Michigan football: Wolverines' midseason team awards
They’re 6-0 and the No. 8-ranked team in the nation — right now, life is good for the Michigan Wolverines, who will get a rest this week before hosting Northwestern on Oct. 23 in Ann Arbor.
Not only do they have one of the top defenses in the country, the Wolverines are also showcasing a potent offense that averages 38.5 points per game, second-most in the Big Ten. Entering Week 6, they had the No. 6-ranked scoring defense, giving up fewer than 2 touchdowns per game.
Still, Michigan has adjustments to make during the bye week, especially when it comes to defending the pass. The Wolverines’ anti-passing efforts weren’t as sharp against Nebraska as they had been during earlier weeks, allowing QB Adrian Martinez to throw for 299 yards — the most allowed by UM this season.
However, overall, UM appears to be maturing quite nicely; it’s 1 of 5 Big Ten teams in the Associated Press top 10 and 1 of 4 legitimate contenders in the B1G East. Basically, it comes down to who’s going to face No. 2 Iowa in the B1G title bout at the end of the year.
Along with Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, Michigan has a pretty good chance if it correctly plays its hand. The search for league banner No. 43 is officially on for the Wolverines.
But who and what has gotten them this far? It’s time to take a look at the unofficial midseason-ish mock team awards, presented by yours truly.
Cade McNamara has had some trouble with consistency, but he’s 6-0 and firmly in the driver’s seat for the Wolverines, who’ve now started 6-0 for the fourth time in 15 years (2021, 2016, 2011, 2006). In 2006, Michigan was in the hunt for a national championship until it lost the season finale, 42-39, to Ohio State. In 2016, UM was 9-0 before losing at Iowa.
McNamara has only thrown 1 pick this year — his first of his career — and is completing 60.5 percent of his attempts. He’s been steady and reliable, and that’s exactly what a team like Michigan needs this season. There is enough in the supporting cast to get by with a field general, game-manager type of QB. McNamara doesn’t have to be a superstar, he just needs to consistent — and through 6 weeks, he’s been more than adequate.
He’s recognized as one of the top defensive players in the game, so giving the midseason defensive MVP to Aidan Hutchinson — a future All-American and high NFL Draft pick — is a no-brainer at this stage of the season.
With 5.5 sacks, Hutchinson — an elite DE — is the Big Ten’s leader in volume, and just 0.5 sacks from being tied with Minnesota’s Boye Mafe for the highest average per game. Mafe averages a full sack per game, where Hutchinson averages 0.92 per outing. But Hutchinson’s played 6 games and Mafe has played 5.
The projected top-5 NFL pick has the size, speed and football IQ to become an even more dangerous weapon for Michigan’s defense. It seems like he’s just getting warmed up for a stretch that will ultimately decide the Big Ten’s champion and College Football Playoff representative.
Most improved/breakout player
Entering this past Saturday, Daylen Baldwin was 6-for-8 when attempting to catch a pass. Two of those throws were off-the mark. Against Nebraska, Baldwin equaled his season total with 6 catches for a UM career-high 64 yards. The transfer from Morgan State and Jackson State was targeted at least 10 times on Saturday. Many of those misses weren’t his fault, as the throws weren’t good. With each week, Baldwin continues to look like he’ll have more to do with Michigan’s offense.
Roman Wilson didn’t play against Nebraska, so that led to early and frequent balls thrown to Baldwin. It’s unlikely that he’ll get targeted 10 or more times in the future … but as long as he’s playing well, he’ll receive his fair share of opportunities.
Michigan has seen a flurry of contributors make plays when it matters most. DT Kris Jenkins had a couple of major stops vs. Nebraska. DT Chris Hinton has forced fumbles and recovered, helping Michigan further seal wins. CB Vincent Gray, despite some hiccups vs. the Huskers, has displayed clear and steady improvement.
There are a few guys who could get the nod on the defensive side of the ball, in terms of being a breakout/most improved player.
The Wolverines’ defense gave up a season-high 29 points to Nebraska. The pass coverage wasn’t too consistent, either. However, new coordinator Mike Macdonald still has engineered a top-25 defense. Michigan is No. 23.
Prior to Saturday, UM had the No. 6-ranked scoring defense, giving up less than 2 touchdowns per game. This week, Michigan is at No. 9, tied with Florida, with 15.50 points surrendered per game.
It’s a marked improvement, so far, for a unit that had gone stale under Don Brown.
Definitely a better team than most anticipated, right? Michigan was supposed to be an 8-win team, at best, this season. Many pundits had UM going 6-6 or 7-5, so becoming bowl-eligible was about as good as it was going to get for the Wolverines, who haven’t won the Big Ten since 2004.
Players and coaches have mentioned how this year’s team is “special” and feels different than those of the past. And that may be true. However, one of UM’s best starts under Harbaugh doesn’t mean a whole lot yet, since it plays in the loaded-to-the-gills Big Ten, which has 5 teams in the top 10 — and 4 of them in the East. Michigan hasn’t played any of the other 3 yet.
That’s how the cards play out, huh? It just had to be this way for Harbaugh. Great team, everyone clicking — oh, and by the way, the B1G is also the best conference in college football.
If they don’t win the Big Ten, the Wolverines will be discarded. If they win, they’ll be celebrated.
Make no mistake, though, this is certainly one of Harbaugh’s best teams at Michigan.