1. The B1G Story

The trophy is in the case now, a shining example of what can be from a program that long ago forgot what it was like to win it all.

And may not get another chance for quite some time.

“We’ve already started the process,” new Michigan coach Sherrone Moore said earlier this month during his introductory press conference. “We’re hungry for more.”

But with what framework?

Despite 3 consecutive Big Ten titles, and the 2023 national title, Michigan isn’t exactly set up to continue the historic run of the past 3 seasons. In fact, the program is shadow of its former self — a mere 5 weeks removed from reaching the mountaintop.

Because from every tangible entry point, the 2024 season is a complete overhaul for Moore and his new team. If ever there were a doubt that former coach Jim Harbaugh built for 2023 — and that the Michigan administration knew it, and did everything to keep the train rolling all year long — an early snapshot of 2024 explains it all.

— In addition to losing Harbaugh to the LA Chargers, Michigan lost 6 assistant coaches to the NFL, including its defensive, special teams and strength and conditioning coordinators.

— Will begin the 2024 season without its leading passer (JJ McCarthy), rusher (Blake Corum), top 2 receivers (Roman Wilson, Cornelius Johnson), top 2 tacklers (LBs Junior Colson and Michael Barrett), sack leader (Edge Jaylen Harrell), and interception leader (S Mike Sainristil).

— Must replace all 5 starting offensive linemen, a combined loss of 200 career starts.

— 1 starter returns on offense (TE Colston Loveland), and 6 return on defense, among the worst retention rate in all of FBS.

— Lost a whopping 18 players who were invited to the NFL Combine.

All of that, and a schedule that incudes home games against Texas, USC and Oregon, and road games at Washington and Ohio State.

This clearly isn’t 2023 anymore. In fact, an argument can be made that Michigan is all but starting over.

2. Recreating the magic

Harbaugh was an immeasurable force, a storm of passion and persistence that forced himself on all things Maize and Blue until there was no other option.

He was quirky and rare. Unrelenting and unwavering. He promised Michigan would win with character and cruelty.

He declared, after years of losing to Ohio State, that Michigan would win or die trying. Then the Wolverines won 3 straight, and eventually won it all.

That’s nearly impossible to follow — especially with much of the framework already gutted.

“I can’t be Jim Harbaugh, so I’m going to be me,” Moore said. “In this business, in any world, if you’re not yourself, you’re going to lose the people around you, so I’m definitely going to be myself.”

That move better begin and end with recruiting at an elite level, both high schools and the transfer portal. It took Harbaugh 6 years to land his franchise quarterback in McCarthy, a process that included muddling through misfit transfers and underwhelming high school recruits.

Moore can’t take that long to find his quarterback, or the team’s identity. He can’t wait that long to land transfers of impact, even though he has a late start.

Michigan’s 2024 recruiting class is ranked No. 16 in the nation by the 247Sports composite, with 1 player in the top 100 rankings and 8 in the top 225. Michigan has signed 2 from the transfer portal.

While it typically takes a year to capitalize on a championship season, Michigan was never an elite recruiting program under Harbaugh. He found speed and philosophical fits, and leaned on development.

Moore needs players, period. Now, and in 2 months when the spring portal opens.

3. The buildout, The Epilogue

When Harbaugh arrived at his alma mater in 2015, it was the infancy stages of the new 4-team Playoff.

It was a feeling out process, and there was time to find a lane and work to change the program’s fortunes. There’s no time now — only the bar set by Harbaugh and the 2023 team, amid an ever-changing college football landscape.

The new 12-team Playoff puts more pressure on Moore and his staff. There are more options to reach the postseason, more roads that lead to playing and advancing in the tournament.

And less excuses.

It begins with finding a quarterback to replace McCarthy, who started 28 games and lost once — in the 2022 Playoff semifinals to TCU. Michigan isn’t getting to the 2024 Playoff with Jake Rudock or Wilton Speight, the 2 quarterbacks Harbaugh used his first 2 seasons and cobbled together 20 wins.

Not this time around. Not in this new Big Ten environment.

Jack Tuttle, who recently received an extra season of eligibility, will compete with former blue-chip recruits Alex Orji, Jayden Denegal and 2024 signee Jadyn Davis, for the starting job.

Michigan could sign another experienced quarterback from the spring transfer portal, but Orji or Denegal needs to seize the opportunity and win the job. The last thing Moore needs in Year 1 is a quarterback controversy.

There’s already plenty to fix at Michigan from the jump.

4. Expanding the role

Don’t be surprised to see Caleb Downs in a variety of roles for Ohio State this season.

Including snaps on offense — or more specifically, as a runner.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day — never one to turn down an option for his high-powered offense — says he remembers watching Downs run the ball at Mill Creek High School in Georgia.

A freshman All-American free safety in 2023 at Alabama, Downs (6-feet, 205 pounds) was the most athletically-gifted player on the Tide roster. He could get snaps in the Ohio State backfield, or as a wide receiver in jet sweep sets.

“You saw him as a punt returner (at Alabama),” Day said earlier this month. “We’re excited to make sure that we give him as many opportunities as he possibly can in all different areas, too. You know, maybe lining him up in different things. So there’ll be a lot of opportunity next year for Caleb Downs.”

5. The Weekly 5

The top 5 football/basketball combinations in the Big Ten.

