Expectations aren't very high for Michigan heading into the season, but there was a noticeable energy surrounding the Wolverines in Indianapolis. Jim Harbaugh was telling stories, sharing concrete information and actually enjoying his time at the mic. Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Ross were as fired up as you can be while talking to the media, and Hassan Haskins was all about his business despite not saying a whole lot. For a team looking to rebound from a very disappointing 2-4 season, confidence seemed high.
And people noticed.
College football expert Bruce Feldman obviously doesn't follow Michigan football on a day-to-day basis, but even he noticed something from the Wolverines.
"I talked to Josh Ross and you could feel something," Feldman said. "I could see his hand movements tensing up. He was really amped up. He just kept saying, ‘We as players did not get it done,’ when talking about last year. I don’t know if they have better leadership in the locker room now compared to last year — obviously last year was chaotic — but it seems a little different.
"I only talked to him, I didn’t have a camera on him, but the way he spoke about it I was like, ‘Okay, I can see why this guy is here.’ I’m thinking back to exactly when he said that and I could see his fists ball up. You could see it was in his gut and just really strong.
"Does that mean Michigan is going to finally beat Ohio State? I wouldn’t bet on it, but I think that level of accountability, and that’s how it was articulated with all the guys here, framed things differently for me."
Saying the right thing now is one thing. Executing and getting wins starting in early September is another. Michigan fans have heard good things about U-M during spring ball and fall camp in the past only to be letdown come the actual season. After a dreadful 2-4 campaign during a global pandemic, Jim Harbaugh actually received a contract extension, but it resulted in a 50% pay cut and a drastically lower buyout. So what does that mean for Harbaugh heading into the 2021 season?
"I just don’t know who you get if you’re Michigan that makes you say with confidence that the next guy is going to come in and do better," Feldman pondered. "No matter who you hire, there’s nobody that will be better positioned than Jim Harbaugh was when he took over. I still come back to that.
"If the bottom drops out, maybe you just say it’s not going to work out. If he goes 8-4 or 9-3, are you sure you’re going to find someone who can do better than that? I don’t know.
Michigan starts off with Western Michigan, but will be tested in a big way during week two when Washington comes to town. The Huskies aren't a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination, but they have talent and had more success than Michigan did last year. Second-year head coach Jimmy Lake has been around the program for a while and seems to be off to a good start. A win against Michigan would be huge for him and his trajectory, but that's not going to be easy in a packed Big House.
"I don’t know if I feel that confident about Washington," Feldman said. "I feel like if you talk to people who are close to it at Washington, I’m not sure there’s resounding confidence about that team. I think they’re better than Michigan in the secondary across the board, but I don’t think you can say they’re definitely better than Michigan in a lot of areas. They have a really good tight end and they have some running backs who have played a lot. I don’t think they have any receivers who are close to special and their best player on defense is injured. I don’t know. I think they have a lot of the same types of questions as Michigan."
With that said, Feldman does see one of those "meh" seasons for Harbaugh that will result in him roaming the sidelines again in 2022.
"I would think it would be more 8-4 or 9-3ish, but we’ll see," he said. "I know they have a great player on the defensive line in Aidan Hutchinson and a great player in the secondary in Dax Hill, but you need more than that. They need a quarterback to really grab this thing. They need a running game to not only flash sometimes. They need consistency there. I think they’re good enough at receiver — I don’t think they’re great there. Where are the difference makers? I don’t know."