When Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh last offseason, there was overwhelming excitement in Ann Arbor. Most believed it was only a matter of time before Harbaugh returned them to elite status.
After going 5-7 in 2014, the expectations were limited in Harbaugh’s first year. Apparently they shouldn’t have been. Michigan proceeded to go 10-3. It was just the second double-digit win season in the last 9 years.
The Wolverines were right in the thick of things for the Big Ten West with Ohio State and Michigan State. Needing only to beat the Buckeyes at home in the finale and the Spartans to lose. They ended up getting embarrassed by Ohio State 13-42. However, they would bounce back in a big way with a 41-7 win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl.
Clearly Harbaugh’s impact was even bigger than most expected. Michigan isn’t just a threat to win the Big Ten in 2016, but a legit threat to win the National Championship. In fact, they are tied with FSU and Oklahoma with the 5th best odds to win it all at +1300.
Big Ten (East)
|Date||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|10/29||@ Michigan State|
|11/26||@ Ohio State|
|Estimated Wins: TBD|
*We take the win chance by using the college football win percentage chart for each point spread.
The first thing that comes to mind when you look at Michigan’s schedule, is they open with 5 straight at home. Their only road game prior to Oct. 29 is against a Rutgers team they beat 49-16 last year.
While a perfect 7-0 start is within reach, they do have a couple of early tests they have to pass. The two biggest coming in back-to-back weeks against Penn State and Wisconsin.
If the Wolverines plan on winning the East, these are two games they likely have to have. That’s because things get a lot tougher down the stretch.
Michigan plays three of their final 5 games on the road and all 3 are against top level teams. The first coming against in-state rival Michigan State. After a home game against Maryland, they head to Iowa City to take on a talented Iowa team. They get another home game against Indiana before concluding the year at Ohio State.
When Harbaugh took the job last year, his first order of business was to find a new quarterback. He went out and convinced Iowa’s Jake Rudock to transfer to Michigan.
Rudock wasn’t anything special, but he took care of the football. He completed 64% of his passes for 3,017 yards with 20 TD’s to just 9 INT’s.
Another transfer may be starting in 2016. Former Houston starter John O’Korn is the frontrunner to win the job. O’Korn started 16 games for Houston in 2013 and 2014. During which he completed 55% of his attempts with 34 touchdowns to 18 interceptions.
Given Harbaugh’s ability to get the best out of whatever quarterback he comes across, O’Korn figures to shine in his first year as the starter.
If that happens, the Wolverines offense could be as prolific as it’s been in quite some time. Keep in mind they averaged 31.4 ppg in 2015 after only putting up 20.9 ppg in 2014.
The only other significant loss outside of Rudock was starting center Graham Glasgow. He’s expected to be replaced by Mason Cole, who started all 13 games at left tackle last year. Opening the door for talented sophomore Grant Newsome to take over at left tackle.
If there’s one area where Michigan could improve it’s the running game. The Wolverines averaged a respectable 158 ypg and 4.2 yards/carry. More can be expected. In Harbaugh’s first year at Stanford they averaged just 111 ypg and 3.0 yards/carry. After that they averaged at least 200 with close to 5.0 yards/carry.
Senior De’Von Smith returns as the starter, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t end up as a backup. USC transfer Ty Issac was impressive when given the chance. He led the team with 6.8 yards/carry. They also add in two highly touted freshmen.
Harbaugh’s first season on the job also saw big improvements on the defensive side of the ball. Michigan went from giving up 22.4 ppg and 311 ypg to allowing just 16.4 ppg and 281 ypg.
Their most impressive stretch coming in three consecutive shutouts over BYU, Maryland and Northwestern. They do lose defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who is now the head coach at Maryland. On the bright side, they added in Boston College’s Don Brown.
The 2016 unit will welcome back 6 starters, but do lose their top three tacklers. The losses don’t figure to have a huge impact, as there’s a ton of talent on this side of the ball.
Last year Michigan’s defensive line was hit hard with injuries. Defensive end Mario Ojemudia tore his Achilles early and Ryan Glasgow was lost after 9 games. This year they get back Glasgow and starting defensive end Chris Wormley. Plus, are very high on Maurice Hurst and Taco Charlton and true freshman Rashan Gary.
The Wolverines lost a lot of experience at linebacker, but figure to be in good shape. A big part of that, is star safety Jabrill Peppers moving to strong-side linebacker.
Even with Peppers switching positions, the secondary figures to be one of the best in the country. Michigan has two senior studs at corner in Jourdan Lewis and Jeremy Clark. They also get back starting strong safety Delano Hill. The newcomer in the group will be senior Dymonte Thomas, who started the final 5 games of 2015.
Regular Season Win Total
Big Ten East Odds
Big Ten Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
*Odds updated live on our college football odds page
There’s no question that Michigan is going to be one of the best teams in the Big 10 this season and many more to come. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Wolverines won the East in 2016, but I’m not predicting it.
I know Ohio State lost a lot, but they have lost one regular season conference game under Urban Meyer. That’s over a 4-year stretch. I believe with Michigan having to go to Columbus, the Buckeyes are still the team to beat in the Big Ten.
That’s not the only tough road game on the schedule. I could easily see the Wolverines losing at Iowa or Michigan State. I’m going to take a more cautious approach and call for Michigan to go 7-2 in the Big Ten and 10-2 overall. That would still be enough for them to eclipse their win total of 9.5.
Big Ten (East)
Big Ten Record
Win Total Prediction