The Michigan Daily is, mostly, on vacation. The Michigan football team, unfortunately for us, is not.
Given that reality, this was the solution we came up with. It’s something between a column and a notebook, touching on everything from the Citrus Bowl to National Signing Day to a few random things in between.
And, because it’s fairly long, I’ll just get to it.
1. The directive to play in the Citrus Bowl seems to be pretty universal amongst Michigan’s players, both after last Friday’s awards show and this Friday morning when players were made available in Schembechler Hall. It’s a combination of factors as to why — a desire to finish what they started, a lingering frustration over the guys who skipped last year’s Peach Bowl and the simple fact that playing Alabama offers a unique chance to put something on tape — but the overriding sense is the Wolverines are pretty motivated. That probably means something.
2. Jon Runyan Jr.’s answer on players skipping bowl games bears repeating in full. So here it is: “It’s tough, especially with how the college football landscape has shaped — you can kinda compare it to college basketball,with these recruits,” Runyan told reporters. “I was just watching (Memphis’) James Wiseman, if that’s his name, I don’t really know if that’s his name. He’s a guy, it’s not really the bowl game, but coming in here only playing a couple games and out the rest of the year. And his team has to go on without him and stuff like that.
“But just the way the players and NCAA has shifted, I guess that they just kinda feel that whatever situation they’re in — Devin (Bush) and Rashan (Gary) were both top-12 picks last year. I understand where they’re coming from in their situation. Other guys, they’re just always doing what’s in their best interest. I don’t necessarily think that sitting out one game in your entire career should have a big impact on how you’re viewed in the program. It’s unfortunate that those guys aren’t able to play one more game. But it’s tough and the landscape has completely flipped from when I first started here and people sitting out bowl games. It’s interesting to see where it goes. I think some people have to take into account the magnitude of the bowl game. I don’t think they would sit out if we were in the college football playoff. Maybe that’s a factor. People sitting out New Year’s Six bowls, but the guys that are in bowl games they’re playing today, none of them are sitting out, so I really think the size and magnitude play into that.”
3. The irony of Runyan’s comment, of course, is that Michigan seems far more motivated to play Alabama in the Citrus Bowl than it did last year to play Florida in the Peach Bowl — a nominally more prestigious game. To dissect it further, I think that points towards programs treating bowl games in accordance to their expectation of how things should’ve gone during the season. Last year, the Wolverines thought they were good enough to be in the College Football Playoff. “I think this year, everybody’s just on board with anything,” senior quarterback Shea Patterson said last week. That seems to be well-reflected in the rest of the team.
4. It’s hard not to feel for Tarik Black after he entered the transfer portal this week. A lot of guys who leave do so because they aren’t good enough to get on the field. Black obviously is. The story of his freshman year has been told enough that if you clicked on this column, you probably know it. (If not, here’s some ill-headlined context). Coming into this year it seemed that, at minimum, Black would be the third guy on the depth chart. Instead, Ronnie Bell ended up leading Michigan in receiving and Black will finish out his career elsewhere.
“I kinda feel sad about it,” senior tight end Nick Eubanks said. “That’s somebody I surrounded myself with, in terms of just talking to every day. Especially with him going through injuries and stuff like that, me and him kinda shared a bond. So I kinda am sad.”
5. In the category of news that should probably be printed: Eubanks said Friday he has yet to decide on coming back next season. Josh Uche said he believes he would have been able to get a fifth year had he wanted, but didn’t care to wait and see before making the decision to go to the NFL.
6. Eubanks coming back would be a pretty big deal for Michigan and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Sean McKeon will be gone next year to graduation. If Eubanks were to leave as well, it would leave Erick All, who made one catch this year and needs to bulk up to improve his blocking, as the likely top tight end on the depth chart. All could easily make an impact in the passing game next year regardless, but it’s hard to imagine Michigan would feel comfortable with him going into the season as a key run blocker.
7. In terms of the SAM position next year, Uche said he sees sophomore Michael Barrett taking the role. Barrett has worked with the SAM linebackers and VIPERs this year, in addition to special teams. His biggest on-field impact this season came in completing a fake punt against Army. (Barrett was a high school quarterback, though he was recruited as an athlete).
“My job description entails covering tight ends to pass rushing and playing traditional linebacker,” Uche said. “So it’s — you gotta do everything. You gotta be able to do everything. You can’t just be good at one thing, you have to perfect all phases of the game. Really understand coverages, understand reading tackles and just being able to play in the box as well as being like a 3-4 outside linebacker.”
8. Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins, Chris Evans and Blake Corum will be one hell of a backfield for Michigan next year.
9. Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones staying or going is probably the difference between Michigan’s receiving corps being good and being great in 2020. A group of Ronnie Bell, Mike Sainristil, Giles Jackson and A.J. Henning is still formidable, if young.
10. It’s impossible to fault Jim Harbaugh or anyone on the coaching staff for the way the Wolverines navigated a tough situation in quarterback recruiting, with 2020 commit J.D. Johnson being forced to medically retire. After C.J. Stroud signed with Ohio State, Michigan went to three-star Dan Villari, a largely unknown quantity from Massapequa, N.Y. — a town on Long Island mostly known for having an outsize number of Mike Francesa callers. With Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton already on the depth chart for next year along with Cade McNamara, and five-star J.J. McCarthy committed for 2021, it’s hard to imagine Villari gets any playing time without something going wrong, but it’s a situation to watch nonetheless.