I thought about writing some kind of real, big-picture, season preview-y column. There’s a good feeling in doing that, but here’s the thing. Michigan plays Middle Tennessee State this weekend. The game is at 7:30, because some TV executive decided it should be and nobody wanted to explain to him how poor of an idea that is. The Wolverines will win by a lot. No big picture assertion will get backed up or shot down by this game, barring a monumental upset.

So maybe it’s best to save those takes for another day and instead riff on some of the minutiae.

That might not be the right call. But it’s what I decided on anyway, and you’ve gotten this far (a whole three paragraphs) into this story, so you’re committed. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

We’re not doing a column about why Jim Harbaugh must beat Ohio State, or why this year defines the Michigan football program or something of that ilk. There will be time for those columns and more, but whether the Wolverines beat the Blue Raiders by 28 or 42 won’t do much towards proving their voracity. Instead, we’re just going to put some thoughts on paper, because it makes more sense to do that in a story than in a Twitter thread. Think of it as some combination of what I’m looking for, questions I’ve been pondering and takes that will probably turn out poorly.


  1. Everything will get measured in degrees this weekend, assuming Michigan does as expected and wins easily. That includes any elements of this matchup that hold some interest. If this sounds obvious, I promise it won’t when you want to overreact to something on Saturday.

  2. It’s beating a dead horse to say Josh Gattis’ offense is the most interesting thing to look for … but Josh Gattis’ offense is the most interesting thing to look for. Shea Patterson has played in spread offenses for much of his football life and figures to be more comfortable here than he was in Harbaugh’s offense last season. It’ll be hard to decipher that against Middle Tennessee State. We’ll try anyway.

  3. I think if you’re building in the assumption that Patterson looks better in Gattis’ offense, it’s hard to buy that the Wolverines play two quarterbacks with enough regularity to affect games. Dylan McCaffrey has the potential to be quite good. But I find it hard to believe that in any big moment, Patterson will be taken out for him.

  4. As it relates to that situation, I wonder whose call it is between Harbaugh and Gattis to rotate QBs. We know Gattis is calling plays. It’s less clear who’s dictating personnel.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this detail from Max Marcovitch’s profile of Ben Mason that ran last year: “After he accepted the head coaching job at San Diego, Harbaugh promised Bo Schembechler that as long as he coached, there will be a fullback on the roster.” Michigan does have a fullback on its roster. He is, however, now playing defensive line.

  6. At a guess, Tru Wilson will start at running back. As a more concrete assertion, I don’t think it matters in the slightest. We’ll probably see a fairly even split between Wilson, Zach Charbonnet and Christian Turner, based on running backs coach Jay Harbaugh implying as much this week and the logic that it doesn’t really make sense to commit to someone this early anyway.

  7. How Charbonnet acquits himself in pass protection might quietly be the biggest thing to determining how much playing time he gets. Remember, that was how Wilson got on the field last season.

  8. As fascinating as Tarik Black’s story is, I’m not sure how much he figures into things right now. It’s striking how little the coaching staff has talked him up in during camp. When Harbaugh was asked about Black on Monday, he said in part, “Had a good spring — he’s been very, very good. Especially over the last five practices, he’s really standing out.” Then he pivoted to hyping up Ronnie Bell.

  9. Michigan’s depth at receiver is stupidly good. Watching Mike Sainristil, Cornelius Johnson and Giles Jackson might be the most interesting part of the fourth quarter on Saturday.

  10. Lawrence Marshall and Bryan Mone weren’t exactly world-beaters on the interior, but they ate up space and played a lot of snaps. Replacing their production isn’t a huge issue. Replacing the depth they provided could be.

  11. If Cam McGrone is the starting Will linebacker by the end of September, that’s a great thing for Michigan.

  12. Ditto for Daxton Hill at strong safety.

  13. We should be more careful about penciling in Josh Uche for a straight-line production increase. It’s hard going from a third-down pass rusher to an every-down linebacker who needs to stay disciplined in the run game, be in coverage and stay on the field. That’s not to say Uche can’t, but it seems premature to just assume that he will.

  14. The lack of depth at corner if Ambry Thomas sits out is Michigan’s biggest issue right now. But with reports about his recovery gaining optimism and the Wolverines’ first three opponents being MTSU (a guarantee game), Army (which runs a triple-option) and Wisconsin (which ranked 80th in passing S&P+ last year and relies heavily on the run), it’s hard to see anyone being able to take advantage.

  15. Michigan’s defense will probably take a small step back. It will also probably be fine, because there isn’t much evidence to suggest Don Brown defenses can’t withstand losses.

  16. I’m a little surprised we haven’t heard more about Quinten Johnson during fall camp with Thomas hurt. His testing numbers as a recruit were great — a 4.48 electronically timed 40-yard dash and a 125.7 SPARQ rating. It seems DJ Turner III has worked himself into the depth chart ahead of Johnson though.

  17. When I’m proselytizing about which freshman should be the third-string corner based on Hudl tape and testing scores from over a year ago, it’s probably time to end this column.

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