The 2016 edition of the Michigan Wolverines football team will be one of the most watched – and most scrutinized – squads going into the upcoming college football season. Before we even look at the team itself, the story for this team starts & ends with its head coach – Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh has been making waves all offseason long, basically from the day the team destroyed Florida in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. The former Michigan quarterback has been on a recruiting mission that is most likely one of the greatest movements in the history of college football.
He has satellite camps all over the country, particularly in the SEC, where that is considered sacreligious to do, especially with the power & dominance of the league over the last several years. His tactics raised the ire of many coaches in the league, particularly Nick Saban, as Saban has continued to dominate college football with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Harbaugh’s recruiting has paid off as the Wolverines have the #6 ranked recruiting class for 2016 according to ESPN & currently the #5 class for next year, led by QB Dylan McCaffrey, a high school quarterback out of Colorado, and the brother of Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey & son of former Denver Broncos WR Ed McCaffrey. With the loaded talent coming in, what does the 2016 season hold for the Wolverines? If it is what hardcore Michigan fans are looking at, its going to be a potential trip to the college football playoff.
The team responds to Harbaugh’s style & his lineage, which shows in the team’s 10-3 mark last year & were a muffed return punt touchdown loss against Michigan State away from possibly playing for a Big Ten Championship. This year, the offense returns basically in tact, minus quarterback Jake Ruddock, who thrived in Harbaugh’s coaching along with offensive coordinator Tim Drevino. In order for the Wolverines system to go smoothly, the team has to have a good quarterback.
Many people are rooting for Shane Morris, especially since the kid has been with the program through the Brady Hoke years and all, but Morris did nothing to really push for playing time in the spring, so it looks as though he will be the 3rd quarterback going into preseason training camp. Junior QB Wilton Speight is a good player, but is very inexperienced. Harbaugh saw this coming & brought in Houston transfer John O’Korn, who threw 34 touchdowns with the Cougars during his career – even though the offense is meant to go up & down the field in their high-powered spread offense. O’Korn, like Ruddock, is a senior quarterback who won’t shy away from the big moments & has been with a winning program. O’Korn should be the starter, which will bridge to a true Harbaugh guy in McCaffrey next season.
The running game should be improved this year with having 4 of 5 offensive linemen back, losing Graham Glasgow to the NFL Draft in April, meaning Mason Cole will start the season at Center & Graham Newsome will take his strong blocking ability to the left tackle position. If the continuity is strong early & Newsome is ready for the blocking schemes, the passing game should be solid. Going back to the running game, Michigan will have two senior running backs in the backfield in De’Veon Smith & Drake Johnson. Smith is more of a power back while Johnson is very shifty in the hole. This should create a nice 1-2 punch against an offensive line that should be among the best in the country, let alone the Big Ten.
In the receiver area, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson & Tight End Jake Butt are all returning, giving O’Korn plenty of great targets to get the ball to. Junior Drake Harris should get some solid playing time in rotation & sophomore Grant Perry has shown signs of being a big time playmaker that can get down the field quickly & could help stretch a defense if given playing time.
On defense, the story is the same for the Wolverines, who ranked 5th in total defense in 2015. Jourdan Lewis returns at cornerback & Jabril Peppers – a former wide receiver and punt returner, has bulked up & will play inside linebacker for Michigan, who is hoping that Peppers’ great athletic ability will make it difficult for offensive lines & running backs to block him on blitz schemes. New defensive coordinator Don Brown will make different schemes and pressures throughout a game – at any point in the game. Look for the experienced Wolverines defense to be up to the challenge of causing havoc across the Big Ten, particularly in preparation for Ohio State, who will have another solid running game & the threat of mobile quarterback J.T. Barrett.
The Wolverines look like a team that can compete for a national championship. This may be the best team Michigan has put on the field since the 1997 Rose Bowl National Championship squad. If O’Korn & the defense can hold up, Jim Harbaugh will look like the true mad scientist of college football in January.