ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football is only one week away. You know what that means? Glorious morning tailgates. Action-packed weekends of flipping through games. Beautiful fall weather. And most of all, people bickering with each other.
That’s right! Here in Michigan, nothing gets people riled up more than college football. Bored on a Tuesday? Fire up Twitter and jump in an opposing fan’s mentions! Got a little extra time on Friday night? Remind a friend that their team got lucky and/or cheated the last time they beat your team. Kickoff isn’t until 8 p.m.? No problem! Watch your rival and secretly hate how much you crave their downfall.
It only seems fitting that, as college football season officially begins this weekend, we honor it in the only way Michiganders know how: arguing. In fact, we’re going to argue about as many topics as I could think of.
Well, anyway, we tackled some of the most pressing preseason topics below. If there’s anything else you want us to argue about, email me. If you have any complaints, definitely email Brandon.
Who will Michigan miss most this season (besides Aidan Hutchinson)?
Derick: Hassan Haskins
Everybody wants to talk about the pieces Michigan lost on defense, and for good reason. Replacing both Hutchinson and David Ojabo is probably the single most worrisome storyline heading into 2022.
But if I can’t pick Hutchinson (no, we’re not related), I’m going with the legend who changed the course of the program by dropping 169 yards and five touchdowns on Ohio State.
No matter how much firepower Michigan has at quarterback and receiver, Jim Harbaugh is always, always going to stick to his roots: running the football. Last season, Haskins was the reason that strategy paid off.
Sure, the offensive line was elite, and the tight ends were really good, but every time Michigan needed a yard, or even two, Haskins seemed to get it. Even if the line didn’t get a great push.
When you can line up for a third and short and everyone in the stadium knows what you’re going to do, and you pull it off anyway, that’s a huge luxury.
People seem to think the offense is going to be better than last year. I need to see how Harbaugh replaces Haskins in short yardage situations before I get on board.
Brandon: David Ojabo
The 2021 season for Michigan was one for the ages, as a plethora of players left their mark in the school’s history books.
Haskins was beastly toting the pigskin, and Hutchison was a man amongst boys, but he had a partner on the line that made a name for himself as well, and that was Ojabo.
Ojabo took on the name of the Nigerian Nightmare, as he accounted for 11 of the team’s 34 sacks while also flying under the radar with 12 tackles, which is why he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season.
I think Michigan is really going to miss his production, and it’ll be amplified by the loss of Hutchinson.
What will be Michigan’s toughest game (besides Ohio State)?
Every year, the Men in Maize’s main focus is beating Ohio State and attacking each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.
Although the Buckeyes game is always circled on the calendar, this year’s game won’t be as vital if Michigan doesn’t take care of business early in the season against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Games at Kinnick Stadium are always toss-ups, but this year’s game will probably be under the lights, which makes it even tougher. Yes, the Wolverines boat raced the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game, but that game was in Indianapolis, a neutral site.
Michigan currently leads the all-time series against Iowa 43-15-4, and they are on a two-game winning streak, but the Hawkeyes always play them tough at home, especially during night games. Last time, they squeaked by No. 3 Michigan 14-13 in 2016 to give the Wolverines their first loss of the season.
I’d expect the Wolverines to take care of business this season, but that game won’t be a walk in the park.
Derick: Michigan State
I was going to say Iowa, and I had a beautiful blurb ready, too. But for the sake of arguing (as is our duty!), I’ll declare, “You’re wrong!” and pivot to the Michigan State game.
Look, if the Michigan team that finally beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten title, and went to the playoff still couldn’t beat MSU -- with a 16-point lead, no less -- what is it going to take to bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to Ann Arbor?
Harbaugh put together an excellent game plan for that battle in East Lansing, but Kenneth Walker III was just too much, and that J.J. McCarthy fumble came at the worst possible moment.
I was so certain Michigan would beat Michigan State in 2020 after the Wolverines crushed Minnesota on the same day the Spartans lost to Rutgers. It was at the Big House, the two programs appeared to be trending in different directions, yada yada.
But Mel Tucker has carried on the same tradition of Mark Dantonio teams playing their best games against “the school down the road.”
Man, my inbox was positively vile after that game in 2020.
I’m a very big believer in two concepts: never make the same mistake twice and “seeing is believing.” What I’ve seen throughout most of the Harbaugh tenure is a Michigan team that finds a way to lose to the Spartans at home. Maybe that will change this year, but until it does, we can’t keep overlooking the Michigan State game. I know I sure won’t.
Who will be Michigan’s best offensive player?
Brandon: Ronnie Bell
The team won’t lose much on the offensive side of the ball, as they’re returning some key players. But none of them will be more prominent than wide receiver Ronnie Bell.
