Michigan is prepared to hit the field Saturday for the first time since the program became the king of the college football world!

Last season, the Wolverines rolled to a 15-0 national title behind star performances from JJ McCarthy, Blake Corum and an elite defense. The program also faced off-field controversy with Jim Harbaugh serving a pair of 3-game suspensions, including one for a sign-stealing investigation into analyst Connor Stalions.

In spite of the circumstances, the Wolverines took on all comers, including a dramatic end to the regular season without Harbaugh on the sidelines. Now, the reigning champs are poised to enter a new era with Sherrone Moore taking the helm after showing his worth in Harbaugh’s absence.

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Saturday’s spring game brings with it many storylines and new faces entering the 2024 season. As head coach, Moore has a completely redone coaching staff after Harbaugh’s departure to the NFL via the Los Angeles Chargers.

Here are the keys to watch as the Wolverines prepare to defend their B1G and national titles in the fall:

Who is the leader in the QB room?

Like most situations across the B1G this spring, Michigan is entering a new frontier in terms of the quarterback room. After JJ McCarthy’s 2-year run as the starter, he is poised to enter the NFL as a first-round draft pick, leaving behind some massive shoes to fill.

While Michigan had McCarthy waiting in the wings and learning behind Cade Mcnamara in 2021, the Wolverines had no such luxuries during the 2023 season. A quartet of QBs from last year’s team did see action, but none of that group played a role that established them as the leader of the group.

In fact, Jack Tuttle — back for a 7th college season — is the returning QB who played the most, and he was just 15-for-17 for 130 yards. With all due respect to his contributions, Tuttle winning the QB job for Michigan (or even looking like the best QB on the field Saturday) would be alarming.

Jayden Denegal (4-for-5 for 50 yards in 2023), former walk-on Davis Warren (0-for-5) and Alex Orji (0 pass attempts but 86 yards rushing) are the other returners fighting for the job. True freshman Jadyn Davis (the 9th-ranked QB from the 2024 recruiting class) is also involved, but it would be a long shot for Sherrone Moore to enter his first season at the helm with a freshman leading his offense.

Ultimately, the player to keep a sharp eye on in this race is likely Orji. He has been viewed as a work in progress as a passer, but is a true threat with his legs and as an overall physical specimen.

If Orji shines on Saturday, the Wolverines likely have their answer at QB1. If not, Moore and his staff will face a tough question about whether or not they can trust one of the other guys to lead the defending national champs.

Is the o-line able to hold their own?

Last year, Michigan’s offensive line was one of the strongest units of the national championship team. Coming out of the 2022 season, the Wolverines were not content to stand pat with the unit and added a trio of impact pieces in the portal.

Now, a number of new faces are poised to take over the offensive line, including Northwestern transfer Josh Priebe and holdover Myles Hinton from last season’s squad. How the first unit (and second unit) looks on Saturday is a major point of interest.

The good news? Michigan retains an elite defensive front, so the performance of the offensive line should yield a decent amount of insight come Saturday. If the unit can hold its own at all, that should be a win entering the summer.

Keep an eye on: Donovan Edwards

Fans do not have to think back too far to remember what Donovan Edwards looks like as the feature running back. After replacing Blake Corum late in the 2022 season, Edwards reeled off 3 straight games with 100+ rushing yards, including a pair of games with 180+ rushing yards.

Unfortunately, Edwards was largely ineffective in the ground game alongside Corum a season ago, save for his outburst to pace Michigan to a first-half lead against Washington in the national championship game.

With Corum now off to the NFL, the entirety of Michigan’s backfield is worth monitoring, but Edwards is undoubtedly the key piece. He has been an elite receiver throughout his career, but he needs a performance to build some confidence after his efficiency was down across the board in 2023.

Keep an eye on: The linebackers

The linebacker spot was a major strength for Michigan’s defense last season with Junior Colson and Michael Barrett flying around the formation from sideline to sideline. Both are off to the NFL, opening up a void heading into 2024.

The good news is one piece ready to ascend into a key role was on the unit last season in Ernest Hausmann. He delivered 46 tackles and 2 TFL after transferring from Nebraska, and another player who appears primed to contribute is another transfer.

Former Maryland linebacker Jaishawn Barham transferred into the program after 2 seasons with the Terps. Barham has 95 career tackles with 9.5 TFL and 7 sacks in 2 seasons, and he has a shot to step into the defense as an immediate star.

If Barham and Hausmann shine on Saturday, the defense should be lined up as one of the best in the country yet again.

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