College football season is fast approaching. Soon we'll be flush with teams laying out their plans for the coming season and updates from August training camps. In the meantime, we're setting a bar for each team in the conference and weighing in on why they may or may not reach it during the 2015 season.
Optimism is running high in Ann Arbor thanks to the arrival of Jim Harbaugh. Though Harbaugh's first seven months on the job have been characterized mostly by off-the-field appearances and Twitter stardom. But the guy is obviously a proven winner.
Does that mean that the Wolverines, who were a sorry 5-7 a year ago, will immediately take a big leap forward in Harbaugh's first year? The program did go to the Sugar Bowl in Brady Hoke's first season, after all. Let's take a look at whether Michigan can reach the nine-win-or-better plateau in 2015:
Why Michigan will win nine or more games in 2015
The Harbaugh factor: Simply put, Michigan did not always look well coached or prepared in 2014 under Hoke, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Hoke's goal of creating a power-run team never really came to fruition nor seemed to match the type of players he had, while the offensive line underperformed badly. If there's one thing Harbaugh should bring, it's an immediate sense of toughness, through his sheer force of personality, demanding practices and top-notch coaching, along with assistants like Tim Drevno and Jedd Fisch. Harbaugh is going to make sure Michigan can line up and punch people in the mouth. Just having that attitude and identity could make a world of difference for a team that played in a lot of close games last year.
Defense as the backbone: One good thing you could say about Michigan in 2014 was that its defense usually put the team in position to win. The Wolverines ranked third in the Big Ten in yards allowed per game (311.3) and second in yards per play allowed (4.8). Star linebacker Jake Ryan is gone, but the front seven should still be deep and talented, and Jabrill Peppers will finally get a chance to show what he can do at safety. D.J. Durkin arrives as defensive coordinator after he oversaw some stellar defenses at Florida, and Greg Mattison is still around to lend his expertise. This should remain one of the league's best defenses, though more big plays and turnovers are still needed.
Why Michigan won't win nine or more games in 2015
Offensive issues: The Wolverines' problems moving the ball and scoring in 2014 weren't all related to scheme. Quarterback play has been erratic the past several years, and Iowa transfer Jake Rudock may or may not be the answer in a crowded race this fall. Rudock is a heady player but not one who's going to dazzle people. It's safe to say there's no Andrew Luck on this roster, as least not for this year. There are just as many if not more concerns at tailback, where no real standout has emerged the past couple of years, and at receiver. Add in a line that wasn't exactly bulldozing opponents last season, and there are plenty of reasons to wonder if Michigan will move the chains much more efficiently even under an offensive-minded head coach.
Sneaky-tough schedule: Michigan's schedule isn't chock full of Top 25 teams, but several challenges await. The opener on the road at Utah is a tough spot for Harbaugh to make his maize-and-blue debut. Oregon State and BYU also come to the Big House, and the Cougars in particular could be rather salty. The Wolverines' cross-division road game is at Minnesota, a team that crushed them in last year's Jug game in Ann Arbor. Though both the Michigan State and Ohio State games are at home, Michigan has had little success against either in recent years and would need to play above its head for an upset. A lot of potential potholes dot the schedule. And while Harbaugh should get things turned around quickly, remember it took him until his third year at Stanford to produce a winning record.