Michigan football: Too many unanswered questions after Wolverines' short season
Well, it was fun, Michigan.
Six games. Four losses. No bowl game.
The Wolverines didn’t even play Ohio State this season. The Game is a staple of college football but it just couldn’t happen this year due to COVID-19 concerns coming out of Ann Arbor.
Not a single win at home for the first time in program history. Getting stunned by Michigan State, rocked by Indiana and thoroughly run through the wringer by Wisconsin.
That was fun, right?
The whole Jim Harbaugh extension debate — will he stay or go? During the past couple of years, AD Warde Manuel has moved from thinking lifetime status for Harbaugh all the way to renegotiating for something much less in the past few weeks. Was this same extension idea identical to the one rumored to have been discussed in March, pre-COVID? Or was this a massive dive from previous meetings?
This past Wednesday, Michigan surprised onlookers by signing 20 recruits to a strong 2021 class, which at the time was ranked among the top 10 in the nation and remains a healthy No. 12 in 247Sports’ latest composite tabulation. There is room for more additions in February, given the transfers that are happening, but the fact that the Wolverines did that well on Day 1 of the Early Signing Period was pretty impressive.
Xavier Worthy, a 4-star WR an highest-rated UM WR commit since Donovan Peoples Jones in 2017, didn’t go for Alabama after all — that was a hugely popular theory heading into the early period. Worthy visited with ‘Bama during the Iron Bowl, causing a panic among Wolverines fans and throwing UM media for a loop.
A few months ago, Worthy said he wanted to enroll early. Now he’s thinking Crimson Tide?
Well, he didn’t flip.
That was a huge victory for coach Jim Harbaugh and a possible sign that Harbaugh — despite the constant speculation — isn’t going anywhere.
Michigan’s future, on paper, looks bright. A top-10 recruiting class. Harbaugh likely returning. A refreshed, revamped roster.
Yeah, 2021 might end up being a season that flips a switch in Ann Arbor (here’s that ‘next year’ talk again …)
A possible starting QB in Cade McNamara, who showed promise during the wee hours of the 2021 season, relieving starter Joe Milton — a redshirt sophomore with 3 years of experience in Harbaugh’s system. Yet, Milton, a 6-5, 243-pound cannon-armed QB, failed to take full control of the team and reach expectations. That cleared the way for McNamara, who clearly gained respect amongst those in the huddle following his heroics during a 48-42 triple-OT win at Rutgers.
Will incoming 5-star JJ McCarthy be the new guy? Michigan fans love to tab anyone but the named starter as being the true man for the job. It’s doubtful that a true freshman will start at QB. Harbaugh has never done that at Michigan, and Michigan hasn’t done that since Tate Forcier in 2009.
The door to the transfer portal is open: Center Zach Carpenter and All-Big Ten punter Will Hart have already announced intentions to go elsewhere. Transfers are common in college football, but Harbaugh has had higher-than-average numbers during his past 6 years in Ann Arbor.
Speculation surrounds the status of several others, especially given the incoming class. Will Milton choose another school? He’s no longer viewed as a legitimate candidate for the starting QB position. Zach Charbonnet, one of the top RBs of the 2019 class, barely saw action this season. Other than an electric 70-yard TD run during the season-opener at Minnesota, Charbonnet was essentially invisible for one reason or another.
This past weekend, running back Christian Turner announced the he was searching for a new school.
There will be several transfers. Several. That’s just how it goes in Harbaughland.
Was Michigan just under-coached or was it really that bad in 2020? Well, it depends who you ask. But one thing was abundantly clear during the 6-game 2020 stretch: Michigan’s defense isn’t anywhere near where it used to be in past years. In 2020, the Wolverines gave up 5.99 yards per play and finished ranked at No. 80 in the nation.
Let that sink in for a few seconds.
Remember top-10 defenses? How about 3 yards given up per play? Stifling pass rushes? And … OK, OK. You get it. The Wolverines weren’t good, and DC Don Brown has to find answers if he hopes to remain in Ann Arbor.
So many questions and no answers. That was Michigan in 2020.