ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It's no surprise that Jim Harbaugh has Michigan football at a perfect 4-0 heading into the bye week, but the Wolverines appear to be ahead of schedule in terms of becoming a national contender.
Michigan's defense opened eyes in the opener when it dominated Florida despite breaking in 10 new starters. In four games, Don Brown's defense has allowed just 40 points, with 13 a result of the offense turning it over and giving opponents a short field.
The Wolverines have allowed just three scoring drives of more than 50 yards.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan has had its share of offensive struggles. As a team, Michigan is completing fewer than 60 percent of its passes and averaging just 4.3 yards per carry. There have been some bright spots, but the Wolverines have been carried by their defense.
Michigan has seen players break out on offense, defense and special teams through one third of the regular season. Here's a look at the top five candidates for team MVP so far:
1. LB Devin Bush
Stats: 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 4 pass break-ups
It's been a dynamite start to the season for Devin Bush, who stepped into the middle linebacker position and immediately became the leader of the defense.
Bush burst onto the scene with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in his first start against Florida. He had no problem dealing with the SEC speed of the Gators and showed excellent instincts gravitating to the ball.
Bush leads Michigan by a landslide with 33 tackles, and also leads with four passes broken up. He has the athleticism and strength to be an extremely versatile player in the heart of Brown's aggressive defense, and it has shown through four games.
For example, Purdue tried to neutralize Michigan's speed and pass rushing ability by calling quick, short passing plays. Even though Bush has made his biggest plays in the backfield this season, he had no problem dropping back and breaking up three passes. He made six tackles throughout the game before polishing it off with a sack.
It's obvious Harbaugh found a budding star in Bush, and it only took a few games for him to prove it.
2. DE Chase Winovich
Stats: 24 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
While Bush has taken care of business at the second level of Michigan's defense, Chase Winovich is leading the charge up front.
Winovich has been a beast off the edge of Michigan's defensive line, making a team-leading 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. While the nation fawned over the elite talent of Rashan Gary, Winovich quietly became Brown's most effective pass rusher, getting in on at least one sack each game.
Purdue felt the full force of Winovich's presence, as he cost them 21 yards on his 3.5 tackles for loss. He also recorded 2.5 sacks.
The redshirt junior played in all 13 games and made 9.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks last season, so his breakout hasn't been much of a surprise. But his current pace has him in the running for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
3. RB Ty Isaac
Stats: 366 yards on 57 carries (6.2 yards per carry), 1 TD
Michigan hasn't run the ball particularly well overall this season, but Ty Isaac has been a major standout in his third year since transferring from Southern Cal.
Isaac was limited to just 20 yards on 10 carries against Purdue because of a nagging injury, but he's been Michigan's best running back by far this season.
With 366 rushing yards, Isaac leads Chris Evans by 130 yards for the team lead. He's averaging more than 6 yards per carry, while no other running back is averaging even 5 yards per carry.
Isaac got Michigan out of three separate sticky situations against Florida, taking handoffs on two draw plays and a sweep play for big gains, two of which came on third down. Even when he wasn't getting first-team reps last season, Isaac had a knack for making a play when Michigan really needed one, and he's turned that trait into a starting role this year.
4. K Quinn Nordin
Stats: 11/13 field goals, 3 of at least 49 yards, 13/13 extra points
That's right, I'm putting a kicker on the list! Deal with it.
Quinn Nordin has been exceptional in his first season as Michigan's field goal kicker, making 11 of 13 attempts through four games and cashing in on all 13 extra points.
Nordin has been extremely valuable because his leg strength has helped make up for an offense that struggles to finish drives in and around the red zone. Before the Purdue game, Michigan's offense was just one for 10 on red zone touchdowns, which was the worst mark in the Big Ten.
That's why Nordin has had so many field goal attempts through three games. The Purdue game was the first in which Nordin didn't have a field goal attempt.
The No. 1 job for any Michigan kicker is to make the everyday kicks, because it's deflating for a team to put together a solid drive and come away with no points because of a missed attempt. But Nordin hasn't only made eight of 10 kicks from inside 40 yards, he's also shown off his big leg.
In his first career game, Nordin became the first kicker in Michigan football history to make two kicks of at least 50 yards. He cashed in from 55 yards away before halftime and followed up with a 50-yarder in the third quarter.
He did miss a pair of shorter kicks, but he's 7-7 since with one from 49 yards at Michigan Stadium.
Nordin is already No. 43 in scoring at Michigan since 2000, and if he stays for four years it's reasonable to believe he could surpass Garrett Rivas (354) for the top spot.
5. S Tyree Kinnel
Stats: 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception (TD), 2 pass break-ups
With how dominant Michigan's defense has been, it wouldn't feel right unless there's a player from all three levels on the list, so I'm going off the beaten path and choosing Tyree Kinnel.
If you've watched all four Michigan games, you know Kinnel is one of the quiet heroes on defense, making plays all over the field against rushing and passing attacks.
Kinnel's biggest play was a pick-six that got Michigan going against Cincinnati, but he's also contributed 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He's fourth on the team with 19 tackles because he's a major contributor in stopping the run at the line of scrimmage.
Kinnel has made a couple of tackles that saved touchdowns this season, and broken up a pass that would have likely led to another. He's got good closing speed and takes advantage of it to unleash big hits on receivers.
Though he did most of his damage in the first two games, expect Kinnel to get back on track after the bye week and continue to lead Michigan's young secondary.
TE Sean McKeon
While 10 catches for 120 yards might not sound like much through four games, Sean McKeon has come up big for Michigan in some tight spots. When the Wolverines were struggling against Florida, Wilton Speight looked for McKeon to keep drives alive on third down. He also put Michigan on his back at Purdue, catching five passes for 82 yards.
WR Grant Perry
Everybody was talking about the freshman and sophomore wide receivers before the season, but Grant Perry has returned to lead the team in catches and receiving yards. He's reliable on third down and runs his routes well, so he's taken over in the slot.
VIPER Khaleke Hudson
Khaleke Hudson hasn't done as much behind the line of scrimmage as Bush, or as much in coverage as Kinnel, but overall, he's as important as any player on Michigan's defense. In taking over for Jabrill Peppers, Hudson is fifth on the team with 17 tackles and has made 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, broken up three passes, intercepted a pass and forced one fumble.
LB Mike McCray
While Mike McCray struggles in pass coverage, he's one of Michigan's best linebackers in the trenches. He's already racked up 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this season. McCray has good instincts and hits hard, especially when in pursuit toward the sideline.
CB Lavert Hill
Lavert Hill's stat sheet won't jump out at you, but the true sophomore has flourished as Michigan's No. 1 cornerback. He's broken up three passes and defended several more. The coverage from Hill and fellow sophomore David Long is one of the reasons Michigan has so many sacks this season.
NEXT FIVE: Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Tarik Black (injured), Josh Metellus, David Long