Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh
2016 Record: 10-3 (7-2 Big Ten)
Over 9 wins (-113); Under 9 wins (-107)
Odds to win Big Ten Championship Game: +738
Odds to win 2017 Title: +50000
Odds c/o Bookmaker
The Michigan Wolverines finished 7-2 in Big Ten Play last year while posting a scoring average of 40.3 points per game. Things get interesting when considering that starting QB Wilton Speight returns to improve on that mark.
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Speight will now have Pep Hamilton coordinating the pass game, and Michigan will still keep up the long-ball approach that was so successful a season ago. Speight completed 204 of 331 passes for 2,538 yards and 18 TDs with just seven interceptions, although there will be some new challenges with a rebuilt offense around him. The hope for the Wolverines is that he gets more help from the ground game. Last year, Michigan ranked No. 33 in rush yardage (212 per game), but it really needs to step that up to make Speight more effective still.
The Wolverines have not had a rusher top 1,000 yards since 2011, and sophomore Chris Evans as well as junior Karan Higdon, are both going to get more touches in an attempt to better balance a good, but predictable, Wolverine offense. Kareem Walker also could be a solution in the backfield after having been redshirted last year due to his poor academics.
The losses of Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson at wide receiver could be big, but the Wolverines are hoping that Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black are able to carry the load and get the most of Speight’s passing.
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Defensively, the DL loses a lot. The hope here is that sophomore Rashan Gary is able to fill the shoes, as a potential star for the defense. Maurice Hurst is also another key player defensively. The linebacking group is deep and talented, led by senior Mike McCray.
Losing Jabril Peppers to the NFL is no small loss, obviously, but there are five able bodies to step up in replacing his talent. Josh Metellus looked nearly as good as Peppers in the Orange Bowl loss last year, so sustaining that type of play may help Michigan repeat its stifling defensive attack which held opponents to just 14.1 points per game last year, ranking No. 2 in the nation.
The Wolverines gave up only 22 TDs last year, while possessing the nation’s top pass defense and ranking No. 15 in rush defense. So, while losing Peppers hurts, if the fall off is just that of going from the nation’s best defense to simply elite, Michigan should not suffer too badly.
The loss of kicker Kenny Allen hurts. Quinn Nordin will replace him, but Allen was one of the greatest kicker and punter options Michigan had in its program history, as someone who knocked down 37 of 45 field goals and all 99 of his extra points. The Wolverines also will have to settle on a new punter. That remains to be seen.
Harbaugh did an incredible job in revitalizing Wolverine football over the past two seasons, while posting a 20-6 record over both years. The team could take a slide back this year, due to the losses at wide receiver and within the defensive unit, but Michigan will still be a force in the Big Ten, even if National Title contention is something of a long shot.
College football oddsmakers expect about nine wins, following a 10-win season, so a one-game fall off is hardly disastrous and by now people have learned not to sleep on what Harbaugh can do with a team’s offense.
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