10 bold predictions for Michigan in 2020
Michigan enters the 2020 season as one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. There is plenty of talent, as usual, but the players that made up the Big Ten’s top recruiting class in 2019 will have to grow up quickly.
A bold prediction would seem to be a good excuse to just throw out a hot take, but I’ll try to keep these reasonable. Here are 10 bold predictions for Michigan in 2020:
1. Joe Milton will be a top-5 QB in the B1G
There is a clear-cut top 4 in the Big Ten heading into 2020: Justin Fields, Tanner Morgan, Sean Clifford and Michael Penix Jr. You could certainly make a case that Adrian Martinez and Peyton Ramsey would be next in line, given their proven track records in the B1G.
And there are certainly some things working against Milton in 2020, given the strange offseason curtailing the number of actual reps he got while in a QB competition with Dylan McCaffrey. Plus, Nico Collins opted out and Tarik Black transferred to Texas, so he’ll have fewer weapons than Shea Patterson had at his disposal.
But I have a feeling that Milton is going to surprise some folks in 2020 and creep into the top 5 by season’s end. McCaffrey’s reason for opting out hasn’t been made public, but he is transferring, and to me, that means something. Even if Milton was only a little better, McCaffrey would’ve still been able to get on the field and been one poor half from Milton away from wrestling that starting job right back. Think of how unpredictable the QB situation at Georgia has been already. The QB battle wasn’t public, but Milton must have been significantly ahead given that McCaffrey isn’t sticking around.
Milton lacks real reps, but this is his second season with offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, and it’s a system that should lead to good numbers from the QB. Gattis cited Milton’s “wow factor” and said that Milton is one of the most improved from last season, and when you add that to the fact that Milton looks the part with a big arm and enough mobility to keep defenses honest, I think he could be in for a big season.
While Fields is solidified at the top, don’t forget about 2019 when Martinez was a Heisman candidate—until the season started. One of Morgan, Clifford and Penix may fall off, especially given how wacky 2020 already is. Milton can easily slide in there.
2. Jim Harbaugh will continue to draw mixed reviews
The sixth-year head coach hasn’t propelled the Wolverines into national relevance like many expected. This certainly isn’t the year for that to happen as Milton will be in his first season as the starter and the Wolverines have a brutal schedule, with the usual suspects in the East such as Ohio State and Penn State, plus two top-25 crossovers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Yikes.
Those who are unsatisfied with Harbaugh at Michigan can take solace in the fact that they aren’t fans of Texas or Texas A&M — two bluebloods that might underachieve even more than Michigan.
3. Michigan won’t beat a ranked team on the road …
Michigan is 1-7 in road games against Top 25 teams, and that trend should continue into 2020. The Wolverines will likely have two chances: No. 25 Minnesota in the season opener and No. 6 Ohio State to close the regular season. Forget about beating the Buckeyes. As for the Golden Gophers, I don’t like Michigan’s chances considering it will be Milton’s first start and Minnesota returns one of the league’s top QBs in Morgan.
4. … But the Wolverines will beat a ranked team at home
As someone who watched Michigan get trounced by Wisconsin last year, it seems strange to say that the Wolverines will repay the favor in 2020, but I think they hand the Badgers their lone regular-season loss in 2020. Michigan has fared well against Wisconsin at the Big House.
5. Giles Jackson will be one of the B1G’s most exciting skill players
The sophomore emerged in the second half of 2019, and it’s looking like the former 4-star recruit could have a big role in 2020. Without Collins and Black, the Wolverines will be in need of playmakers. He’s listed as a wide receiver, but he’ll make an impact in a variety of ways. The Wolverines used him on jet sweeps, and he is electric on kick returns, as he showed against Maryland, Indiana and Alabama. It’s going to be fun to see how Gattis can scheme Jackson into space.
6. Michigan’s run game will struggle early on
Expectations are high for Michigan’s run game, but I think it will be a slow start considering the Wolverines are replacing four starters on the offensive line. It helps that OT Jalen Mayfield opted back in, but continuity will be key early in the season — an element Michigan is lacking. Zach Charbonnet struggled to pull off big runs for the Wolverines in 2019, and the Wolverines really need some more explosive plays in 2020.
7. Aidan Hutchinson will out-produce Kwity Paye
These defensive linemen are both viewed as NFL prospects, but Paye has gotten considerably more buzz since appearing atop Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List. But there’s a reason Paye isn’t viewed as an elite NFL prospect yet, and that’s because he hasn’t flashed that ability on the field. Hutchinson, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same flashy tools but is great against the run and is reliable. And, hey, Paye may live up to the hype and have a great season. But these are supposed to be bold, right?
8. Michigan will lose to Ohio State — by a lot
OK, so this isn’t a bold prediction. And it’s not even a jab at Michigan. The Buckeyes are so focused this year, I don’t think any team can hang with them. And given how much Ohio State hates Michigan, it’s hard to envision a close game.
9. Michigan will finish with three losses
Michigan has lost three games in three of Harbaugh’s five seasons. The difference in a condensed 2020 is that Michigan will only win six games instead of 10 like in a normal season. I’ll predict Michigan for losses against Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State, with a win in the bowl game.
10. Jim Harbaugh will sign a contract extension
This has to be coming soon, right? Harbaugh is under contract through 2021, and I can’t think Michigan wants to have a lame-duck coach talking to recruits. The recruiting season is already wacky enough, and that would just throw more confusion into the mix. Harbaugh was reportedly close to agreeing to an extension before the pandemic, but those plans were put on hold. There are plenty out there who will speculate that Harbaugh’s days in Ann Arbor are numbered, but I think he signs another deal.