2020 Season Preview: Michigan Wolverines

By Nick Polak on October 5, 2020 at 8:30 am
Will Michigan finally break through in 2020 or end up with another 3rd place finish in the Big Ten East?
© Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Free Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC
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Typically, entering year two of a new offensive system would mean that we could and should expect big things. The situation at Michigan, though, could challenge that notion. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis returns along with a few key pieces, which is good. Gone is his starting quarterback, three of his top-four pass catchers, and four of his five offensive linemen, which is bad.

The offense isn't alone, though, as the defense also loses several notable names who have established themselves as mainstays over the past few years. That's bound to happen when you have a whopping 10 players selected in the NFL Draft, after all. Given all that, can Jim Harbaugh and his squad finally get over the 3rd place hump amidst the chaos that is the 2020 season?

Michigan at a Glance

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh (10th season; 76-39 overall, 47-18 with Michigan)
2019 Record 9-4, 6-3 (3rd in Big Ten East)
2019 Postseason Citrus Bowl (35-16 loss to Alabama)
Biggest Losses QB Shea Patterson, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR Tarik Black, WR Nico Collins, OL Ben Bredeson, OL Cesar Ruiz, OL Michael Onwenu, DL/LB Josh Uche, LB Jordan Glasgow, LB Khaleke Hudson, CB Lavert Hill, CB Ambry Thomas, S Josh Metellus
Biggest Returnees QB Joe Milton, RB Hassan Haskins, RB Zach Charbonnet OL Jaylen Mayfield, WR Ronnie Bell, TE Nick Eubanks, DL Kwity Paye, DL Aidan Hutchinson, LB Cameron McGrone, S Brad Hawkins, S Daxton Hill
Summary The Wolverines move into year two of the Josh Gattis offense, but with so many starters to replace and a new quarterback, how much will it matter? Will the defense survive the loss of several multi-year starters?
Matchup with PSU Penn State and Michigan have alternated man-handlings favoring the home team for four consecutive seasons. With the Nittany Lions looking like the superior team on paper, James Franklin will look to stop that trend.

Offense

The Michigan offense really started to find its rhythm after halftime of the Penn State game (that same offense disappeared for the Ohio State game, but what else is new). Unfortunately, much of that progress may have been lost given the personnel losses the offense has sustained.

Shea Patterson is no longer QB1 in Ann Arbor, and neither is highly-touted Dylan McCaffrey. The younger McCaffrey will sit out the 2020 season as he searches for his new school after entering the transfer portal. This move was made after it was presumably decided that Joe Milton would be the starter this fall. No matter, Milton was a four-star prospect in his own right and has a souped-up railgun for an arm. He also has just 12 career pass attempts.

Things at running back are far more settled, with the combo of Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins set to return. Each showed flashes in 2019, though Haskins was often the scarier of the two for opponents. Charbonnet was the bigger name and was far more prolific on the score sheet (11 touchdowns to four) but also wasn't terribly explosive. Still, with so little experience at quarterback and receiver, this group will probably be leaned on early.

On that note, the receiver group! It will look...different! Donovan Peoples-Jones is off to the NFL, Nico Collins has opted out, and Tarik Black is now a Longhorn. The good news is that the breakout star of 2019, Ronnie Bell, is back. He will now be the unquestioned top target as youngsters like Giles Jackson will look to make an impact. Nick Eubanks will lead a tight end group that should provide size and security for Milton.

The Wolverines will lose four of last year's five starters from the offensive line as Ruiz, Bredeson, Runyan Jr., and Onwenu were all selected in the last NFL Draft. There's still talent in the room, but offensive line coach Ed Warriner has his work cut out for him otherwise.

defense

The defense remains mostly intact, but there are multiple names who will be very missed on Don Brown's defense.

The defensive line, however, should be just fine. The Wolverines will miss Mike Danna and Josh Uche off the edge, but still should be one of the stronger defensive lines in the conference. Kwity Paye, Aidan Hutchinson, and Carlo Kemp will create plenty of havoc in the opposing quarterback's face. If all goes right, Paye and Hutchinson could both be high picks in the 2021 draft.

At linebacker or linebacker-ish, I suppose, the big loss is Khaleke Hudson. Though he seemed to reach his ceiling after a certain point, he was a dynamic playmaker in the second level of the defense and he made the rest of the linebackers' jobs much easier. Also gone is the solid Jordan Glasgow, but Cameron McGrone is back after a breakout 2019. He and Josh Ross should be a strong combo.

The secondary still has plenty of talent but will be sorely lacking in experience. Safety Josh Metellus and cornerback Lavert Hill are both off to the NFL and Ambry Thomas chose to opt-out. Former five-star Daxton Hill looks like a future superstar, but he needs help. Brad Hawkins should be solid, but the development of the cornerbacks will be paramount.

Special teams

There isn't much new here. Quinn Nordin and Jake Moody will once again split field goal duties and Will Hart will do the punting. Peoples-Jones will need replacing as the primary return man, but Ronnie Bell should step right into that role, at least as the punt returner.

2020 outlook

You've probably picked up on the theme here by this point – there's talent here, but there's also a lot to replace. It's not completely dissimilar to the situation Ohio State finds itself in, with the one massive difference being that the Buckeyes aren't breaking in a new quarterback. Ultimately, the success or failure of this team will come down to Joe Milton. If he shows that he was able to spend 2019 learning the offense well enough and the rest of the unit can step up around him, this team is plenty talented enough to challenge for a Big Ten Championship berth.

...boy, that sounds familiar. Things are different this year for Michigan and year two of Gattis should mean further improvement, but it also sounds exactly like what we say about the Wolverines every year. The more interesting question at this point might be what Harbaugh's future in Ann Arbor holds if they don't finally win the East.

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