The Wolverine

Sept 2023

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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62 THE WOLVERINE ❱ SEPTEMBER 2023 N inth-year Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has raved all off- season about the "cultural mo- mentum" that's been built within his program. By all accounts, it's strong. There's great leadership and a trickle- down effect where the newcomers quickly learn how to work and carry themselves. For over a decade, virtually no Wol- verines on the roster knew what it took to win a Big Ten championship. They may have thought they knew, but they couldn't be certain because they'd never experienced it. Hanging banners allows for even more buy-in — now guys know the formula leads to success, if done right. Harbaugh also proclaimed this off- season that all 10 of his assistants will be head coaches one day — bold, but not at all criticized as being way off. He believes four of them could be running their own programs after this coming season. The roster is loaded, experts across the country have said in unison. Michi- gan has the fifth-most returning pro- duction in the sport, per, and depth at every position. On paper, analysts have said, this is Harbaugh's best team. Everything from the last game of the 2022 season until toe meets leather Sept. 2 at The Big House, though, is just talk. None of it is uninformed, and the work put in during the offseason matters greatly, but it's what happens between the white lines that really counts. Harbaugh will serve a three-game, school-imposed suspension stemming from an alleged NCAA violation. He's set to miss the first three outings against Group of Five opponents East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green. While all three foes are supposed to be pushovers, it'll be a challenge — or at least a minor speed bump — taking the field without their fearless leader. It will also test Harbaugh's theories — that the Wolverines have a strong culture and that his assistant coaches are ready to run a program. Perhaps the situation will create some adversity for a team that isn't expected to face any real turbulence until road games at Nebraska Sept. 30 and Minnesota Oct. 7 at the earliest. It could actually strengthen the Wolverines and provide extra motivation in the early going as they begin a march toward a third straight Big Ten title. "We ride behind him, and we're def- initely going to bring some fire to the field the next three games," sophomore defensive tackle Kenneth Grant said. Consider the Harbaugh suspension a trust fall or a stress test for a Michigan team ready to back up the talk. THE 'MICHIGAN METHOD' Michigan struck gold last season by going with an unconventional method to decide on a starting quarterback, with Cade McNamara starting the first game and J.J. McCarthy the next. After the 56- 10 blowout win over Hawai'i, it came as no surprise when Harbaugh announced McCarthy as the winner of the QB derby. It quickly became clear that McCar- thy was the man to meet the moment. He went on to set the program record for most wins by a first-year starting quarterback and lead the team to a 13-1 campaign, including the Big Ten title. Harbaugh is going back to the same method at multiple positions this sea- son, calling it the "Michigan Method" after reading an article that referred to another team indicating it was going to replicate Michigan's process from a year ago. "I like the way that sounded," Har- baugh said. One player will get the starting nod the first game, and another for the second outing. Practice predicts game performance, Harbaugh explained, but nothing predicts it like … game perfor- mance. "It's the 'Michigan Method,'" the head coach said. "Who plays? Who gets to start? The best players. How do you know who the best player is? They play the best. If I could define what the Michigan Method is, that would define it well." The Wolverines will likely use the method at both offensive tackle spots (graduate students Karsen Barnhart and LaDarius Henderson on the left side, graduate Trente Jones and senior Myles Hinton on the right), the cor- nerback spot opposite sophomore Will Johnson (graduates Josh Wallace and Kechaun Harris, junior Ja'Den McBur- rows and others), center (graduate Drake Nugent and junior Greg Crippen) and edge (seniors Jaylen Harrell and Braiden McGregor, junior Josaiah Stewart and sophomore Derrick Moore). Michigan's lightly rated nonconfer- ence schedule, of course, plays a fac- tor, even if Harbaugh wouldn't — and shouldn't — say it so that he doesn't disrespect the opponents. East Caro- lina and UNLV are the first two clashes, and if they need overtime for any posi- tion battles, Bowling Green awaits in Game 3. We'll stop short of calling these "preseason games," but there are a lot of similarities between those and this. The innovative "Michigan Method" worked last year, and there's no reason why it won't again this fall. ❏ SAYFIE BLITZ ❱ CLAYTON SAYFIE Putting Program Culture To The Test Staff writer Clayton Sayfie has covered Michigan athletics for The Wolverine since 2019. Contact him at Clayton. and follow him on X @ CSayf23. Head coach Jim Harbaugh, who is fielding the strongest, deepest team in his nine years at the helm, will begin the season with a three- game, school-imposed suspension stemming from allegations of NCAA violations. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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