It is difficult to remember a more turbulent offseason for Michigan than the past one. From a historic cancellation of the Big Ten season to numerous opt-outs that turned into opt-ins, the 2020 offseason is one for the history books. So falling in line with that progression, the upcoming 8+1 Big Ten season is bound to feature its fair share of zany, surprising and downright unprecedented events.
What would the craziest outcome for Michigan's season look like? Does it take a COVID-influenced season for U-M to catch the breaks it needs to beat Ohio State or will the rigors of the 2020 campaign leave the Wolverines missing the presence of Ambry Thomas and Nico Collins?
The Wolverine Digest staff weighed in on what one bizarre outcome could be that is more likely than some may expect. Check out our responses:
Brandon Brown: I've been beating the drum all offseason and I'm going to beat it in a big way right now — Chris Evans will lead the team in rushing. I'm higher than most on Evans but I think there are three strong reasons why he'll be RB1 throughout the season.
After missing last year due to an academic issue, Evans wants to get back onto the field more than anyone on Michigan's roster. He's hungry, fresh and talented enough to know that a big year could land him on mock draft boards.
He's tailor made for Josh Gattis' offense. As a guy who was just as much a running back as he was a slot receiver and return man in high school, Evans is dynamic in the open field and a terrific route runner and pass catcher. All of those things scream speed in space and should have Gattis salivating.
I think he's the most naturally talented running back on the roster. Evans is faster than both Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet and he's also a better route runner and receiver than they are. He's shiftier in the open field and I believe he has the best balance of the bunch. Throw all of those physical traits in with his level of motivation and he could be a dynamic weapon for U-M this year.
Evans is more experienced and knows what it feels like to not have football. He's going to be on a mission this year in what could be a his last go round and I think it'll be a very productive one.
Eric Rutter: Michigan will come close to breaking its 2019 rushing total despite playing four less games this season.
Last year, the Wolverines racked up 1,959 yards on that ground, but that was both Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins' first real year of playing time and U-M was without the presence of dynamic runner Chris Evans. With those players manning a three-headed backfield, Michigan is going to be a lot more effective on the ground-- even behind a relatively new offensive line.
The Wolverines were good for 150 rushing yards per game, but I predict somewhere in the ballpark of 190 rushing yards an outing for U-M's nine-game slate. If that comes true, it will likely feature more than a couple 200+ yard performances, but that would put Michigan right around 1,700 rushing yards on the year.
Michael Spath: If you've read my words or listened to our new podcast, Stadium & Main, you know that I believe strongly that Michigan needs to join the pass-happy, big-play evolution that has taken over college football the past few seasons. To that end, I believe QB Joe Milton will average north of 250.0 yards passing per game and will even have multiple 400-yard outings.
Michigan has only had three 400-yard games in its history, with Devin Gardner hitting that mark twice in 2013 (Jake Rudock did it once in 2015). Meanwhile, only one QB in school history has averaged better than 250.0 yards passing per game - John Navarre had 256.2 in 2003, when he set U-M's record for yards in a season with 3,331.
It is long overdue that the Wolverines put up the numbers through the air consistent with the top 25-40 programs in college football season after season, and while Milton's final tally won't replace Navarre's, he will set a new standard for passing yards per game.
Steve Deace: The Wolverines have been playing with fire against Indiana throughout much of the Harbaugh era. With two games going to overtime, and two others competitive well into the fourth quarter. Last season's game was the exception with Michigan cruising to an easy win, but that was without playmaking quarterback Michael Penix, who was injured. He's back now, and what makes him a difficult matchup is his mobility. Except he uses it with the primary intent of still throwing the ball down the field. That is tough to stop in today's college football, especially with the amount of man coverage the Wolverines play. That's why my crazy prediction is the Hoosiers snap the sport's longest streak of futility against the same foe, and beat Michigan for the first time since way back in 1987. My freshman year in high school.
Jake Sage: Despite a shortened season, Giles Jackson will become the second player in Michigan football history to have a return, rushing, receiving and passing touchdown in the same year. Currently, the only Wolverine to accomplish that feat is Steve Breaston, who did so in 2003. The speedy wideout is expected to be a key piece in the passing game this season now that Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins have left the program. Jackson is electrifying with the ball in his hands, and the Wolverines will do all types of things this season to make sure he touches the ball.
Last season, Jackson returned kicks, 24 returns for 622 yards and a touchdown, caught passes, nine receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown, ran jet sweeps and even lined up in the backfield, combining for 10 rushing attempts for 69 yards and a touchdown. This year the Wolverines will continue to use Jackson in unique ways to make sure the speedster finds the ball multiple times a game. With Joe Milton not truly a running quarterback, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gattis even has a wildcat package similar to what Jabrill Peppers had in 2015-2016 for Giles Jackson this season.
What do you think is a wild yet possible outcome to this season? Or do you think it will play out like previous Michigan campaigns? Let us know!