Most people who follow Michigan football aren't expecting big things out of the Wolverines in 2021. FanDuel has Michigan's win total over/under set at 7.5. Athlon Sports has Michigan at No. 32 in the country with so many question marks on both sides of the ball. And finally, Phil Steele has Michigan projected to finish 60th in the country with only one of its units ranking in the top 40 in the country — special teams. Steele also has Michigan finishing behind teams like Wyoming, Wake Forest, Toledo, Texas-San Antonio, Florida Atlantic and Tulsa.
To say expectations are low is an understatement.
Some of the criticisms are certainly fair, while others seem a little harsh. Michigan finishing behind UTSA? I don't know about that one. What I do know, is that Michigan has talent on the roster. Over the past five recruiting cycles, Michigan has finished No. 1, No. 4 and No. 2 three times in the recruiting rankings in the Big Ten. There are players in Ann Arbor, but getting the most out of them has been an issue.
On paper, Michigan has brought in really good players. Once those players get to Ann Arbor, however, a lot of them have failed to reach their full potential or they've been misused or underutilized. It's reflected in Pro Football Focus' latest edition of All-Big Ten teams. Only seven Wolverines are on the list, with Aidan Hutchinson being the only first teamer. Overall, that's less than Rutgers, Purdue and Michigan State. Don't even bother worrying about Ohio State, Penn State or Wisconsin, who nearly double up the Wolverines on the list.
Only senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson was named to the first team, which definitely seems appropriate as the big pass rusher looks to improve his draft stock after succumbing to injury in 2020.
Hutchinson played only three games in 2020 before suffering a season-ending injury, but the Wolverine seemed to be on his way to taking that next step forward on a mere 149 snaps (82.5 PFF grade). With a clean bill of health, he is quite easily among the best all-around defensive linemen in college football.
The 6-foot-6, 269-pounder is versatile, has incredible power behind his hands and is one of the more polished players at the position. For proof, look at his 2019 outing against Iowa when he became one of the few to post wins against 2020 Super Bowl champion Tristan Wirfs.
Hutchinson produced an 83.6 run-defense grade and 27 run stops along with a 76.0 pass-rush grade and 46 total pressures in 2019. Still, he never really put together a dominant performance from start to finish. We need to see more elite outings in 2021, and he easily has the potential to make that happen.
PFF predicts big things for Hutchinson, but expectations are tempered for the rest of the Wolverines. Beyond the senior pass rusher, Michigan is represented by second-teamer Daxton Hill and third-teamer Brad Hawkins in the back end of the secondary. On offense at the skill positions, wide receiver Ronnie Bell and running back Hassan Haskins are considered third-team members, while offensive lineman Andrew Stueber achieved honorable mention status. Finally, punter Brad Robbins was also listed as an honorable mention, and he may not even end up being the guy there.
As someone who knows how Michigan has recruited, and as an observer who knows what U-M has to work with compared to so many other programs in the Big Ten, it seems crazy that Rutgers, Purdue and MSU have more players present on a list like this. There really are no excuses for it, but unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons and plenty of evidence for it.