Michigan Football Chatter: What Needs To Happen To Get Over OSU Hump
• Let's start with THE Game and Jim Harbaugh - I've said a few times since the 56-27 loss that I've moved to a place of acceptance that Michigan will be a very good team in the foreseeable future, win 10 games consistently, but that the Ohio State hurdle might just prove to be too much for the U-M program. While insiders accept the reality of the Buckeye juggernaut, they're convinced Harbaugh will eventually get over the hump.
"I think we can all agree he's one of the best builders of programs that there is in football. How many other coaches, no matter where they go, turn the team they coach into a success? One or two? Bill Parcells comes to mind. Nick Saban, though he wasn't cut out for the NFL.
"There was a plan to beat Ohio State when Jim arrived and they tried for four years, and it didn't work. It was an outdated model, and they changed on the fly when it became apparent it wasn't working.
"I give him credit for that. He has shown over and over again he is willing to make hard decisions with his staff, and adapt to give his team the best chance to win.
"They made necessary changes to their offense and offensive staff, and while it took longer than expected to click, the direction this program is headed now ... many of us believe gives Michigan the best chance to be successful and do what LSU did this past year, when they unleashed an offense that could not be stopped.
"Honestly, and I have been critical at times and skeptical this year, but I truly believe that's where Michigan is headed. Could it be next year? Maybe.
"You might say it's not as simple as that. That you need the pieces around the quarterback, and that's true, but look at this offense and what is missing for 2020? Maybe a game-breaking runner, but Chris Evans can add some home run ability that was missing, the line is going to be good again, the receivers and tight ends won't lose much even if a couple guys go pro."
• A second insider noted it all comes down to quarterback play and the Harbaugh era is defined by the lack of a Top 10 QB nationally and the promise of one to come.
"The biggest thing is having that elite quarterback," the insider said. "Shea [Patterson] really did something special in November, but it was a little too late. Look at Joe Burrow this season with LSU - you have to come out a gunslinger from Day One. And this is pretty obvious, but to be one of the best teams in college football, you have to have a great quarterback. Not a good quarterback. A GREAT quarterback.
"I think that's the last piece to this, and that's why this offseason is a tremendous opportunity for Jim Harbaugh, Josh Gattis and this Michigan team. Do they have one of those guys? Is it Dylan McCaffrey? Is it Joe Milton? If one of those guys is a transcendent player, Michigan could really take a big step forward these next two years. If they're not, then that raises a whole slew of new questions about the direction of this program.
"We're talking Year Six, quarterbacks that were both Top 250 recruits (McCaffrey was the No. 123 player in the 2017 recruiting class per 247Sports.com and Joe Milton was No. 204 in 2018 class) in years four and years three of their development, and if not now, I don't want to say never but that would be such a bad sign because it essentially says at the most important position you can't recruit and develop a difference-maker, and you can't win at the ultimate level in today's college football without a quarterback like that."
• There is one other big element obviously - defense. And Michigan got run over by both Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Wolverines need defensive tackles and while a potential fifth year for Carlo Kemp would help, U-M needs some young players to emerge and likely needs (and is seeking) a grand transfer or two.
"I really like Chris Hinton and think he's going to be something we haven't had the past two years inside, but to me, this entire offseason and the hope for 2020 comes down to one thing - can Michigan's coaches get one and probably two potential starters out of the transfer portal," one of our observers noted.
Michael Williams is one of three Stanford defensive linemen in the transfer portal, a 12-game starter this past year, and a name everyone has circled. He has the size, at 6-2, 305, Michigan needs but U-M is not alone in its pursuit.
Still, with a dearth of defensive tackles in the 2020 class for Michigan and questions over freshman Mazi Smith's potential impact next year, the Maize and Blue need someone like Williams desperately.
Land Williams or a DT like him, and see Milton or McCaffrey emerge into the dynamic player they have the talent to become, and U-M's 2020 season could be the turning point moment for Harbaugh. If neither of those things happen, however ... expect more of the same.
• Michigan lost junior wide receiver Tarik Black to the transfer portal today, which brings the U-M count to four since the start of the season. As we have stated many times, attrition is a significant part of college football today, with generally about 1/3 of a class leaving before their eligibility expires. We don't need to go down the list of names we've heard are likely to leave but we expect at least five more departures, including a running back and defensive tackle that came into 2019 with considerable hype but ultimately did not make a major impact.
• One player we do not expect to transfer is Milton. He is already putting in the work this "offseason" to put himself in the best position to compete with McCaffrey for the starting job in the spring.
Back when U-M landed Milton, there was talk inside Schembechler Hall that the Wolverines had signed their 'generational' quarterback. It obviously hasn't panned out that way quite yet, but Milton is still extremely young, only in his second year in 2019.
"Guys like Trevor Lawrence and Jake Fromm have given this false idea that every freshman quarterback should be a stud from Day One, and here we are sitting around wondering if Joe has what it takes," a keen quarterback observer offers. "I might be a little biased but I truly feel once you give him the opportunity, he's going to do great things with it.
"I know this, his receivers will rally behind him because he loves throwing the football and he's not afraid to make all the throws. He's the kind of guy that can make everyone around him better because he's fearless, and you want that type of attitude in your huddle. Shea started to find that but then he ran out of time.
"I really like Dylan but this was a tough year for him. The expectations got dialed up both from inside the program and outside, and while we should certainly acknowledge that injuries played a part, I don't think we saw the jump from Dylan you wanted to see. But he's a competitor, and he knows there is this amazing opportunity to be the starting quarterback at Michigan.
"I predict we'll see an epic battle this spring. Michigan probably hasn't had a quarterback battle like this, where it was truly open, for a decade or more."
• It would not be a surprise if both Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins both return for their senior season. We're not ready to predict a return, but there are some positive vibes out there.
• While I have expressed reservations about Michigan playing Alabama, the program is very excited about the opportunity.
"Everyone feels they're a better team than what they showed against Ohio State, and that they made uncharacteristic errors that weren't a reflection of all the growth they made since that Penn State game," a source shared. "The coaches and players are pissed because they honestly feel that if they didn't make a few mistakes, it could have been a much closer game, with Michigan having a chance in the fourth quarter to win it.
"This game against Alabama, it's not a complete do-over, but these guys are motivated to prove they're one of best teams in college football this season."
Will we see anything unexpected in the game? Like Milton or McCaffrey getting a run to prepare for 2020? Probably not.
"You might see some younger guys play more at receiver, will see more of Dax Hill, Chris Hinton, but Michigan is preparing this game like it's the culmination of the 2019 season and 2020 is 2020. They'll turn the page on Jan. 2 and focus on what's next at quarterback and the offensive line, and defensively. But they're serious about winning this one and the legacy the senior class can leave."
• We also don't expect to hear of players sitting out. For one, the senior class is short on potential first-round picks, and the only players it could make sense to sit out would be if Collins or Peoples-Jones decided to enter the Draft. But SportingNews.com columnist Bill Bender actually had a great line about that in an interview we did with him Thursday.
"You want to improve your draft stock - then go out and prove yourself against Alabama," he said, and he's right.