1. Dan Lanning/Dana Altman, Oregon

2. Jonathan Smith/Tom Izzo, Michigan State

3. Luke Fickell/Greg Gard, Wisconsin

4. Kirk Ferentz/Fran McCaffery, Iowa

5. Matt Rhule/Fred Hoiberg, Nebraska

6. Ask and you shall receive

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Penn State edge rusher Chop Robinson.

“You can easily put him at the top of his group at both the explosive get-off, and strength of hands. An incredibly athletically-gifted guy who has shown lean and strong bend, and the ability to shed. He knows how to set up (pass rush) moves, and that makes him more dangerous. He’s a little inconsistent with leverage and finish, but that’s something that can be developed.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing.

1. Oregon: In 50 career games, QB Dillon Gabriel is averaging 3 TDs per game. He has 151 career TDs (26 rush).

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have the best cornerback combination in the nation in 2024 with Denzel Burke and Davison Igbinosun.

3. Penn State: Can Ohio State transfer WR Julian Fleming, a former Pennsylvania high school star, be a true No. 1 receiver?

4. Michigan: Orji, McCarthy’s high-profile backup in 2023, didn’t throw a pass all season. He ran 15 times for 86 yards and 1 TD.

5. Iowa: New OC Tim Lester’s first priority: Get the receivers involved in the offense. Iowa’s receivers have caught 76 passes in each of the past 2 seasons.

6. USC: Don’t expect QB Miller Moss to be given the starting job. Lincoln Riley is excited about the size and arm strength of UNLV transfer QB Jayden Maiava.

7. Wisconsin: Badgers can’t assume transfer QB Tyler Van Dyke, inconsistent for much of the past 2 years at Miami, will play like his 2021 breakout season.

8. Washington: Huskies must replace starting quarterback, running back, top 3 receivers and top 3 tacklers.

9. Illinois: It all fell apart for Bret Bielema at Arkansas with a string of tough 1-possession losses over the final 2 seasons. Illinois lost 3 games in 2023 by a combined 8 points.

10. Minnesota: UCLA kicked the tires on Gophers coach PJ Fleck, who wasn’t going anywhere, anyway.

11. Nebraska: Overlooked in the hype of QB Dylan Raiola: The addition of impact WRs Jahmal Banks (Wake Forest) and Isaiah Neyor (Texas)

12. UCLA: The key and lasting question: If UCLA had fired Chip Kelly in December and hired DeShaun Foster, do QB Dante Moore, CB Jon Humphrey and S Kamari Ramsey — among others — stay in Westwood?

13. Northwestern: The hiring of OC Zach Lujan from FCS power South Dakota State is the most underrated Big Ten coaching move of the offseason.

14. Maryland: Don’t underestimate the impact of new co-DC Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, a highly-respected cornerbacks coach in the coaching fraternity, and an elite recruiter.

15. Rutgers: Can Rutgers build on offseason momentum during spring practice, and back up its first winning season and bowl appearance since 2014?

16. Michigan State: Spartans have officially swapped Prairie View A&M for Louisiana in Week 3 of the season — at a cost of a $600,000 cancellation fee.

17. Indiana: We’re a long way from the start of the season, but it’s hard to ignore IU’s favorable September schedule (FIU, Western Illinois, at UCLA, Charlotte, Maryland).

18. Purdue: Don’t overlook the impact of Georgia transfer WR CJ Smith, a talented burner stuck on a deep depth chart.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Who has a bigger rebuild? Washington or Alabama? — Victor Long, St. Petersburg, Fla.


Think about this: 3 of the 4 teams in the 2023 Playoff (Michigan, Washington, Alabama) have new coaches and significant rebuilds ahead of them. You could even make the case that 2 or all 3 might not make the 12-team Playoff in 2024.

I feel good about Jedd Fisch taking over as coach at Washington, but the other 2 new coaches are dealing with roster and culture uncertainty. Moore is dealing with a gutted roster, and new Alabama coach Kalen DeBoer is dealing with a loss of a core group of starters — and the specter of replacing the greatest coach in college football history.

I can’t imagine anyone has a more difficult lift than DeBoer, even though the Alabama roster is in better shape than the Washington roster (and the Michigan roster). But understand this: DeBoer is the only coach of the 3 with a legitimate star at quarterback (Jalen Milroe).

Washington will go with former Mississippi State starter Will Rogers, and Michigan will likely spend all of spring practice and fall camp before naming a starting quarterback.

9. Numbers

16. Penn State was 2nd in the Big Ten in 2023 is sacks allowed (16) but loses both starting tackles to the NFL: Olu Fashanu and Caedan Wallace.

That led to Penn State signing Wisconsin OT Nolan Rucci from the portal. Drew Shelton, a former blue-chip recruit from 2022, is the likely starter at left tackle.

Rucci will compete with Anthony Donkoh and 2023 Top 25 recruit J’ven Williams for the starting right tackle spot. The goal is to find 2 starters from that group of 4 players to support QB Drew Allar.

Penn State has been among the best in the Big Ten in the last two seasons in pas protection, giving up only 37 sacks in 26 games.

10. Quote to note

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on the process to hire OC Tim Lester: “The bottom line is this, the whole key to this thing, was to ensure that we got the best person and the right person for this position. I want to do what’s best for our team and best for our program, and I’m confident that we landed the mark there.”