The Wolverine

December 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2017 J im Harbaugh's football team churned toward the final two games of the regu- lar season awash in fan angst, despite a shot at another 10- win season and a long shot at a Big Ten title. The worries weren't wholly unfounded. Despite an 8-2 record and the No. 18 ranking in the Nov. 12 coaches' poll, Michigan still hadn't knocked off a single team with a win- ning record in 2017. The two teams they faced at the finish — Wisconsin and Ohio State — carried a com- bined 18-2 mark. The Wolver- ines found themselves on their third quarterback, via injury and ineffectiveness. In other words, the season could turn out just like most predicted beforehand — a 9-3, 8-4 slight step back from a year ago, after Michigan lost 19 off the roster to the NFL. Not exactly stunning. While still allowing for the Wol- verines to rise up at the end in 2017, knowledgeable onlookers agree: after that, look out. Bet against Harbaugh if you want. Discount his drive, his pride, his tactical savvy, his recruiting, his abil- ity to attract coaching talent, and his overwhelming passion for Michigan and getting the Wolverines back to the top. Those who watch him closely, and know what they're watching, do not. That doesn't mean there haven't been bumps in the road, or agony- engendering near misses. Regardless of how the final fort- night of 2017 turns out, they say, it will be the last one for a long time where the Wolverines carry so many question marks. Harbaugh's talent is growing up, assured Doug Skene, bearer of five Big Ten championship rings from 1988-92. The former Michigan of- fensive lineman joined a panel of plugged-in Wolverine watchers for an extensive roundtable discussion in this issue. He — like football alums Jon Jansen and Marcus Ray from the na- tional championship squad in 1997, and Michigan sideline reporter Doug Karsch — sees the imminent rise of the winged helmet. "As far as the Big Ten goes, there's no reason that Michigan shouldn't be there in the hunt every year," Skene said. Skene, like the others, watches the game at a different level. He cringes when he watches offenses go to the line of scrimmage, then stop and look to the sidelines, letting others do the cogitating for them. Michigan quarterbacks are taught to think, and read, and adjust, on their own, Skene said. Despite the fits and starts at the position this year, the approach will pay off in the long run, whether behind redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, true frosh Dylan McCaffrey or someone else. "Coach Harbaugh is developing quarterbacks to go up there with two, four, six or more plays and make those decisions themselves, by reading the defense and understand- ing things, rather than waiting for the sideline to think for you," Skene explained. "That's a lengthier learn- ing process, but when you get a guy that's there and you send him out there with the whole playbook at his dis- posal, to make a call at the last second, now you've really got something. "Michigan has had those quarterbacks in the past. I think we're going to have those quarterbacks in the near future again, but they're young guys right now." The revolving door at quar- terback combined with an all-new cast of receivers to make Michigan less effective through the air this season. That won't be the case very long, noted Jansen, who says better days are on the horizon. Jansen joins the host of O- line alums insisting that when Michigan gets it right up front again, all will be well. It's all coming, he vowed. "At wide receiver, we've got two guys who are very special, in [freshmen] Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones, but all of a sudden we're starting to see [freshman] Nico Collins, we're starting to see some of these other guys," Jansen said. "We're going to have the ability to stretch the field. "We continue to solidify that of- fensive line, and understand what we're good at … you put a good run game together with an explosive pass game, and pair that with our defense, that's the recipe for beating teams like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio [State]. That's what you've got to have, and I think that's what you're going to see next year." Like Jack Palance noted as the hard-edged Curly in "City Slickers," "Day ain't over yet." In other words, the 2017 Wolver- ines haven't written their final chap- ter. But whatever happens in this season's final days, there's a highly successful cattle drive just around the bend. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Football Alums: Don't Bet Against Jim Jim Harbaugh teaches his quarterbacks — like fifth-year senior John O'Korn — to think, read and adjust on their own, an approach that will pay off in the long run. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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