I will admit I was wrong, but for a good reason, I doubted Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan program turning it around and taking down the mighty Buckeyes. You can check my preseason thoughts here. I honestly thought it would be many years until they finally would come even close to beating their archrival.
Before the season, I gave Harbaugh credit for making some moves on the coaching staff and bringing in younger coaches. Although he stayed with some of his coaches too long, he has consistently shown that he will make changes to adapt. These offseason changes I felt were necessary for recruiting and changing the defense scheme to compete with high-powered offenses.
2021: Over the Hump but can it be sustained?
Harbaugh did many new things this year that was a positive change from the past and led to his best year at Michigan. Harbaugh had a pretty good plan to get JJ McCarthy experience and give the Michigan offense a boost. I was also pleasantly surprised by his game plan’s new sign of aggression. He would go for it on fourth down in his own territory and did not just settle. For once, they are playing their best at the end of the season and not just staying above water.
Unlike many other Michigan fans, though, I am not sold that this is a changing of the guard in the Big Ten just yet. I still have concerns about developing WRs and QBS, along with the inability to put teams away. But I will say this team does seem different and more resilient than teams in the past. The future looks promising, and you cannot deny the program’s momentum. The win over Ohio State and the Big Ten Championship has resulted in getting a monkey off Harbaugh and Michigan’s back for the short term.
Revisiting The offense
I will admit again that I was wrong. I called for the QB change to McCarthy after the Michigan State loss because I did not think this offense under McNamara could beat the Buckeyes. While I appreciate everything McNamara has done this season, he is just limited in his potential and, at times, can be rattled, missing wide-open receivers.
In my opinion, I think McCarthy will win this job in 2022, and the offense will be even more unleashed. McCarthy has shown that a true dual-threat QB can unleash a more versatile running game. He can also improvise more, and his arm strength has been demonstrated throughout his Freshman year.
I will again say I was wrong in that I did not think Blake Corum could be a lead back. I saw him as a change of pace player, but he and Hassan Haskins were 1A and 1B options all season. It was one of the best tandems in college football, with Corum averaging 19.76 fantasy ppg and Haskins averaging 21.26 fantasy ppg. Freshman Donovan Edwards experienced some injuries, but near the end of the season, he received more playing time. He showed he can be a threat out of the backfield and had one of the best throws on a trick play I have seen.
With the coaching of Mike Hart, I thought the RB position was greatly improved, and the rotation made more sense than in years past. Haskins will be moving on, which will leave a big hole to fill, but I think the tandem of Edwards and Corum could provide more explosion and even more production in the passing game. I think both could put up similar numbers to the Corum/Haskins tandem this year. Edwards has the higher ceiling as a bigger back, but I think Corum could still get day two draft capital in the NFL with another good year.
This is where I am a little of a loss for the team. While I think McCarthy gets the job, and they will open up the offense more, this will always be more of a run-heavy team. In 2021 the team was 18th in the NCAA, running the ball 59.76% of the time; I could see that getting closer to 53-55% in 2022.
Ronnie Bell: He will be returning in 2022 from an ACL injury, and if he is healthy, I see him being the #1 WR. I underestimated how big a part of the passing game he was, but I would not spend too much on him because I don’t know his NFL potential. He will be, at best, a third-day player, in my opinion.
Cornelius Johnson: He was the top receiver this year without Bell but had his struggles. He did show flashes, for example, the long catch against Ohio State. I don’t see much fantasy potential for him moving forward, but another good year could get NFL looks because of his size and speed (most likely Day 3 player).
Roman Wilson/AJ Henning: Both exciting players with good speed but not used consistently enough to be relevant week to week. They are better players for the success of Michigan than for fantasy.
Andrel Anthony: I questioned how he did not have a catch until the sixth game of the season, but he put on a show when he got his first action. It has been frustrating as he has had little impact since the Michigan State game but does show a highlight catch each game. He is the only current WR I would roster in startups, and that would be only in C2C and not until after round 25 or 30.
Erick All: This was by far his best year as a Wolverine, and he finished as TE 39 in fantasy. That will not win you much, but he would be someone I would target late as a TE flier. He has good speed and is a great blocker, so I could see NFL teams liking him at the next level
Where Does Michigan Go From Here?
Michigan made it to the Playoff, and we will see how they stack up against the SEC and the talented Georgia Bulldogs. The early signing day was huge for the Wolverines in that they won huge recruiting battles against big programs in states outside of Michigan. This is the first step to continue success because the defense may take a step back with losing Aidan Hutchinson and possibly David Ojabo to the NFL. Also, Safety/Nickel Back Daxton Hill could be entering the draft, so adding talent to the secondary, with three players ranked in the top 200, was huge for the future. Harbaugh also was able to flip Amorion Walker, who looks to project at receiver and steal Darrius Clemons from Oregon. Both are tall receivers with excellent speed that will help the offense get faster.
Now that Harbaugh has proven he can win the Big 10, there are no more excuses, and he will have to show his ability to continue to develop players, especially at the QB position. There is enough talent, but he has to continue to evolve his philosophy to keep up with the Buckeyes, who I am sure will be coming for blood next year in Columbus.