Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 17 of 179

16 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW MICHIGAN FOOTBALL T he stampede out of Schembechler Hall and into the NFL couldn't be missed. Eleven members of the 2016 squad got drafted, an unprecedented number for Michigan. An additional eight signed free agent deals, bring- ing the number of Wolverines off Jim Harbaugh's second U-M team to enjoy a shot at the highest level of football to 19. Such an exodus normally portends a precipitous drop-off. National magazines are not so sure about that. Maybe it's the Harbaugh Effect or the recruiting he and his staff have done, but some outlets don't see the Wolverines going away anytime soon. Here's a look at what they had to say: Athlon Sports Athlon pegs the Wolverines at No. 10 in the nation, a strong nod in their direction but one accompanied by a sobering reality. Michigan still has to deal with the publication's No. 2 squad, Ohio State, at the end of the year and travel to No. 6 Penn State. If that's not enough, the Wolverines have a date with No. 12 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium precisely a week prior to The Game in Michigan Sta- dium. So despite the lofty overall ranking, Michigan is still expected to finish third in the Big Ten's East Division, with a 7-2 conference record. The Wolverines feature a couple of preseason All-Americans in fifth-year senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (second team) and senior offensive lineman Mason Cole (third team), whom Athlon lists as a center but who is more likely to play left tackle in the fall. On the preseason all-conference teams, Cole was a first-team pick, while Hurst and fellow defensive line- man Rashan Gary were both listed on the top defen- sive squad. No Wolverines made the second team. The publication indicates Michigan will feature the No. 2 defensive line in the Big Ten, the No. 3 set of quarterbacks, No. 4 running backs, No. 5 offensive line, No. 6 set of wide receivers/tight ends and also linebackers, and No. 9 secondary. In the national unit rankings, U-M's defensive line checks in at No. 5, marking the only crew to crack the top 10. The running backs were ranked 17th, the offensive line 23rd and linebackers 25th. Gary makes the list of 2017 Breakout Players, with the fol- lowing observation: "Michi- gan's deep defensive line prevented Gary — the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2016 sign- ing class — from carving out a starting role last season. How- ever, his potential and upside were on display in limited snaps, as he recorded five tackles for a loss and one sack." Even with the No. 10 national ranking, Athlon still lists Michigan among the "Teams On The Decline." Its reasoning: "Jim Harbaugh has quickly built a sturdy, dangerous program, albeit one that hasn't quite mastered the art of finishing a season strong just yet. His recruiting and general coaching prowess should assure the Wolverines of plenty of success moving forward, but extreme turnover could limit Michigan in 2017. Michigan must replace its lead- ing rusher, its three leading receivers, its Heisman- finalist defender and, in total, 17 starters. That much turnover all but assures short-term re- gression." Harbaugh checks in at No. 2 on the list of "Home Runs" in the Power Five Coaching Report Card for hires be- tween 2012 and 2016. The only prob- lem there is OSU's Urban Meyer is listed at No. 1. "The Wolverines came up a cou- ple plays short of a playoff berth in Harbaugh's second season, but the sense of forward momentum that accompanied his return to his alma mater is as palatable as ever," the magazine insists. "Even in a re- building year, which 2017 figures to be, the question isn't so much if Michigan will break through in the foreseeable future, but when." Michigan was also represented in the Top 50 College Players of the Athlon Era (1967-present): Charles Woodson tops U-M's crew, at No. 11, with Desmond Howard just getting in, at No. 50. The bottom line for the present team, according to Athlon, involves a projected 10-2 overall mark and the aforementioned 7-2 conference record. "The Verdict" for the Wolverines is as follows: "The Wolverines return only six starters but remain a threat to win the Big Ten and earn a CFB Playoff bid. Jim Harbaugh's rebuilding effort starts on defense, as eight All-Big Ten performers depart. However, thanks to back-to-back top-five recruiting classes, the cupboard isn't bare for coordinator Don Brown. Quarterback Wilton Speight returned after a solid debut, and the ground game is in good shape thanks to a deep stable of backs. But question marks remain about the rest of the offense. The top three receiving threats are gone and an offensive line that struggled with consistency loses three full-time starters. If the defense reloads — as expected — it will be the de- velopment of the offense that will determine if Mich- igan can remain in the Big Ten title chase in 2017." Athlon projects Michigan to face Oklahoma in this year's Cotton Bowl. The publication lists some interesting "Numbers To Know" involving the Wolverines in 2016. They're listed as: • +9.1 — "Michigan's plus-9.1 field position margin ranked an easy first in the FBS. Thanks to a strong de- fense and outstanding special teams, the Wolverines' average starting position was their own 36-yard line." Preview Magazines Respect The Wolverines Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst was a preseason All-America selection by Athlon, who tabbed Michigan's defensive line second in the Big Ten and fifth nationally. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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