Coming into the 2021 season, Bell was hailed as the team’s best overall player. During his Week 1 matchup against the Western Michigan Broncos, he scored a 76-yard touchdown before suffering a catastrophic injury while returning a punt.
His re-entry into the lineup will do more than bolster the Wolverines’ young receiver corps.
Derick: Donovan Edwards
Roman Wilson is my favorite Michigan receiver, but I don’t think any of them will get the ball enough to be the team’s best offensive player.
There are so many options to consider here. Do you pick one of the offensive linemen, who won the Joe Moore Award in 2021 and hope to be even better? What about Erick All? Or perhaps a quarterback?
This was the toughest question to answer for me. But I ultimately landed on Donovan Edwards.
That’s right: With all this offensive talent on the roster, I’m picking the running back who finished with 174 rushing yards last year. Don’t judge me.
It’s not even that I don’t like Blake Corum! I think he’s an incredible player, and he will likely get the majority of Michigan’s snaps in the backfield. But the flashes we saw from Edwards late last season were jarring.
In the final four games, while playing behind both Haskins and Corum, Edwards still managed to catch 18 passes for 251 yards. He also threw a 75-yard dime to Wilson to blow open the Big Ten Championship Game.
I don’t know, there’s just something about Edwards. He has that it factor.
Haskins carried the ball 270 times last season, and those touches are going to be distributed to Corum and Edwards. I think the sophomore has a chance to be really special behind this offensive line, as well as in the receiving game.
Who will be Michigan’s best defensive player?
Brandon: Mazi Smith
The team has lost many players on both sides of the ball, but there’s no need to fear, as the Men in Maize have faith in their replacements, including a monster who, to some, has become a hidden gem: Mazi Smith
Smith is a known name, but he’s coming into the season as an unknown, as he has transformed his body ahead of his senior year and performed some of the most impressive offseason workout feats in school history.
Per the school’s social media, Smith benched 325 pounds 22 times and had a vertical leap of 44 inches while also clocking a 4.41 shuttle time. During the team’s Reactive Plyo Stair Test -- which consists of seven 26-inch high stairs that players have to try to jump up as fast as possible -- Smith, at 331 pounds, accomplished the set in 2.82 seconds.
How freaky is Michigan DT Mazi Smith?— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) August 10, 2022
This is the Wolverines' reactive plyo stairs test.
Smith did it in 2.82 seconds. Aiden Hutchinson (who is 60lbs lighter) did it in 2.57.@BruceFeldmanCFB's Freaks List: https://t.co/EDCa2DoBIP
🎥 @UMichFootball pic.twitter.com/AiTXQDIbsh
Hutchinson, who was selected No. 2 by the Detroit Lions during the 2022 NFL Draft, did it in 2.57 seconds, but he is 60 pounds lighter than Smith.
Look for Smith to help fill the gap left by Michigan’s defensive starters who moved on to the NFL.
Derick: Junior Colson
We’ll see how well Smith does without Hutchinson and Ojabo taking up a pair of blockers apiece. I think Colson could be the team’s best defender by a landslide this year.
Even though he’s only a sophomore, there aren’t many returning Michigan defenders who played more than Colson last year. Hutchinson, Ojabo, Chris Hinton, Daxton Hill, Vincent Gray, Josh Ross, and Brad Hawkins are all gone. He’ll be asked to step up and be a leader from the second level.
As a true freshman playing in the heart of a new Michigan defense, Colson racked up 61 tackles. He started against Ohio State, broke up a pass in the Big Ten Championship Game, and made five tackles against Georgia in the playoff.
Colson was named a Freshman All-American, and he’s already played on the sport’s biggest stage. He’ll look to make a Devin Bush-type leap in Year 2.
Who will be Michigan’s starting quarterback Week 1?
Brandon: Cade McNamara
For Bell to show off his immense talent, he’ll need a high-caliber quarterback to get him the ball, and the only problem is that the team has two.
Reports indicate that the quarterback battle between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy has been epic this summer.
McNamara led the Wolverines to wins against Ohio State and Iowa last season, and they captured their first Big Ten championship since 2004.
But McCarthy came in as a freshman and played some valuable reps.
All indications point toward McNamara as the opening day starter against Colorado State, but that doesn’t mean the quarterback competition will cease throughout the 12-game regular season.
As his resume speaks for itself, I’d expect McNamara to be the Week 1 starter.
Derick: Cade McNamara
Look, I can’t even pretend to disagree with Brandon on this one. We’ll argue the rest of the time, I promise.
Even the segment of Michigan fans who want McCarthy to start know that won’t be the case next weekend, unless there’s an injury.
As a first-time starter, McNamara delivered Michigan’s best season in 25 years. He manages the offense. He doesn’t make mistakes. On Thursday, he became the first Michigan quarterback to be named captain since Denard Robinson.
