The B1G 10: Michigan plans to tough it out in all-or-nothing season. Plus Week 1 picks, rankings and more.
1. The B1G Story
There’s nothing else left, really. This is it for Michigan.
Win it all, or the season is a failure.
“Not 1 (player) wants to hear about what they did last year, or the last 2 years,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “It’s always, ‘Coach, we’re doing it again. We’re doing it now, and now is the time that matters.’ ”
Because Michigan hasn’t been set up like this to win a national championship in more than 30 years. Even the team that shared a national title in 1997 with Nebraska wasn’t in this position.
This is the most talented Michigan team ever (more on that later). JJ McCarthy is the most talented — and dangerous — quarterback in school history.
They’re motivated from back-to-back losses in the Playoff, and the NCAA coming after their coach, and the administration not fighting for their coach, and the idea that no one can beat the big, bad SEC.
They’ve added a period in practice called Beat Georgia, a 9-on-7 drill where the defense has the advantage and the goal of the offense is to run the ball and get critical yards despite being outmanned.
They’re not in awe of the back-to-back national champions — who beat Michigan by 23 the last time they played in the 2021 Playoff semifinal — they’re trying to find a way around them. Or in this case, through them.
Man on man, helmet on helmet, best player wins. It’s physical, it’s nasty and it’s the only way they pull off this championship run.
“It was really just pushing ourselves as a team,” Michigan defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said. “Getting gritty. Getting in the trenches. Not necessarily ‘Beat Georgia Drill’ — but how can we take our minds to the next level? How can we be a better football team, and how can we really be what everybody’s talked about?”
Not everyone outside the program. Everyone inside the program.
These guys know it’s time. They know they have a loaded team, and they know what’s on the horizon.
Why back away now?
2. Tough man wins
Years ago, when Harbaugh arrived at Stanford, he told his team early on that they may not be as talented as every other team in college football, but no one would be tougher.
By the end of his time at Stanford in 2010, the Cardinal were imposing their will on Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl — and winning by 4 touchdowns.
Harbaugh still lives in the old school world of tough man wins. It’s a world that, frankly, still resonates today.
Alabama coach Nick Saban talks constantly about the toughest player, and breaking through barriers to find the mental and physical fortitude to win at a high level. Georgia coach Kirby Smart preaches the same.
“At the end of the day, it’s still a blocking and tackling game,” Smart said.
Now look at what Michigan focused on this offseason: the offensive line.
Harbaugh signed 3 players from the transfer portal to upgrade the line: OTs Miles Hinton (Stanford) and Ladarius Henderson (Arizona State), and C Drake Nugent (Stanford). Hinton and Nugent have locked down starting jobs, and Henderson is on the verge of doing the same.
Harbaugh also signed physical TE AJ Barner (Indiana), who, yes, will help expand the pass game — but who will more importantly be a strong, point-of-attack blocker in double tight end sets.
There’s only 1 way to beat the best defensive line in the nation vs. Georgia. Or Alabama. Or LSU.
Have the best offensive line in the nation and play bully ball. Go 8-9 deep of linemen who will cause problems for SEC defenses, and 3-deep with big, physical tight ends. Then line up and trade blows.
In the words of Harbaugh’s favorite saying, win with character and cruelty.
3. All or nothing, The Epilogue
It’s hard to proclaim you could have 20-plus players selected in the 2024 NFL Draft, and not have an all or nothing attitude.
But that was Harbaugh last month, telling The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, “I bet we break that record.”
Georgia set the modern day draft record of 15 players selected in 2022 — yet another area where Michigan has drawn a line with the Bulldogs.
Michigan may not get to 20, but there’s a chance it could still beat the record 15. So I spoke with 2 NFL scouts who came up with 16+ Michigan players likely to be drafted in 2024 (should draft eligible underclassmen declare):
1st round: QB JJ McCarthy, DT Kris Jenkins.
2nd round: RB Donovan Edwards, G Zac Zinter.
3rd round: LB Junior Colson, RB Blake Corum, S Rod Moore.
4th round: S Mike Sainristil, OT Miles Hinton, G Trevor Keegan.
5th round: C Drake Nugent.
6th/7th round: Edge/OLB Jaylen Harrell, WR Roman Wilson, WR Cornelius Johnson, G Giovanni El-Hadi, OT Karsen Barnhart, K James Turner.
“I feel pretty certain about rounds 1-5,” an NFL scout told Saturday Tradition. “Once you get to rounds 6-7, then it gets a little iffy. But I can definitely see a guy like Harrell, who looks the part, having a breakout season and moving up. And by the time you hit round 7, you’re more likely to take a chance on a guy like (Roman) Wilson or (Cornelius) Johnson, or a kicker, or a backup offensive lineman.”
If we go by the aforementioned projection, Michigan would have 11 players selected in rounds 1-5. If the final 2 rounds produce those 6 players, Michigan will have broken the record by 2.
What does it all mean? The Wolverines have the most talented team in program history. They have motivation. They have a rare quarterback.
Now is the time to go win it all.
4. Meanwhile, in Columbus …
I don’t want to be the guy who has to reset everything midway through our B1G 10, but Ohio State has a better roster than Michigan.
