The Wolverine

2022 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 22 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 21 BY MARK PANUS T he national college football maga- zines that hit the newsstands in June gave Michigan its due, with full and proper credit for winning the Big Ten and advancing to the College Football Playoff in 2021. It was a special, magical season in Ann Arbor. One for the ages — especially when you consider that Athlon Sports and Lindy's Sports both picked the Wolverines to finish fourth in the Big Ten last preseason. Michigan certainly proved a lot of doubters wrong in '21 and raised the bar for itself along the way. This year, however, the consensus from Ath- lon and Lindy's preview magazines is that while the reigning conference champions will be strong once again, they will not be operating at quite the same, generationally elite level as they were in 2021. Phil Steele's '22 College Football sees U-M remaining in the nation's top five with every- thing hinging on a matchup of undefeated ri- vals in Columbus, Ohio, on the fourth Saturday in November. It seems the distance between first and sec- ond place in the Big Ten, as well as the fallout from missing the top spot, is light years apart. Making the CFP is the bright line that qualifies a team as elite, and anything below that these days is just not in the same universe. And that makes sense. Winning a Big Ten championship put Michigan in the College Football Playoff a year ago, just as it did for Ohio State in 2020. And in '22, the loser will walk to the Rose Bowl. Despite the national handwringing about U-M not being quite as elite as the team south of its state border, Lindy's still projects Michigan to finish No. 6 nationally and be second-best in the Big Ten (and Big Ten East Division) behind Ohio State. Ditto for Athlon. Apparently, being rated as the sixth-best team in the country has reached diminishing marginal returns. There are, remember, only four spots available in the CFP. Dangerous Offense And Special Teams, Defensive Rebuild Is Uncertain Lindy's summarized Michigan's primary strengths as "a prolific offense" that will con- tinue to make running the ball its identity this year, "although expect the ball to be in the air more often in 2022." Lindy's pick for the Big Ten champion in 2022 is Ohio State: "Another year, another run to the Big Ten title. Yawn." Like other pundits, Lindy's zeroed in on the pass rush as among the "potential problems" for U-M this season, based largely on the loss of two game-wrecking edge rushers in All-American Aidan Hutchinson and All-Big Ten pick David Ojabo. Their departure for the NFL leaves a large hole to fill for Michigan (namely, 25 of the team's 34 total sacks). Lindy's also stated the obvious when it said U-M "needs the secondary, which lost some starters, to pick up some slack" for the defense this season. Athlon struck a similar chord, also pick- ing the Wolverines to finish No. 6 nationally with a 10-2 overall record and second in the Big Ten with a 7-2 conference slate. Yet, the magazine stated that Michigan enters the sea- son with plenty of question marks. "Chief among them," Athlon noted, "of course, has to do with whether Jim Har- baugh's team can reprise last season's im- probable magic act …" In its analysis, the publication went on to predict that Michigan "should be much more explosive throwing the ball this year, which is important because the offense will be leaned on to carry the team while the defense breaks in new pieces." After the obligatory note that there were a lot of hurdles cleared by U-M last fall, Athlon remained somewhat skeptical for 2022: "But with a pair of super-talented edge rushers Collision Course Pundits Pick Michigan Second In The Big Ten With All Eyes On Columbus "This was a changed program. … They had more speed than in recent years, and they were still just as physical. They were violent on film. It was Michigan football." ANONYMOUS OPPOSING COACH ON U-M IN 2021 (VIA ATHLON)

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