In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 8 Michigan
This is Jim Harbaugh's best, most complete and deepest team he's had in four years at Michigan.
A defense led by several All-America candidates like Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and David Long is a championship-caliber unit. To state the obvious, if the Wolverines get good — or even adequate — quarterback play, they can beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten East and make a serious run at the College Football Playoff.
2017 Record: 8-5 (5-4, Big Ten)
Michigan failed in their attempt at three consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1997-99, won their fewest games under Jim Harbaugh and lost to Ohio State for the sixth straight year and 13th time in the last 14 years.
Even for a reloading program replacing 11 NFL Draft picks, it was a nightmare season.
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (4th Year, 28-11)
Last year was rough and felt like a slight step back for a program that was trending toward annual Big Ten and College Football Playoff contention. And it put some heat on Harbaugh, who's falling victim to his own success.
Remember, he doubled their win total in his first season and led the program's first back-to-back 10-win seasons since 2002-03. Had Harbaugh started slower with seven- and eight-win seasons, he'd still be the savior.
RB Ty Isaac, WR Kekoa Crawford, OT Mason Cole, C Patrick Kugler, DT Maurice Hurst, LB Mike McCray,
Offensively, they lost three-starter Mason Cole, who played tackle and center in his career, and a couple reserve skill guys in Ty Isaac (6.2 yards per carry in 2017) and Kekoa Crawford (243 yards, one touchdown in 2017). Crawford transferred after spring practice.
All-American defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is gone, as is Mike McCray. The 6-foot-2, 282-pound Hurst had 32.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks over the last three years, while McCray had 30.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks the last two years.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Brandon Peters, RB Karan Higdon, RB Chris Evans, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR Tarik Black, WR Grant Perry, TE Sean McKeon, TE Zach Gentry, G Ben Bredeson, C Cesar Ruiz, K Quinn Nordin
Michigan averaged 4.7 offensive touchdowns per game in 2016; they averaged 2.7 last year, 96th in the country. They averaged five yards per play, were miserable on third downs (33 percent), and when they rarely reached the red zone (44 times all season), they didn't score on 16 percent of those trips.
Some coaching changes were made; coordinator Tim Drevno resigned, and Harbaugh hired former Ohio State coordinator Ed Warinner as offensive line coach and former Florida head coach Jim McElwain as receivers coach. Harbaugh didn't hire another coordinator and it's still unclear exactly how playcalling duties will be handled.
"We all process things together,” quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton said in April. “Coach McElwain, Coach Warinner, [offensive analysts] Ron Prince and Ben McDaniels, along with Jay Harbaugh and Sherrone [Moore]. We work well together and it’s all a collaborative effort to present Coach Harbaugh with some ideas of things that we like."
Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson was granted immediate eligibility and, barring otherworldly late-camp performances from redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey, will be under center in Week 1. And he'll lead an offense filled with playmakers, including one of the best backfields in the country in Karan Higdon (below) and Chris Evans. Michigan averaged a mediocre 4.4 yards per carry last year but that didn't stop them from running the ball on 58 percent of plays — though that was mostly a byproduct of an anemic passing attack that couldn't find the end zone vs. a Pop Warner team.
Not one Michigan receiver had more than 25 receptions or 307 yards last year. And none of their top-three pass-catchers averaged more than 12.6 yards per reception. They have two good tight ends in Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry and two talented sophomore receivers in Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black.
“They can do anything you want,” tight ends coach Sherrone Moore said of McKeon, Gentry and their other tight ends. “Every single one of them can play out wide, every single one of them can play on the line of scrimmage, be in the backfield. They’re a coach’s dream to be around.”
The offensive line is unsettled and Michigan might not have an established rotation until opening week. Bed Bredeson is an all-conference guard, Cesar Ruiz should start at center after a sold freshmen season, and Juwann Bushell-Beatty should start at right tackle despite pass-protection issues last year.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Rashan Gary, DE Chase Winovich, DT Aubrey Solomon, LB Devin Bush, LB Khaleke Hudson, CB Lavert Hill, CB David Long, S Tyree Kinnel, S Josh Metellus
Michigan held 10 of their 12 regular-season opponents to 24 points or fewer. They allowed 4.3 yards per play (only 3.4 per carry), were the best third-down defense in the country (26 percent) and led the nation with an 11.4 percent sack rate. And Don Brown's defense doesn't need turnovers to be successful (1.3 last year, 87th in the FBS).
“I’ve got six inside linebackers who are legit players. Two SAMs who are legit players and two vipers," third-year coordinator Don Brown said in April. "You can give those guys jobs to do on third down and in passing scenarios. We’re loaded and ready to go with all the things I think are necessary to be a really solid Division I defense.”
All three levels of the defense are among the best in college football, led by a defensive line that lost Maurice Hurst but earned a big win when defensive end Chase Winovich returned. He led the team in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (18) last year. Devin Bush is back in the middle and Khaleke Hudson will occupy the "Viper" position, a hybrid safety/linebacker spot that Jabrill Peppers played and has thrived in Brown's unit.
They have two All-America candidates at corner in David Long (below) and Kavert Hill. The pair led a unit that allowed the fourth-lowest average passer rating in the country last year.
You know your defense is loaded when one of the best defensive players in college football and a candidate for a top-five pick in the 2019 NFL Draft is just another guy. Rashan Gary is back for presumably his final season. If someone like tackle Aubrey Solomon can build on a strong freshman season and allow Gary to avoid as many double teams as possible, this defensive front will be nasty.
"The biggest thing for him is staying physically healthy,” defensive line coach Greg Mattison said of Solomon. “He would start showing great things . . . and then he'd get nicked up. His back would be bad, his legs would be bad, or his shoulder would be bad . . . He's moving way better. I think you're seeing a young guy that was a freshman last year maturing."
QB Shea Patterson, QB Dylan McCaffrey
Shea Patterson hasn't officially won the starting job, meaning sophomore Brandon Peters and redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey are still technically in the running to start vs. Notre Dame on Sept. 1. Harbaugh has only said meaningless things like "good" and "intense" when describing the competition.
McCaffrey, the sixth-ranked pro-style passer in the 2017 class, is bigger (6-foot-5, 217 pounds) than Patterson (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) but both have good footwork and Patterson has proven he's a dangerous out-of-the-pocket passer.
"No matter where you go they're going to have other guys," McCaffrey, who appeared to have a good shot at unseating Brandon Peters as starting quarterback, said regarding Patterson's transfer. "Any good school you want to go to is going to have the No. 1 guy or No. 2 guy in the class before. I knew I'd have to compete anywhere."
One of the hardest schedules in the country features the three Big Ten East playoff contenders, arguably the Big Ten West's top two teams in Wisconsin and Northwestern, and a trip to Notre Dame.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||at Notre Dame|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Western Michigan|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. SMU|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Nebraska|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at Northwestern|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||vs. Maryland|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||vs. Wisconsin|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||at Michigan State|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. Penn State|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||at Rutgers|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||vs. Indiana|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||at Ohio State|