In a college football season that featured several conference champions who ended significant droughts, the Michigan Wolverines may have headlined that group.
Coach Jim Harbaugh had sat upon one of the hottest seats in the FBS after failing to make an appearance in the Big Ten championship game during the first six seasons of his tenure in Ann Arbor. That is certainly not expected from a Michigan organization that is often at the top of the Big Ten.
Was 2021 The Turnaround Season?
In 2021, they took a 10-1 record into their rivalry game against Ohio State on home turf and emerged victorious over the Buckeyes for the first time since 2011, and only the third time in the last 20 years. The Wolverines then blasted Iowa 42-3 in the Big Ten title game to win their first undisputed conference championship since 2003, and earned a date with the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff. Their dream season came to an end against the eventual national champions, but Michigan fans will long remember this season as the time Harbaugh delivered on expectations that have been increasingly building since he was hired in 2015.
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Winning Begets Winning
Many good things accompany winning, but the downside is the amount of talent it takes to get to that point does not go unnoticed. The Wolverines have been forced to replace both offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who assumed that same position at the University of Miami, and defensive coordinator Mike McDonald, after he joined Harbaugh’s brother John’s staff as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. In terms of on the field talent, Michigan lost All-Big Ten selections Hassan Haskins at running back and Andrew Steuber at right tackle who ended up being high NFL picks in this years’ draft.
On the defensive side of the ball, losses were even greater. Three Wolverines were selected in the first two rounds in April, led by first rounders Aiden Hutchinson and Dax Hill. The third player was also a first team All-Big Ten selection in David Ojabo, who was surely on track for first round selection if not for an Achilles tear at Michigan’s Pro Day workout.
The remaining members of last year’s conference championship team have some reinforcements entering the program in their quest to defend that title. Michigan boasted the nation’s 12th best recruiting class when combined with their transfer portal additions, and 13 of those signees were enrolled at the university for the spring semester to begin their college careers early.
Via the portal, the Wolverines added Rimington Trophy finalist Olusegun Oluwatimi from Virginia. He will start at center and act as the leader of what should be another very strong offensive line in Ann Arbor. That line will protect returning quarterbacks Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, depending on which player wins the starting job heading into the season, as well as block for All-Big Ten second team running back, Blake Corum. Leading receiver Cornelius Johnson returns alongside Ronnie Bell, who missed all of last season after a first half injury against Western Michigan in the 2021 season opener.
Jesse Minter joins the Wolverines staff as defensive coordinator after a season in that role for Vanderbilt. The front seven will be anchored by some experienced linebackers in Nikhai Hill-Green and Junior Colson, who will need to make up for some big losses on the line and in the secondary. A program like Michigan does not have a problem in replacing talent, but it remains to be seen how effective this group will be after several pro-level departures, including the Heisman runner-up, Hutchinson.
How Does Michigan Look for 2022?
Michigan is a distant second favorite to win the Big Ten in 2022 behind Ohio State. Their schedule this season includes the usual Big Ten East heavy hitters in the Buckeyes, their in-state rival Michigan State Spartans, a home game against Penn State, and a road trip to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes.
The schedule is set up so that none of those games are back to back, and favors Michigan faring well if their roster is performing. Their three out of conference games should all be extremely manageable, and as usual the season will conclude with a potential high stakes matchup with Ohio State.
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That game will mark one year since Michigan won at home to secure a bid to face Iowa in Indianapolis for the conference title. If they repeat that feat on the road in their 2022 matchup against the Buckeyes, it will be the first time since 1999-2000 that the Wolverines won back to back games against their bitter rivals to the south.
According to FanDuel’s early lookahead lines for this season, the Wolverines will be favorites in every game this season except for their season-ending clash in Columbus. FanDuel posted the game’s spread at Ohio State -13.5, which is more aligned with previous years after Michigan was less than a touchdown underdog last season in their successful upset bid. Vegas expects a double-digit win season for the Wolverines, who will open play on September 3 against the Colorado State Rams.
To see Michigan’s full season schedule, go to https://mgoblue.com/sports/football/schedule/2022.