Way-too-early 2016 look: Michigan
Coach: Jim Harbaugh (second season, 10-3)
2015 record: 10-3, 6-2 in B1G
Biggest losses: Jake Rudock, QB; Willie Henry, DT; Joe Bolden, LB
Biggest returners: Jourdan Lewis, CB; Jabrill Peppers, S; Jehu Chesson, WR
2016 recruiting class ranking (247sports): No. 6 (2nd in B1G)
Top rated 2016 recruit: Four-star OT Ben Bredeson
2016 strength: Ball-carriers
That’s my way of saying, pick your poison with Michigan’s returning skill players. De’Veon Smith will lead a loaded backfield that still has former five-star recruit Ty Isaac, Drake Johnson and Karan Higdon. Add in Jabrill Peppers, who figures to have a more prominent role in the running game, and highly touted freshman Kareem Walker, and the Wolverines will have one of the deepest, most versatile ground attacks in the country.
Teams won’t be able to load the box as much given the talent Michigan has on the outside. Returning All-B1G selections Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson is huge for a new starting quarterback. Chesson and Jake Rudock got into a groove in the second half of the season, but it’ll be interesting to see if that can continue with a new signal-caller. Either way, Michigan is loaded with offensive playmakers.
2016 weakness: Linebackers
For all the talent the Wolverines return on defense, they are losing their top three tacklers, two of which were senior linebackers. Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan will be tough guys for Michigan to replace, regardless of how loaded the secondary is. Also gone are key contributors Royce Jenkins-Stone and James Ross. There isn’t much experience returning at the most important defensive position. Ben Gedeon is the only linebacker returning that has ever started a game, which he did once. Are Carlo Kemp or Devin Bush going to start on the outside as true freshmen? That remains to be seen.
Either way, there are going to be a whole lot of new guys in the middle of the Michigan defense that will be forced into big roles. Sure, the presence of Don Brown is going to help, as will the fact that the Wolverines possess sure-handed tacklers in the secondary and up front. But Michigan is going to need those glue guys if it wants to repeat as one of the nation’s top defenses.
Way-too-early 2016 projection: 11-1 (8-1 in B1G)
Here’s your odd scheduling fact about Michigan. How many times do the Wolverines have to leave the state of Michigan before the second week of November? Once, and it’s to Rutgers. Based on the way Jim Harbaugh recruits New Jersey, you can debate whether or not that’s truly a road game. That’s one side of the coin. The other? Well, the Wolverines play the three B1G teams that finished ahead of them in 2015…on the road. None of those games will be picnics. Despite all the hype, there are still questions surrounding this team at arguably the two most important positions on the field. Will that prevent Michigan from capitalizing on a transition year for Michigan State and Ohio State? We probably won’t have an answer to that until late November.