- An already stingy defense should get even better this year, potentially leading No. 4 Michigan to the College Football Playoff.
Key returning starters: RB De'Veon Smith, WR Jehu Chesson, WR Amara Darboh, TE Jake Butt, OT Erik Magnuson
After a huge offensive leap forward in 2015, the Wolverines are poised to build on that progress, despite the loss of quarterback Jake Rudock. Whoever wins the starting QB job will get a deep group of receivers to work with and an offensive line that returns four starters.
Key returning starters: DE Chris Wormley, LB Jabrill Peppers, CB Jourdan Lewis
Not content to be merely fourth in total defense last season, the Wolverines went out and grabbed the coordinator of the top unit, ex-Boston College assistant Don Brown. The aggressive Brown should guide Michigan to bring more pressure and gets an elite group to work with, including do-it-all sensation Jabrill Peppers.
Leader in rushing: Smith. The Michigan offense isn't likely to be led by its running game, which will probably take a running-back-by-committee approach, but Smith should see the bulk of the carries.
Leader in receiving: Chesson. It should be a close race between Chesson, Amara Darboh and tight end Jake Butt, but we'll give the edge to Chesson, who has the most explosiveness.
Leader in tackles: Peppers. Michigan lost three linebackers from last year's squad, leading Peppers to switch from safety. He'll still be used all over the field in more of a nickleback roll and can do whatever's necessary
Leader in interceptions: Lewis. After ranking third in passes broken up last season with 20, expect Lewis to take advantage of Don Brown's blitz-heavy schemes to convert more of those PBUs into INTs.
Opposing coach's take
"Everyone wants to know who's going to start at quarterback. Junior John O'Korn has the experience from two seasons at Houston, but [sophomore] Wilton Speight has the measurables [6'6", 239 pounds]. Whoever it is, he's going to spend a lot of time handing it off to their stable of running backs, led by [5'11", 228-pound senior] De'Veon Smith. Jim Harbaugh & Co. depend on the power run game to set up the pass. Their best player just might be [senior] tight end Jake Butt. He's a nightmare one-on-one because he can go up and get the ball, plus run after the catch. They're stockpiled with big, explosive receivers, especially [6'3", 200-pound senior] Jehu Chesson, who's frightening down the field. The line is an above-average group that's embraced Harbaugh's physicality. Your best chance is to make them a passing team, which could backfire.
New DC Don Brown is an aggressive blitzer, and when he gets frustrated, he goes all out. Even though they were top five in total defense a year ago, they didn't have many takeaways, which I'm sure will be an emphasis. A good chunk of their front seven is gone, but they'll be fine with [sophomore] freak Jabrill Peppers moving from safety to linebacker. Their secondary is about the nation's best with a true lockdown guy in [senior cornerback] Jourdan Lewis.
This is a national championship contender."
The Wolverines need to replace four starting linebackers, and while they have two four-star freshmen on the roster, their most reliable option might be junior Mike McCray. The 6'4" 240-pounder arrived in 2013, but a right-shoulder injury his sophomore year has limited him to just two tackles. He led the spring game with seven wrap-ups.
4: Times Michigan rushed for less than 100 yards last year, including all three losses.
75: Total yards gained by now sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight in six appearances last year, which puts him 75 ahead of this year's competition, juniors Shane Morris and John O'Korn.
254.3: Yards per game allowed last year by Boston College—best in the nation—which was run by Michigan's new coordinator, Don Brown.
4: Rank of Michigan's defense last year. The Wolverines were also third in third-down conversion rate defense (.276) and sixth in scoring defense (16.2 ppg).
|Sept. 24||Penn State|
|Oct. 8||at Rutgers|
|Oct. 29||at Michigan State|
|Nov. 12||at Iowa|
|Nov. 26||at Ohio State|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|