there aren’t any obvious options to replace their pass rushing production. Coaches are touting a few breakout players in camp, but make no mistake: The defensive line should be a lot worse.
At the second level, new defensive coordinator Jesse Minter will have to replace Josh Ross, who had some limitations but provided great leadership at the heart of the unit.
The secondary will be without Hill, Vincent Gray, and Brad Hawkins this season. Michigan has confidence in the likes of D.J. Turner, Gemon Green, Rod Moore, Makari Paige, R.J. Moten, and others, but the new starters will also be asked to guard for much longer without last season’s vaunted pass rush.
There’s no shortage of defensive talent on the roster, but the Wolverines will almost certainly take a step back on that side of the ball -- possibly a significant one. But they don’t necessarily need to be as good as last year’s team defensively to warrant this preseason ranking, especially if the offense improves.
We don’t have to speculate about the team much longer, as the 2022 season will kick off in under three weeks.
Michigan’s non-conference schedule consists of three cupcakes, but the Big Ten slate promises to be a grind. The first road game is a Big Ten title rematch at Iowa, and later that month, the Wolverines will host Penn State and Michigan State.
Then, as always, the season will end with a matchup against (a very angry) Ohio State. Michigan has to travel to the Horseshoe after manhandling the Buckeyes a year ago, so Jim Harbaugh will have to have his team ready for war.
People want to talk about Michigan’s easy first month, but by the end of the regular season, this team will be sufficiently battle tested.
Full top 25
Here’s a look at the full preseason top 25:
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
- Texas A&M
- Oklahoma State
- North Carolina State
- Michigan State
- Miami (FL)
- Ole Miss
- Wake Forest
Iowa and Penn State received enough votes to rank 28th and 29th, respectively. Minnesota, Purdue, and Nebraska were among the other Big Ten teams to receive votes.