5 biggest concerns I have about Michigan
Listing the concerns for a 2-4 team that is heading into its next season could take a while, but in the interest of time, let’s hone the list down to 5 and see where we end up.
From the need to revert to the winning culture in Ann Arbor, to addressing head coach Jim Harbaugh’s possibly having that “go-to” quarterback taking snaps, the 2021 season looks to be a crossroads for the program.
The main concern is, which path will they take?
A 2-1 start is a must
The season-opener with Western Michigan, along with the return to Ann Arbor against Northern Illinois, should both provide the Wolverines with solid opportunities to hit the win column heading into conference play. A 2-1 record needs to be on the books at minimum before hosting Rutgers on Sept. 25.
Beating Washington, even in Ann Arbor, will be a tall order. A 3-0 start would be huge for launching the Michigan turnaround but certainly isn’t expected.
But the 2 Group of 5 wins are must-haves if Harbaugh wants to set a new tone for the 2021 season and put the disaster of 2020 in the rearview mirror. With a home game against Rutgers kicking off conference play, there’s an opportunity to end up 3-1 heading into October.
Is Cade McNamara the answer?
Last season, Joe Milton was supposed to be the answer to Michigan’s quarterback future. Well, as we all know now, that didn’t work out very well. After Cade McNamara replaced the junior starter and led the Wolverines to a triple-overtime victory over Rutgers, Milton only saw some relief action in the season finale against Penn State. Milton transferred. Earlier this week, Harbaugh named McNamara the starter.
But will that be the answer, or will there be a repeat of the 2020 season with a struggling quarterback creating a battle for the starting slot behind center?
Waiting in the wings will be Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman and 5-star recruit J.J. McCarthy. McCarthy comes to Ann Arbor surrounded by high expectations and is clearly the future of the program, but he would need to gain respect as a true freshman in order to lead. For Bowman, he completed 67% of his passes for more than 5,000 yards and 33 touchdowns during his 3 seasons in Lubbock. Should the Wolverines offense begin to struggle, how long will Harbaugh remain on the McNamara track before tossing Bowman or even McCarthy behind center?
Jake Moody’s consistency
Senior kicker Jake Moody opened his Michigan career converting 15-of-17 field goals, but has only made 2 of his last 7 since then. 2020 marked the second consecutive season Moody lost his top job due to his inconsistency after beginning the season as the starter. He missed his first 3 field-goal attempts during the Wolverines win at Minnesota last year.
Shifted to only kickoffs, Moody was replaced by backup Quinn Nordin. Ironically, Nordin missed all 3 field-goal attempts against Rutgers, and Moody was called on to convert a field goal against Penn State in the season finale.
Moody put 14-of-29 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks in 2020, and 8 of the other 13 resulted in fair catches due to hang time. The average defensive starting position was the 25.5 yard line last season, ranking 35th of the 108 qualifying kickers.
Now that Nordin is kicking in the NFL, Moody is left as Michigan’s only full-time scholarship kicker, and the ability to be able to depend on field goal conversions will be a major concern as the season plays out.
The defense must be less predictable
Michigan’s new-look defense under 1st-year coordinator Mike Macdonald will be key to whether the 2021 season is a turnaround for the Wolverines or more disappointment. Macdonald has said that his schemes will not be complicated, at least for his players, but the goal of creating confusion on the other side of the ball continues to be foremost.
Last season’s defense was criticized as being overly predictable, and not able to create any confusion for opposing offenses. But watch for a blend of looks to force adjustment from the offense, from the traditional four-man front to a 3-4 setup that would have defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and Taylor Upshaw drop back into hybrid outside linebacker roles.
Are we going to get a full season?
While not a Michigan-specific concern, the question of getting in a full season of games this fall is on the minds of nearly every college football fan, player or coach.
The 2020 season saw game after game fall like dominoes after the COVID-19 issues began to rear up from program to program. With being able to get in just a 6-game slate, the question bodes as to whether the 2021 season will be without cancellations or if the weekly Twitter watch for which game is canceled next will remain the norm. More and more concerns over a resurgence of the virus are rising, and likewise are concerns about the ability to have a somewhat normal NCAA football season.
From strictly a Michigan perspective, the need for as many games as possible to get played is pivotal to putting the 2-4 season from last fall in the books as just an anomaly attributed to the pandemic.