Ohio State, however, doesn’t have the better quarterback. In fact, it has a quarterback (Kyle McCord) who only this week secured the starting job.
In this era of quarterback and the pass game are everything, Ohio State coach Ryan Day is still looking for McCord or Devin Brown to seize control of the job. Both will play in Saturday’s season opener against Indiana, and we should then get a better idea of where this team is headed.
Because outside of the quarterback spot, the Buckeyes are the most talented team in all of college football.
There’s a world where Ohio State has 7 picks in the 1st round of the 2024 NFL Draft.
That would beat the modern day record of 6 set by Miami (2004) and equaled by Alabama (2021). The 7 potential Ohio State 1st round picks: WRs Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, DT Michael Hall, CB Denzel Burke, Edge JT Tuimoloau, G Donovan Jackson, RB TreVeyon Henderson.
There’s also a possibility of edge Jack Sawyer and DE Tyleik Williams moving into the 1st round with big seasons. Of course, there’s always the possibly that Henderson and Jackson fall to the 2nd round because of positional value.
5. The Weekly 5
Five picks against the spread.
1. Nebraska at Minnesota (-7.5)
2. Utah State (+25.5) at Iowa
3. Fresno State (+4.5) at Purdue
4. Ohio State at Indiana (+29.5)
5. West Virginia at Penn State (-20.5)
Last season: 40-30.
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Minnesota TE Brevyn Spann-Ford.
“A huge presence out there. He’s all of 6-7, 270, and he has good quickness. A good burst. He’s not going to run away from people, but he can be a factor in short to intermediate. He’s long and strong, and he’s going to make those tough catches in traffic. He’s not as active as you’d like in the run-block game, but he has the frame to coach that.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: Week 1 revelation.
1. Michigan: Missing Harbaugh for 3 games to begin the season won’t derail this talent train.
2. Ohio State: Just a hunch — Devin Brown wins the starting job with a big game against Indiana.
3. Penn State: This is the season it all comes into focus for talented DE Chop Robinson.
4. Wisconsin: The Badgers will run more than the throw in Week 1 — and throughout the season.
5. Iowa: QB Cade McNamara (and TE Erik All, and WR Kaleb Brown) will completely change the pass game — and more importantly, overall team confidence.
6. Minnesota: It won’t take long to see why Gophers coach PJ Fleck believes QB Athan Kaliakmanis will have a breakout season.
7. Illinois: Despite the losses, the Illini will not take a step back defensively. The 6-deep on the D-line is elite.
8. Maryland: Tall and athletic WR Kaden Prather (WVU) will be a game-changer for QB Taulia Tagovailoa.
9. Purdue: Edge Malik Anderson, who didn’t stick at Florida or Vanderbilt, finds a home with the Boilermakers in a money (see: NFL Draft) season.
10. Michigan State: Watch QB Noah Kim play — and see why Payton Thorne decided to leave for Auburn.
11. Nebraska: QB Jeff Sims dealt with protection issues at Georgia Tech. Not much will change with the Huskers.
12. Rutgers: It has been a long road for DT Isaiah Iton — Ole Miss, Hutchinson CC, Northern Colorado — but watch him blossom under Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
13. Indiana: Don’t get discouraged by Tayven Jackson’s struggles against an elite Ohio State defense. He’s the answer at QB.
14. Northwestern: A lot of freshmen will play early, including LT Alexander Doost, who will be the next great Wildcats offensive tackle.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Do you think Drew Allar can be good enough in his first season as a starter to win the Big Ten? — Sal Amin, Philadelphia
Allar is uber-talented, no question. Penn State can win the Big Ten not because of Allar, but because of what coach James Franklin has in place around Allar. It begins with a strong offensive line, and a an elite run game — a quarterback’s best friends.
As long as the Lions can run the ball efficiently and effectively, OC Mike Yurcich can bring along Allar at a steady pace and not force him to make plays early on. He’s managing the game the first 2 weeks of the season, before he becomes a focal point against 2 defenses than can stop the run (Illinois and Iowa).
We’ll find out just how comfortable Allar is when forced to make throws in the passing game. Can he consistently perform on 3rd-and-make-a-play throws? If he can, Penn State can beat anyone on the schedule — including Michigan and Ohio State.
50.6. it’s all in front of Gavin Wimsatt now. After 2 seasons of what could be with the former blue-chip recruit, he is the unquestioned starting quarterback at Rutgers.
Job No.1: play efficiently. Rutgers quarterbacks dropped 8 percent in completion percentage from 2021 to 2022, completing just 50.6 percent of their passes. That can’t happen if the Scarlet Knights are going to return to the postseason.
Wimsatt was a part of that problem in 2022, completing just 44.8 percent of his passes and throwing 7 INTs. He also averaged a measly 5.2 yards per attempt, and the Rutgers offense didn’t get the ball downfield in the pass game.
A new OC (longtime Big Ten assistant Kirk Ciarrocca) and 2 new wide receivers from the portal (Nasseim Brantley and JaQuae Jackson) will help. But Wimsatt, more than anyone, will dictate the development of the offense.
10. Quote to note
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on QB Cade McNamara’s soft tissue injury: “I’m not alarmed right now. It’s not like, ‘Oh boy, he broke his leg’ or something like that.”