The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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20 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2020 BY CHRIS BALAS T he COVID-19 pandemic nearly robbed Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten of its fall football season, and there's no guarantee even now that the conference will make it through the revised, nine-game schedule un- scathed. Several games on all levels, in vari- ous sports — MLB, NFL and, yes, NCAA football — have been post- poned or canceled, and Big Ten ad- ministrators have vowed to err on the side of caution when it comes to college athletics. Despite the stringent safety mea- sures put in place, three Wolverines who made the top 10 on our preseason top 25 countdown of the team's best players in August likely won't be on the team this fall, dramatically alter- ing the make-up of the 2020 squad. Senior cornerback Ambry Thomas has already opted out, and while red- shirt junior quarterback Dylan Mc- Caffrey and senior wide receiver Nico Collins were still technically on the official roster in mid-October, neither was expected to return. Collins had signed with an agent, while McCaf- frey is set to graduate before seeking a transfer. There's still plenty of returning and up-and-coming talent on the roster, however, and the departures have opened the door for many others to shine in their absence. Early practice reports have been positive on a number of fronts, both offensively and defensively, and the competition has brought out the best in many. Here's is The Wolverine's revised list of Michigan's top 25 players heading into the Oct. 24 opener at Minnesota. 1. Aidan Hutchinson, Jr., DE For all that's changed over the last few months, one thing remains the same — Hutchinson is Michigan's best player heading into the 2020 season. The son of former Michigan All-American defensive tackle Chris Hutchinson has picked up where he left off last year, when he finished as one of the Wolverines' top players on either side of the ball. Hutchinson notched 68 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, six pass breakups, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles in becoming a defensive force, and he has all the skills and ability to become a first- team All-Big Ten performer, if not better. "His arms are so long, and he runs so well," defensive coordinator Don Brown said. "… I cannot believe how athletic this guy is. He is 6-7 and runs like a deer. "The sky is the limit for this guy, and we know what we've got. He's bright, articulate, in a great mood ev- ery day. It's a beautiful thing when the defensive players can look at a leader and see a guy excited to be on the practice field every day, smiling." He's got plenty to grin about these days, having gone from leading a pro- test to reinstate Big Ten football to now preparing for his third season in the winged helmet. Rather than sulk at what might not be, he continued to work to improve both the physical and the mental parts of his game, and watched a lot of film during the team's time off. He expects to be a match-up night- mare for offenses with fellow end Kw- ity Paye. If a tight end cheats to help, one of them will have a one-on-one opportunity, and Hutchinson expects to win those most of the time. His teammates would agree. "That dude is an animal," redshirt junior linebacker Josh Ross said. "He brings it every single day — he's just a guy you want to be around, a leader on our team. He's going to have a tre- mendous season this year." Michigan's Revised Top 25 Opt-Outs Have Changed The Dynamic Of The Wolverines' 2020 Roster Junior Aidan Hutchinson (above) and senior Kwity Paye could form one of the nation's best defensive end combinations this fall. Both received plenty of NFL Draft hype this offseason. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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