The Wolverine

February 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2022 M ichigan football climbed as high as it could in the remark- able breakthrough season of 2021. Only two programs remained standing beyond the Wolverines, and they qualify as semi-pro squads. The question now becomes, how does the home team maintain? How can the Big Ten champions reach Columbus next November with a shot at ecstasy all over again? How can they roll up to The Snakepit with a Big Ten title game appearance and another College Foot- ball Playoff bid on the line? Roster upheaval makes the question tougher than a Buckeye fan's winter. Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, Josh Ross, Daxton Hill, Chris Hinton, An- drew Vastardis, Andrew Stueber, Hassan Haskins — a host of heroes from the 2021 march to a championship — are all gone. It's not like the cupboard is emptier than Urban Meyer's social judgment. The offense comes back loaded, led by a pair of QBs who will push each other from January to kickoff against Colo- rado State and beyond. The schedule doesn't hurt, either. The Rams, Hawaii's Rainbow Warriors and UConn's Huskies were all such a mess last season not even a Michigan State-sized transfer portal raid figures to make them a threat in The Big House come September. A fourth straight home game — ver- sus usually compliant Maryland — leads into the single toughest matchup of 2022, pre-OSU. At Iowa never shapes up as a picnic, Big Ten championship game beatdown notwithstanding. Penn State and Michigan State, back- to-back, represent a challenge, but one that ought to be overcome at home, sans Kenneth Walker III and a retinally de- tached replay official. Bottom line, the Wolverines ought to reach Columbus with no more than one loss and a chance to do it all again … IF … The biggest if of all lingered at press time. Does Jim Harbaugh lead the charge again or take another stab at a Super Bowl? If the latter, how much of his best staff as Michigan coach does he take with him? That all gets cleared up soon — prob- ably before this magazine hits your lap. But the question dwarfs all other per- sonnel issues in mid-January, including the QB battle. It's there for the taking, again. Who's going to take it? *** The other big issue revolves around leadership. Hutchinson led with a fury last season, and all joined the charge. They didn't care that they hadn't been there, and hadn't seen Michigan get there in their faintest memories. Now they know what it takes — or should. Carrying forward the offseason fury, the relentless preparation, then oneness of purpose, all need to remain. They need to work like they were 2-4 and getting relentlessly mocked. They might also embody the belief of freshman offensive lineman Zak Zinter in last year's football preview issue. It didn't make a big splash at the time — perhaps because folks expecting 6-6 thought they were being polite and kind to an obvi- ously deluded young Wolverine. Here's our replayed conversation, an enjoyable one to peruse in hindsight: "Zinter said: 'They're going to hate on you 'til you make it. Once you make it big, everyone wants to be your friend.' "He's backing down from no one, in- cluding the Buckeyes. "'We're going to be the team to beat them,' Zinter declared. 'Our team's go- ing to be a household name — the team that finally broke the streak and was able to beat those guys.' "Wait, what? There's a statement worthy of the opportunity to reel it back in. Zinter didn't. "You're going to be the team that gets it done? "'Yes, sir.' "In your career, or THIS year? "'Oh, this year. For sure.' "You possess the same bravery as your head coach, when he was playing. "'Good!' "There it is — the gap between doubt and determination. Recent history re- mains on the side of the former. Defi- ance and motivated muscle are pushing back. "Zinter, the throwback mauler up front, delivered one last thought. "'Don't count us out.'" Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, those words might be ones to hold onto. *** Juwan Howard's team has already been counted out by many, at least from revisiting the lofty heights of last year. That's fair, given the eye test and the bottom line. Jumping ship over the less-than- seamless reload from NBA players to highly touted true freshmen still seems shortsighted. Howard didn't forget how to coach, or teach. Neither did his as- sistants, and they all know how to bring in talent. A growth year isn't what any Crisler Center denizen envisioned after last year's euphoric ride. But it's been the year of the unexpected. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON On Toughness And Turnarounds Second-team All-Big Ten (media) guard Zak Zinter confidently declared in the preseason that this year would be the one Michigan beat Ohio State. He could be one of the emerging leaders on a squad that lost a lot in that department. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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