It’s everyone’s favorite time of the year.
Everything out of fall camp sounds positive, with slews of “better than last year” and “constantly improving” echoing from the mouths of players and coaches alike. Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff aspirations are in the air. I mean, the Michigan football team is so good right now, it has two quarterbacks who are talented enough to start — everything’s peachy, right?
So now you’re probably one of two people.
Person 1: You’re drinking the Kool-Aid. You think the Wolverines are going to go out this season, stomp on Ohio State in Columbus and make a run at the national title because they are back and better than ever.
Person 2: You think last year was an anomaly. You believe nothing out of Michigan’s camp and are sure that the Wolverines will disappoint you once more, regressing to the mean in another underwhelming Jim Harbaugh season that you’ve come to know so well.
And before you start thinking to yourself “I’m neither of those, I’m completely reasonable in my expectations,” that’s probably not true.
So let’s set some expectations.
To start, the defense will not be as good as it was last year.
Losing Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, Dax Hill — and even Josh Ross — will hurt maybe even more than anyone can foresee. Not to mention, Michigan’s defensive coordinator from last season, Mike Macdonald, left to take on the same role with the Baltimore Ravens. And there’s no guarantee that Jesse Minter will have the same level of success, especially lacking the high-end talent that Macdonald was working with.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his assistants have been calling this defense a “no star” defense, citing its collaboration, communication and well-roundedness as a strength. There is a problem with a “no star” defense, however — it doesn’t have a star.
Without that anchor —the person who consistently produces and wreaks havoc on opposing offenses — the defense is bound to regress. That doesn’t mean it will be bad, or even fall that far, but don’t expect the dominance it showed last season.
Second, the offense will have some growing pains. Entering the season, the Wolverines have a different starting quarterback for Weeks One and Two, and they claim that’s a good thing.
“I see the things written, the adage … if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any,” Harbaugh said Monday. “… But is that true? Is that a fact? Is that a fact? Is that a fact for anywhere? Or is it a fact on this team? I don’t think that’s a proven fact.”
Clearly, Harbaugh wants people to know it isn’t a fact that being without a designated starter is a bad thing. And while it technically is not a fact, there’s a reason it doesn’t happen elsewhere.
Receivers, running backs, centers — even coordinators — need time to build chemistry with their quarterback; the offense runs through them. Using the first few games of the season as a tryout rather than a warm up for the quarterbacks could prove detrimental down the road. So expect some growing pains as the offense tries to settle in with whoever their starter may be.
Next, don’t be surprised if Michigan comes away with anywhere between two and four losses in the regular season. Sure, four is a bit on the extreme end, but it’s certainly possible.
All it takes is a bumpy quarterback competition and an unsteady defense to drop a road game against Iowa at Kinnick and Penn State, though unranked, is nothing to scoff at. Mel Tucker thus far has had the Wolverines’ number in the rivalry, and preseason No. 15 Michigan State has all it takes to force an upset. And finally, facing No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus, a place Michigan hasn’t won since the year 2000, it’s hard to foresee a win — despite last year’s result.
But not everything is doom and gloom. The Wolverines still have a locker room packed with talented players, even some freaks, and will find success this season. If there’s anything Michigan does well, in recent history, it’s beating bad opponents.
So what should you expect?
This team will be good. It will most likely only drop a game or two, finish second or third in the East and find itself in a respectable bowl game — maybe even a New Year’s Six.
But don’t expect last year. Don’t expect a triumph in Columbus. And don’t start tweeting to fire Harbaugh if the Wolverines suffer a loss to Iowa, Penn State or Michigan State. Just keep it realistic:
Expect Michigan football.