The 2023 college football season is finally upon us. And even though Jim Harbaugh will be on the sidelines for the first 3 games of the year, Michigan fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Our Crystal Ball preview tabs the Wolverines for an 11-1 regular season.

Here are 5 positive vibes that stand out ahead of Saturday’s home opener against East Carolina.

JJ McCarthy

Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports, and Michigan enters 2023 with one of the top signal callers in the country. While the 2 biggest threats to the Wolverines in the Big Ten (Ohio State and Penn State) are relying on talented but unproven entities under center this season, Harbaugh and his staff can rest easy with JJ McCarthy at the helm. The former 5-star recruit and potential Heisman candidate finished last season with 2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions for a QB rating of 154.97.

If McCarthy can replicate that performance, the Wolverines will get back to the College Football Playoff for the 3rd straight year.

Blake Corum

Having one of the nation’s top running backs behind McCarthy is a true luxury for Michigan. Before getting injured at the end of last season, the senior racked up 1,463 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging an impressive 5.9 yards per carry. Corum elected to get surgery for his torn meniscus and, instead of entering the NFL Draft, return to Ann Arbor for another run at a national title. All reports out of off-season camp have been positive about the powerfully built 5-foot-8 ball-carrier, so Michigan fans should expect big things from him again this year.

National recognition

While this isn’t something Harbaugh wants to focus on with his team, as the goal is to keep them humble, the hype from the national media heading into 203 can’t be understated. Michigan earned the No. 2 spot in both the preseason AP Poll and the Coaches Poll. ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill joins other notable names that believe McCarthy separates the Wolverines from the rest of the pack this season.

“Absolutely. And I think that’s why a lot of the preseason prognostications and what we’ve talked about for the last couple of months have Michigan not only in the College Football Playoff … you have a lot of people have them playing for the national championship,” Luginbill said. “I don’t care who you are or what program that you’re playing for, if you come into a season with a seasoned quarterback that’s experienced, he’s been productive and he’s been efficient, you have distinct advantages over everybody else. Now, the good news is for everybody else is those other quarterbacks — Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State — they’re all going to walk into a huddle with great talent around them. The difference with Michigan is JJ McCarthy’s also walking into a huddle with an intact offensive line, 2 great wideouts and a potential Heisman candidate in Blake Corum at running back. So I think that Michigan’s got great advantages because of the quarterback.”


While there are plenty of key losses from last year’s team that made it to the College Football Playoff Championship Game against Georgia, it’s clear Harbaugh and company have built a culture in Ann Arbor that expects to be the best and compete for national titles on a yearly basis. The Wolverines also rank No. 5 in percentage of returning production. That should be a scary stat for the competition. When you take a quick glance into the future and look at the teams that have stood in Michigan’s way the past few years, none of them have a returning quarterback. Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State are all betting on success from new starters. This is Harbaugh’s most talented team, and the competition seems a bit more shaky than it has been in years past.


Defense has been the staple under the rise of Michigan since Harbaugh took over. Sure, it’s fair to note the Wolverines lost several key contributors from last season’s top 10 defense, but ESPN still ranks the Wolverines as the No. 2 defensive unit heading into 2023, right behind Georgia. Harbaugh tapped into the transfer portal to fill some needs, and there is young talent and several future NFL stars on this unit.

The linebacker duo of Junior Colson and Michael Barrett combined for 173 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2022, and Michigan added Ernest Hausmann (Nebraska), who had 54 tackles during his freshman campaign with the Cornhuskers.

The defensive line will lean on veterans Kris Jenkins, Mason Graham and Jaylen Harrell, plus sophomore Derrick Moore, a high recruit who has impressed the coaching staff this offseason.

The secondary may be the strongest group of the 2023 defense with veteran defensive backs Rod Moore, Mike Sainristil and Makari Paige all back. Will Johnson — who had 27 tackles, 3 interceptions and 3 pass breakups in 2022 — looks poised to shine as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.

If the defense delivers — and it should — there is enough talent on offense to give Michigan a legitimate chance at winning a national title this year.