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2021 Big Ten Opponent Preview: Michigan Wolverines

Michigan returns to Spartan Stadium after hosting the in-state rivalry game in Ann Arbor the past two years.

Michigan State v Michigan
Joe Milton #5 of the Michigan Wolverines drops back for a pass aided by obvious offensive holding during the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium on October 31, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

We have already arrived to the big showdown circled by residents of the Great Lakes state every year. Once again falling over Halloween weekend, the Michigan Wolverines come to East Lansing Oct. 30 and for the first time since 2018, this time ideally without acting like petulant children in front of a national television audience. The game was hosted by Michigan for two years in a row in part due to COVID-19 scheduling requirements for helping the Big Ten add flexibility last year, and also in order to better balance future home schedules for both teams in ticket sales.

To help us learn more about this year’s September Heisman candidates, I mean the 2021 Michigan Wolverines, Anthony Broome, managing editor of Maize n Brew — the quintessential website for all things Michigan — has provided in-depth answers about what to expect from the Wolverines in 2021.

With that introduction done, let’s jump right into it.

List your team’s key departures:

  • Kwity Paye, starting defensive end
  • Jalen Mayfield, starting right tackle
  • Cam McGrone, starting linebacker
  • Giles Jackson, wide receiver (transfer)

List your team’s key returnees:

  • Aidan Hutchinson, starting defensive end
  • Josh Ross, starting linebacker
  • Hassan Haskins, starting running back
  • Ronnie Bell, starting wide receiver

List a few true freshmen or transfers that will make an instant impact:

  • Donovan Edwards, running back
  • Daylen Baldwin, wide receiver (transfer from Jackson State)
  • Jordan Whittley, defensive tackle (transfer from Oregon State)

Brief overview of 2021 team:

This team is a complete enigma to me. This is far from Jim Harbaugh’s most talented Michigan team, but it would be pretty surprising for them to be as terrible as they were last year again. They probably are not winning the Big Ten (duh), but they don’t track as a team that could go 4-8/5-7, etc. This is probably a team that can win eight or nine games depending on the bowl opponent, but that will do nothing to sell fans that Harbaugh remains the solution moving forward. They should be much further along in year seven of this regime.

What’s your team’s biggest strength?

Offensive skill positions. Michigan has a running back room with three players that could be potential stars and a plethora of options at wide receiver. The math suggests that someone might disappoint, but there are enough lotto tickets here to feel like this could be a pretty good offense if it clicks.

What’s your team’s biggest weakness?

The back two levels of the defense are a major concern, namely the defensive backs. There was not a lot to like there last season and they aren’t particularly deep. Now, they learn a new scheme entirely. That’s worrisome.

How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his staff?

Heading into last year, it seemed like there was starting to be a vibe of ambivalence from the fanbase regarding Harbaugh. By season’s end, even the most level-headed of people seemed to be open to a change taking place. Those same people now seem to be open to the idea of Harbaugh returning on an incentive-laden contract, but there has to be visible improvement in all areas that push the program forward. Another year of getting shelled by the best teams you play will only increase the cries for change.

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

Aidan Hutchinson. The new defense is going to allow him to rush the passer from both a linebacker and defensive end position. That could be a big showcase for him for pro scouts and also make him a headache for opposing defenses.

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss:

Record: 8-5. Its best win will be Michigan State on the road [Editor’s Note: Unless your secondary learned how to cover without holding, dream on Wolverines]. A potential surprise loss could be at Nebraska or at home against Northwestern.

Michigan seems to be at a crossroads as to what to do about its head coach, so how he responds to his contract extension that saw reduced pay and buyouts this year should be interesting from an outside perspective. Also curious to see whether the defensive scheme changes will do anything about that shaky secondary so ruthlessly exploited last season.

Thank you to Anthony for giving us a great picture on the Wolverines. You can follow more from Anthony here, and you can follow Maize n Brew on Twitter here, which is the quintessential one stop shop for Michigan news.