Big Ten Preview: New look Wolverines still have one obstacle to conquer

The Wolverines had to take good, long look at the program after they finished the 2018 season with a 62-39 loss to arch-rival Ohio State and 41-15 loss at the hands of the Florida Gators in the Peach Bowl. Head coach Jim Harbaugh re-evaluated what needed to happen in his program, which led to the departure of defensive line coach Greg Mattison, linebackers coach Al Washington and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.

Enter Josh Gattis.

Gattis came to Michigan after a season as wide receivers coach at Alabama, building one of the deepest receiving cores in college football that included Biletnikoff Award-winner Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs III. Gattis brings a “pro-spread” hybrid offense to Michigan in 2019, a philosophy that takes pro-style offense concepts and meshes them with spread formations and running game, to better suit quarterback Shea Patterson.

Raj Mehta/USA Today Sports

The Wolverines also have to deal with the loss of many of their star defensive players from a year ago. Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary and Devin Bush all jumped to the NFL, leaving some big shoes to fill on defense.

Who They Lose

The aforementioned losses of Winovich, Gary and Bush will hurt immensely on the defensive side, but the offense did lose some potential key players as well.

Perhaps the biggest loss for Michigan was the season-long suspension of running back Chris Evans, who was slated to replace 2018 1st team All-B1G running back Karan Higdon as the feature back in the Michigan offense. This leaves the load to backs like Tru Wilson, Christian Turner and ture freshman Zach Charbonnet, who has reportedly become a possible candidate to be the #1 back.

The Wolverines lose their top 3 tacklers from 2018 in Winovich, Bush and leading tackler Tyree Kinnel as well. The loss of Michigan’s “Big 3” defensively puts players such as linemen Kwity Paye, Michael Dwumfour and linebackers Devin Gil and Khaleke Hudson in much more prominent roles.

The Wolverines also took a hit in the transfer market as sophomore receiver and expected contributor, Oliver Martin, transferred back to his home-state Iowa Hawkeyes. While it’s not a devastating loss, many experts believed Martin would be a #2 or #3 receiver in the Michigan offense.

Who They Return/Gain

Having Shea Patterson back instantly keeps Michigan a contender in the Big Ten once again. Pairing him with a offensive coordinator that fits his play style and philosophy could spell trouble for the rest of the Big Ten. Patterson’s favorite targets, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black are also back from last season.

Michigan wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) celebrates with wide receiver Tarik Black (7) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game Penn State in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. Michigan won 42-7. (Tony Ding/AP Photo)

The Michigan offensive line is led by senior guard and captain Ben Bredeson. Bredeson was a 2nd team All-B1G a season ago and will anchor a relatively young, but talented offensive line. He will pave the way for backs Tru Wilson, Christian Turner and true freshman Zach Charbonnet.

Defensively, the back seven does return 2 key players from the 2018 team in linebacker Khaleke Hudson and Lavert Hill, the latter a 1st team All-B1G selection a year ago. Other notable returnees include linebacker Josh Ross, defensive back Josh Metellus and defensive lineman Kwity Paye.

Toughest Game

From the time I am typing this, it has been nearly 2,800 days since Michigan last beat Ohio State (November 26, 2011 for anyone wondering). Until that streak is broken, it will remain the toughest game on Michigan’s schedule until then. However, there are a couple other notable games including their home matchups against 2018 CFP-qualifier Notre Dame and Iowa. Their road trip to Madison against Wisconsin will also be an early test.

Ceiling

This Michigan team has the fire power and the coaching to go undefeated, win the Big Ten and make the playoff. Getting past Wisconsin in Camp Randall will be one step and so would beating Iowa, a team that has beat Michigan 8 times in 13 games since the turn of the century. It all leads to the showdown against Ohio State on November 30 in Michigan Stadium, where Michigan could end nearly 20 years of torture.

12-0, Big Ten Championship Game, Possible CFP Berth

Floor

The offense sputters from the get go under Josh Gattis new “pro-spread” offense. Futile running game forces Michigan to throw the ball much more than wanted and disrupts their offense. They drop games to Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, Notre Dame and get trounced by Ohio State yet again. Harbaugh’s seat is nearly on fire at seasons end.

7-5, Bowl Game in Detroit or NYC

Final Assessment

This truly is a make or break year for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. A man who came with so much expectation and so much hope to bring Michigan back to the glory days of yesteryear. This year presents perhaps his best chance to beat Ohio State, who has a new coach, new quarterback and is very young on defense. If Michigan finishes at least 3-1 in “test” games before Ohio State, they’re in great position to win their first Big Ten Championship since 2004.

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