There’s this misconception that Michigan can’t reach its ceiling with McNamara, but, like, did everyone already forget last year? Michigan went to the freaking College Football Playoff.
McNamara threw for 2,576, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He only averaged 7.9 yards per attempt, but he also ran the offense well. And by all accounts, he’s improved significantly this offseason.
I don’t think Harbaugh is going to look at the quarterback who led him to a Big Ten title a year ago, name him a captain, and then tell him he lost his job to a sophomore. As much faith as I have in McCarthy long-term, that would go against everything we’ve seen from Harbaugh the last seven years.
Who will be Michigan’s starting quarterback by the Penn State game?
Derick: Cade McNamara
Here’s how I feel about the Michigan quarterback situation: If McNamara, coming off a strong season in which he led Michigan to a Big Ten title, doesn’t do something to warrant losing the starting job, McCarthy isn’t going to be able to take it.
If McNamara is as good or better than last season and Michigan is winning, what motivation does Harbaugh have to make a change? Many Michigan fans seem to be rooting for McCarthy to take the job midway through the season, but to that I’d say, “Be careful what you wish for.”
The only way I see Harbaugh making that move (barring injury) is if McNamara is playing poorly and Michigan is losing games.
Brandon: J.J. McCarthy
McNamara will start the season under center for the Men in Maize, but by Week 8, it will be McCarthy.
McCarthy overall has way more ability than McNamara, as he is more athletic, has better field vision, better arm strength, and is a greater threat to opposing defenses.
His teammates have been raving about the throws he’s made during camp, with some even comparing him to Patrick Mahomes.
His athleticism will be just what the doctor ordered for Michigan to return to the College Football Playoff.
How many games will Michigan win during the regular season?
Derick: 10 wins
I think most of the Michigan fan base is wavering between 10 and 11 wins, but for me, the decision was between nine and 10.
First of all, I think the Ohio State road game is going to be tough. The Buckeyes always have a loaded roster, but now they’re at home, and also angry.
I also refuse to pick against Iowa in what’s sure to be a night game at Kinnick Stadium. Weird stuff happens in those games, and it never ends well for Michigan, which hasn’t won there since 2005. Just look at 2016, when Michigan was the much better team and then, well, that happened.
So, this is oversimplifying a bit, but it largely comes down to the Penn State and Michigan State games. They’re both in Ann Arbor, and I think that same revenge factor that’ll help Ohio State should favor Michigan against MSU. As for Penn State, it’s hard to know what to expect after back-to-back losing seasons in Big Ten play.
Michigan’s schedule really boils down to those four games, and I think expecting the Wolverines to go 2-2 is reasonable.
OK Brandon, before the people read your response, I have to remind them of this gem you wrote back in January. Has anything changed?
Brandon: 12 wins
Nope! I expect the Michigan Wolverines to run the table this year -- and before you laugh, they were one game away from 12-0 last season.
They have a plethora of weapons returning on the offensive side of the ball, and although they’ve lost numerous players on defense, Harbaugh will have that unit ready, as he always does.
The old saying is to shoot for the moon and land on the stars. They’ve been to the mountain top and fell short. The taste of victory is delightful, and I can’t see them letting that feeling go this season, especially with the men they’ll have under center.
Hey Derick, like the old commercial said, “Anything less is uncivilized.”
What has to happen for this season to be considered a success?
Derick: Michigan must win 11 games, one way or another
Just because Michigan won the Big Ten last year doesn’t mean this season would be a failure without a repeat -- not in my eyes, anyway.
As I said before, I think beating Ohio State is going to be a tall order. But if the Wolverines lose that game and finish 11-1, they’ll be right in the mix for another playoff bid, and at worst, they’d likely play in the Rose Bowl.
If Michigan goes 10-2, the only way to make the season a success is to finally win a bowl game. Harbaugh hasn’t done so since way back on New Year’s Day 2016, when his team massacred Florida in the Citrus Bowl.
An 11-2 finish with wins over Michigan State and Penn State, a perfect 8-0 home record, and a New Year’s Six bowl win might leave some fans disappointed, but I believe that would qualify as a success.
Brandon: Michigan must make the national championship game
For this season to be successful, the Wolverines must return to the College Football Playoff, win their first-round matchup, and make it to the title game.
Is that too much to ask for?
Now, realistically, we would like the team to remain as healthy as possible, which is something they didn’t do last season, as their best player, Bell, only played in one game.
Imagine what they would’ve been like if Bell played the whole season. We’re talking about double coverage, which would’ve left one-on-one matchups for Cornelius Johnson, who was productive in 2021, A.J. Henning, and Andrel Anthony.
Anything other than making it to the national championship game would be a failure.