Yes, you read the headline correctly, Michigan football is about to enter its first year under Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Let me explain….2018 is the first year Jim Harbaugh will have a team entirely recruited and coached by him and it was obvious after the Ohio State game and in the wake of Wilton Speight’s transfer.
Everything has changed for Michigan Football under Jim Harbaugh following Saturday’s 31-20 to arch-rival Ohio State. The loss dropped the Wolverines to 0-3 under Harbaugh against the buckeyes and in the post-game press conference it was apparent that the gloves are off for the Wolverines and there must be change in 2018 for Michigan to take the program to the next level.
Harbaugh wasn’t angry or fiery following the loss, but it appears he has redoubled his resolve to finally put his stamp one hundred percent on the program. Harbaugh didn’t defend his players in his presser, he called them out for their mistakes and served notice that more will be expected of the wolverines next season. Michigan’s record must change against its rivals dramatically next season or the criticism of Harbaugh will only grow louder from those outside and a few inside the Michigan fan base. His job is among the safest in college football, but the mystique is starting to evaporate and the national media love to take shots at the wolverines head man, who has made himself a target with his high profile off-season decisions.
2018 is the year that Jim Harbaugh plans to take control of the program, all but a couple of Brady Hoke’s players remain, and Harbaugh will finally start a season with a quarterback he actually recruited. Wilton Speight’s departure isn’t a small thing, he would have likely taken the starting QB competition to the wire and potentially won the starting job for the third consecutive season…..that wouldn’t have been good for anybody. Speight had reached his ceiling and it was obvious. It’s time for Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey to take center stage and lead the Harbaugh era wolverines.
When Harbaugh took over the program it was strong on defense from a talent standpoint but there was little to nothing left in the offensive cupboard and it showed. Michigan lost 11 players to the NFL draft in 2017 but not one of them was an offensive lineman or a quarterback, that has to change.
Offensively Michigan will be led by red-shirt sophomore Brandon Peters at quarterback but will be pushed by Red-shirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey and they will play behind a full offensive line that was recruited entirely by Jim Harbaugh. It’s a virtual lock that sophomore Cesar Ruiz will start at center after getting good snaps at guard when Michael Onwenu was injured. Onwenu and Ben Bredeson will return at the guard spots, however the tackle spots are up for grabs. Left tackle Mason Cole is off to the NFL and right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty is still a work in progress on the right side, strong as a run blocker but a pass protection liability. Michigan is hoping but cannot count on Grant Newsome returning to form following a catastrophic knee injury in 2016. If Newsome can go it would be a huge boost to an offensive line that Michigan hopes will jell in 2018 as a top Big Ten until. Redshirt freshmen Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford will push John Runyan Jr. and Nolan Ulizio for playing time at tackle. Harbaugh is counting on this group to deliver “man ball” in 2018 and just as it has in recent years the offensive line development and the quarterback will be the key to the wolverine’s success in the fall.
The other offensive positions have Harbaugh feeling good about his team heading into the offseason….the young wide receivers experienced great progress this season and expect to return a deep, talented group. Tarik Black who was injured in the third game of the season returns along with stablemates Kekoa Crawford, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Oliver Martin, Grant Perry and Edie McDoom. This group was praised by the coaching staff and gives Michigan faithful great optimism for next season. There are plenty of tight ends and running backs on the roster with talent and experience. Zach Gentry, Tyrone Wheatley, Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks are all good to great tight ends who will take some of the pressure of the quarterback as the new signal caller progresses. The running back stable is deep and talented as Michigan returns its top two running backs in Karan Higdon and Chris Evans along with the emerging Kareen Walker and other who crowd a talented backfield.
Defensively Michigan returns all of its talent with the exception of captain Mike McCray, a Hoke holdover who was solid at linebacker but limited athletically and Maurice Hurst, a potential high first round draft pick. Of Michigan’s eleven defensive starters in 2017, all but Mike McCray made the all big ten defensive team in some capacity while cornerbacks sophomores LaVert Hill and David Long were graded as the top unit in 2017.
If Chase Winovich decided to return in 2018 the defensive line should be stellar again with Winovich, Rashan Gary and Aubrey Solomon anchoring one of the nations best units.
The talk of Harbaugh’s demise is greatly exaggerated as the 2017 campaign played out exactly as many experts predicted with the exception of an inexplicable loss to Sparty that kept the wolverines from reaching the 9 win threshold many expected.
2018 in many ways is Harbaugh’s first, his offensive line, his quarterback, his philosophy. A corner has been turned and the expectations are lofty even with a gauntlet of a schedule including road games in South Bend, E. Lansing and Columbus mixed in with home games against Wisconsin and Penn State. Now we find out what Jim Harbaugh is made of at Michigan.