On September 1st, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish begin their season when the Michigan Wolverines come to town on September 1st. In Jim Harbaugh’s fourth year, the program looks to take the next step towards a division or conference title.
To give an insider’s perspective on what Michigan football will look like in 2018, we had a conversation with Josh LaFond of MaizeNBrew.com (SB Nation’s Michigan blog) about a team that’s made some key changes since last year’s campaign.
1. What’s your overall impression of how Michigan’s 2017 season went?
8-5 isn’t really what you’re looking for in the 3rd year of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, but the record doesn’t really reflect the talent the team had.
You can point the finger in a couple different directions, but the blame falls mostly on the QB play Michigan had. Returning starter Wilton Speight never took the leap, and regressed in fact. Backup John O’Korn shined in limited action but never reached his potential at Michigan. And unfortunately, redshirt freshman Brandon Peters was knocked unconscious against Wisconsin leading to a loss in that game, and including missing The Game against Ohio State the following week.
In addition, the o-line play — while killing it on the ground, isn’t innocent either. The pass protection got Wilton Speight seriously hurt, and is what led to the aforementioned Brandon Peters injury.
Add that all together and you find 5 losses.
2. Will Michigan be better or worse in 2018?
They should be better, by quite a bit actually. The QB room is the best it’s been under the Harbaugh era and despite the fact it was so bad last year, they’ve turned it around quick. Former Ole Miss QB, Shea Patterson is favored by many to win the starting job and is the kind of difference maker under center that the Wolverines haven’t had since Chad Henne.
Michigan also addresses the o-line issues by hiring one of — if not the — nation’s best coach at that position in Ed Warinner. The players on the line have plenty of talent but they needed to be developed, and by all accounts, it’s Coach Warinner has been doing a fantastic job of that this offseason.
3. What’s going to be the biggest change between last year’s Michigan team and this one?
The offense was so, so stagnant at times last year. And it shouldn’t be this year. As I mentioned, the QB play will be better, and the o-line should be much more improved.
The Wolverines bring back many talented players on offense, some of who I’ll mention in a second. There’s speed at every skill position and with the offensive line blocking better, and the quarterback making plays on a potentially elite level, points should be easier to come by this season than lasts.
4. Who are the big name players to watch for Michigan this year?
I’ll name one on offense and one on defense if that’s alright. I already mentioned Shea Patterson so I’ll go in a different route…. Karan Higdon, Michigan’s returning star running back. He ran for nearly 1,000 yards last year on split carries and looks to take over this season, being that he’s on the Doak Walker watch list for the nations’ best RB award.
On defense, look for Rashan Gary to shine on the defensive line. The former #1 recruit in the nation has all the tools to be a 3-down lineman in the NFL for years to come and should be making plenty of plays in the opponents’ backfield all season, despite the fact he was continuously double, and triple teamed all of last season.
5. What’s your prediction for this team’s game against Notre Dame this year?
I have the Wolverines winning by a score of 21-14.
It’ll be a tough, defensive battle. Playing on the road in South Bend isn’t something you necessarily look forward to. The fact Michigan will more than likely be starting Shea Patterson in his first game in the winged helmet, is concerning as well. In the end, though, I expect Michigan’s defense to shine and make enough plays in the secondary, flip the field in the Wolverines favor, and get pressure on Brandon Wimbush throughout the game. This one really could go either way though, and regardless of who comes out on top, it’ll be a statement win for one of these teams.
For more on Michigan football, check out MaizeNBrew.com. Specifically, you can go read the Q&A that our own Joshua Vowles did with LaFond about ND football here.