Something funny happened to Ohio State’s dominance of the Big Ten. Or maybe it was Jim Harbaugh finally shedding the funny label and replacing it with “champion.” Twice, in fact.
In the 2020 COVID season, Michigan went 2-4 and renegotiated Harbaugh’s contract to lower his salary and (more importantly) his buyout. Everyone was preparing for what was thought to be inevitable: Michigan and Jim Harbaugh parting ways. Except it worked. Michigan won the Big Ten title twice, including two routs of Ohio State and two playoff berths. And once again in 2023, Michigan is the favorite to repeat.
Junior quarterback JJ McCarthy (6’3” 205 lbs.) claimed the starting quarterback job in week two last season, sending Cade McNamara into the transfer portal and then off to Iowa. McCarthy is a dual threat, rushing for 306 yards and five touchdown on top of completing nearly 65% of his passes for 2,719 yards and 22 touchdowns with five interceptions. The second team All-Big Ten honoree will be backed up by Indiana transfer Jack Tuttle (6’4” 217 lbs.), who’s recovering from season-ending injuries the last two seasons.
There probably isn’t a better running back group than Michigan juniors Blake Corum (5’8” 210 lbs.) and Donovan Edwards (6’1” 204 lbs.). Corum earned first team All-American honors last season, rushing for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury against an Ohio State university. Edwards came on in relief and rushed for 216 against the Buckeyes; on the season, Edwards rushed for 991 yards (7.1 yds/carry average!) and seven touchdowns. Sophomore CJ Stockes rushed for 273 yards and a touchdown in mopup duty; that’s even more depth if needed.
The Wolverines lost their top tight end and receiver from 2022 to the NFL, but do bring back four of their top six from last season. Senior Cornelius Johnson (6’3” 211 lbs.) caught 32 passes for 499 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns. Junior Roman Wilson (6’0” 185 lbs.) caught 25 passes for 376 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Colston Loveland (6’5” 237 lbs.) caught 16 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns in five starts as a true freshman. Michigan also added Indiana transfer tight end AJ Barner (6’6” 251 lbs.), who caught 28 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns last season for the Hoosiers. Johnson and Wilson were Michigan’s most explosive receivers last season, so they should be as good, if not better, in 2023.
Michigan’s offensive line lost two starters in the NFL draft, but picked up three starters from the Pac-12 in the transfer portal to fill those holes. Stanford transfer center Drake Nugent (6’2” 306 lbs.) started 24 games for the Cardinal. At left tackle, either Arizona State transfer LaDarius Henderson (6’5” 310 lbs., 29 career starts) or Stanford transfer Myles Hinton (6’6” 320 lbs., 16 career starts) will take over at left tackle. Junior guards Zak Zinter (6’6” 320 lbs.) and Trevor Keegan (6’6” 305 lbs.) earned first team All-Big Ten honors last season, while junior right tackle Karsen Barnhart (6’5” 308 lbs.) earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. The Wolverines’ offensive line has been regarded as the nation’s best the last two seasons, and they likely will be even better in 2023.
Michigan will be rebuilding on the defensive line, needing to replace two first team All-Big Ten honorees and NFL draft picks. Junior defensive tackle Kris Jenkins (6’3” 285 lbs.) is back after an honorable mention All-Big Ten season with 54 tackles. Junior edge rusher Jaylen Harrell (6’4” 246 lbs.) led the Wolverines with five quarterback hurries.
The linebacker corps returns intact, and should be even stronger in 2023. Junior middle linebacker Junior Colson (6’2” 235 lbs.) led Michigan with 101 tackles last season, earning second team All-Big Ten honors. Senior weakside linebacker Michael Barrett (6’0” 233 lbs.) was second with 72 tackles and was also named second team All-Big Ten. Senior nickle back Mike Sainristil (5’10” 182 lbs.) played bigger than his size with 58 tackles and seven pass breakups, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.
The secondary will be led by junior free safety Rod Moore (6’0” 185 lbs.), who had 71 tackles last season to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Sophomore cornerback Will Johnson (6’2” 194 lbs.) became a starter late in his true freshman season with 27 tackles in five starts. Junior strong safety Makari Paige (6’4” 200 lbs.) had 41 tackles as a spot starter last season.
Michigan is loaded again in 2023, and the conversation has shifted from “can Jim Harbaugh ever match up with Ohio State” to now “can Jim Harbaugh win a national title?” Of course, the next step would be to actually win a playoff game. Recruitniks will dismiss the idea, of course, but Harbaugh has developed a squad full of three and four start athletes into a roster full of NFL draft prospects. In the debate over how much “stars matter,” I’m on the bandwagon of development matters more, and Harbaugh is definitely developing his roster. Will they be in that position in January? That remains to be seen, but they look the part in August.
What happens when Michigan visits Nebraska?
This poll is closed
Like Jim Harbaugh shirtless, it’s UGLY
It’s a battle, but in the end, Michigan gets a close win.
It’s a statement win that Nebraska hasn’t had in years. Coach KhakiPants gets overRhuled.