With spring practice officially underway in the Big Ten, we’re taking a look at each Big Ten program, using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching and current and future personnel as indicators. The series will cover the East Division this week. Michigan is up next.
2015 record: 10-3 (6-2 Big Ten)
Three-year record: 22-16
Coaching situation: Michigan is home to the most interesting and most creative coaching staff in college football. In his first season back in Ann Arbor, Jim Harbaugh exceeded expectations. He helped spin the culture at his alma mater back to a winning one in less than a calendar year. His offseason moves have been even more eventful, creating a constant buzz that has kept the Wolverines in the national news since his arrival. He has attracted an impressive list of assistants (most recently Don Brown, who built Boston College’s defense into one of the country’s best) and a support staff that gives Michigan strategic footholds in recruiting hotbeds.
Roster situation: Four first-team All-Big Ten players return to the Wolverines starting lineup this year (Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt on offense, Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis on defense). The offense lost its top center, quarterback and fullback. Four starters return on an offensive line that took positive steps in 2015 and a veteran group of pass-catchers should help a new quarterback get adjusted this season. On defense, the secondary is one of the most talented units in college football. A lack of depth in the front seven hurt Michigan’s rushing defense last November, and it will continue to be an obstacle after losing all three starting linebackers to graduation.
Recruiting situation: Michigan signed the No. 6-ranked class and the top-ranked prospect in the nation, defensive tackle Rashan Gary, in the staff’s first full recruiting cycle. Harbaugh’s no-holds-barred approach to attracting top recruits has raised the ire of opposing staffs, but so far hasn’t stopped the Wolverines from upgrading the roster. They already have a 2017 cornerstone commit in quarterback Dylan McCaffrey (younger brother of Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey) and appear to be trending in a positive direction for the future.
Trajectory: Up. The Wolverines landed at No. 12 in the final AP poll in January. Most prognosticators have them listed as at least a top-10 team, and for many a playoff contender, in the way-too-early Top 25 projections this winter. Michigan still has to close the gap on Ohio State -- a four-touchdown victor in Ann Arbor last season -- and Michigan State -- the conference champ no matter how slim the margin -- before claiming its back on top of the Big Ten. Nonetheless, the future looks bright in Ann Arbor, especially when considering the size of the hole that administration issues and poor performance on the field had dug for the program only a couple short years ago.