ANN ARBOR – Michigan is coming off its best season under Jim Harbaugh, finally breaking through to beat rival Ohio State and ending its longest drought without a Big Ten championship.
The Wolverines won enough to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff, only to be humbled by Georgia. Losing to the 34-11 to eventual champions showed Michigan how much improvement is needed to win it all, and provided a source of motivation throughout the offseason.
“You can’t ignore what happened last year, but you also can’t be distracted by it,” tight end Joel Honigford said. “The biggest thing is redefining new goals to reach. You can’t be satisfied by what happened in the past. We also have the understanding that was not good enough.”
The eighth-ranked Wolverines can take the first of many steps toward trying to top last year when they host Colorado State on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Michigan’s offensive line, with three returning starters plus Virginia transfer Olu Oluwatimi, plans to pave the way with a run-heavy approach on offense.
“We’re just going to be the most physical offensive line in the country this year,” guard Zak Zinter stated. “We’re going to run the ball when we want to run the ball. That’s our identity and that’s not going to change.
The Wolverines will have to find new players to pressure the quarterback after losing Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who combined for 25 sacks.
Gemon Green is confident the defense will flourish with a lot of new faces.
“We’re a lot faster than last year,” the defensive back said.
A new era
Colorado State has its third coach in four years.
The Mountain West Conference program hired Jay Norvell after firing Steve Addazio with a 4-12 record over two years, following an uneven five seasons under Mike Bobo.
Norvell won 30 games over his last four years at Nevada, including a 52-10 victory at Colorado State to close the regular season and end Addazio’s tenure.
As Norvell prepared the Rams for the season, he let them know how poorly they have played in the second half of recent seasons.
“I wanted to start with that because I think that’s where we are,” he said.
Cade McNamara helped Michigan win the Big Ten last year for the first time since 2004, and was voted a team captain this summer. Those facts did not make him the team’s clear-cut starter.
Harbaugh said McNamara will take the first snap against Colorado State and J.J. McCarthy will start next week at home against Hawaii.
“We think that both are capable of leading our team to a championship and we’re going to keep cultivating that,” Harbaugh said.
Good luck, kid
The Rams are expected to start Clay Millen, the first freshman quarterback to start for them since Pete Thomas in 2010. Millen redshirted last season for Norvell at Nevada after playing in two games. He was 2 of 3 for 18 yards against New Mexico State last season.
The Rams will likely play in front of the most fans in school history, surpassing the 101,821 people who watched them play at Alabama in 2013 and 2017.
“I’m more concerned about our football team than I am Michigan or their fans or their stadium,” Norvell said.
Harbaugh and Norvell go way back, facing each other as players, becoming NFL teammates and coaching together in the league.
Norvell, as an All-Big Ten defensive back, helped top-ranked Iowa beat Harbaugh and the second-ranked Wolverines on a game-ending field goal in 1985 at Michigan Stadium. Two years later, they played for the Chicago Bears. In the early 2000s, they were both on the Oakland Raiders’ coaching staff.