Following the 2021 season with even greater accomplishments in 2022 might be a tall task for Michigan.

In 2021, the Wolverines were so close to achieving their dreams, yet so far at the same time. Sure, they made the College Football Playoff for the first time in school history, but they also were dominated — to the tune of 34-11 — by Georgia during that national semifinal matchup at the Orange Bowl.

Sure, they won the Big Ten with an 12-1 regular season, smacked around Ohio State and made an appearance in the postseason.

But they want more. Much more.

Winning it all this season would be the crowning jewel for coach Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines.

Anything less would probably be considered a disappointment.

With the season just weeks away from starting, it’s time to mull over some potential dream/disaster scenarios for the Wolverines, who are expected to win 9.5 games this fall, per the latest ESPN FPI projections. Michigan seems primed for another big season, but can it check all the boxes and make dreams come true?


Heisman contenders

In 2021, Aidan Hutchinson, star DE and UM single-season record holder for most sacks (14), finished second in the Heisman Trophy race, becoming Michigan’s first Heisman candidate since Jabrill Peppers, who finished 5th overall in 2016.

The thought of Hutchinson even competing for the top honor in college football was laughed at by critics during the mid-stages of the season — but by the home stretch, everyone was talking about “Hutch for Heisman.”

That late-season discussion wasn’t just in Ann Arbor; that talk was national.

Could QB Cade McNamara end up in the discussion? What about RB Blake Corum? He was this writer’s September Heisman winner in 2021. Donovan Edwards, another RB, could make a case with a breakout season coupled with team success.

Beat OSU

This is the goal every season for Michigan, but 2021 proved it was indeed possible. Now, the Wolverines just have to do it again, because the road to a Big Ten title and appearance in the CFP will certainly run through Columbus. Michigan hasn’t beaten OSU in back-to-back seasons since 1999-2000 (some UM players weren’t even born at that point), so making it 2 in a row would be a monumental feat.

Further develop JJ

One of Michigan’s highest-rated recruits in history, 2021 QB JJ McCarthy has a destiny to fulfill in Ann Arbor. While McNamara appears to have a firm grip on the No. 1 position this season, McCarthy will still get his share of playing time. Developing McCarthy, who’s expected to be a superstar, has been the name of the game since 2021 — so it’ll continue to be a theme in 2022. As a true freshman, McCarthy completed 34 of 59 passes for 516 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

He needs more seasoning, because 2023 will officially mark the beginning of the McCarthy Era at Michigan.

No injuries to stars

Injuries, to anyone, are never a good things. Unfortunately, they’re a part of sports and every team will have at least one player fall to something during the season. Some teams have even witnessed season-ending injuries during fall camp, casting a strong reminder that injuries don’t discriminate and can happen at any time.

In 2021, WR Ronnie Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury during the season-opener. According to reports, Bell, who is undoubtedly one of UM’s top players, is back to full health and ready to put on a show this season.

If dreams are to come true, everyone needs to be healthy. Seeing a top contributor fall to injury would put a severe dent in Michigan’s plans.

Complete mission from 2021

This one is simple and, at this time of year, is the goal for every team in every league. Winning the Big Ten and claiming a national title would be the ultimate finish for the Wolverines, who hold a No. 6 ranking in preseason polls.


Lose an early non-conference game

Losing to Colorado State, Hawaii or UConn wouldn’t automatically ruin the season, but it’d put Michigan far behind the pack. Simply put: The Wolverines cannot afford to lose a non-conference game. And really, losing to anyone but Ohio State would likely be an automatic disqualifier when it comes to the Big Ten (and beyond).

Struggle to replace star power

With the departure of Hutchinson and fellow star DE David Ojabo, Michigan will look to new candidates to lead the charge from the edge. In 2020 and 2021, Mike Morris made strides toward becoming a star on defense — so this year, he’ll have to carry the torch.

But what if he doesn’t? What if Michigan can’t even come close to replicating the accomplishments of Hutchinson (14 sacks) and Ojabo (11 sacks)? Nobody is saying that the Wolverines will match those numbers, but many feel that they could find success with Morris leading the way from the edge.

If that doesn’t happen, it could spell doom for Michigan.

O-Line takes a step back

In 2021, UM’s O-line earned the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line. Michigan looks to have the makings of another sturdy OL … but will it be comparable to last year’s group? It doesn’t have to be the same, or even better, but it has to be pretty good if UM wants to truly compete at a national level.

Lose to Ohio State

Yup, you knew this was coming. A loss to Ohio State, regardless of overall performance, would be a real punch to the gut of Michigan. Let’s say UM is having a dream season but loses to the Buckeyes. That would be difficult to stomach for the Wolverines, right? Or, let’s say UM is having a disastrous season, only to be punked by the Bucks. That would really hurt, too.

Flip it

This scenario is a bit different than the negatives listed above. Let’s say that Michigan does everything it set out to accomplish — wins the Big Ten, beats Ohio State, claims a national championship — hell, even has a Heisman winner.

Then, all of the sudden, the Harbaugh-to-NFL talks pop up again … only this time, he actually leaves Ann Arbor.

That would essentially bury Michigan and erase all progress made since Harbaugh’s arrival in 2015.