Bruce Feldman: Why Michigan Could Be Great in 2018

Bruce Feldman: Why Michigan Could Be Great in 2018

Football

Bruce Feldman: Why Michigan Could Be Great in 2018

CHICAGO — Despite having the fifth-best odds in Vegas to win the College Football Playoff in 2018, it doesn’t seem like many pundits are giving Michigan a chance to even finish that much higher in its own division.

But, that take might be a little short-sighted, some analysts say.

Fox Sports sideline reporter and national columnist for The Athletic Bruce Feldman is one of those voices who saw the Wolverines up-close and personal a year ago, and doesn’t think that Michigan gets the credit it deserves.

The maize and blue were subject to a veritable Murphy’s Law scenario in 2017, in that, anything that could go wrong, pretty much did.

Assuming that things get back on track — which, given the offseason changes to the coaching staff, the personnel changes — with Shea Patterson, the former five-star quarterback who transferred in — and just overall luck turnaround, Michigan could be formidable, despite a tough schedule in 2018.

In a WolverinesWire exclusive, Feldman shared his thoughts on why Michigan could be a much better team this upcoming season, saying it all starts up front on the defensive side of the ball, and under center.

“I think you see a great defense – that’s a good starting point,” Feldman told WolverinesWire. “We’ll see what you get out of the quarterback play. We did them against Purdue on the road – that was obviously the game that Wilton Speight got hurt at. That offensive line was not what we expected a Jim Harbaugh offensive line to be.

“The positives are: you have two really good running backs. You have a receiving corps that now isn’t really young – because you had to replace everybody going into last year. The stuff I’m curious about is: if Shea Patterson’s the guy – we know he has a great release and a really strong arm and he’s a pretty dynamic athlete – how will he fit in with what Jim Harbaugh wants? Will he end up being the guy?

“As far as the big game thing: that’s what happens when you don’t beat your arch rival. But it’s no shame to lose to Urban Meyer. His team has kind of been a gold standard in the Big Ten. I think the part that hurts is Michigan State had a bounce back year – we did like three of their games last year – and they’re young, still. So, he’s got to beat one of those teams. It’s not like he’s on the hot seat, but I think, given all the hype and expectations, it’s not unrealistic for people to go, ‘Okay, it’s year four. They should be a little further along than I think we expected.’ But, this could be that year. I don’t think there’s any reason for people to get off the bandwagon if you’re a Michigan fan.”

As Feldman noted, the defense wasn’t the issue a year ago, but the offensive struggles weren’t helped by starting quarterback Wilton Speight’s injury.

Looking back to last season, when you lose your starting signal caller, and have a group of young wide receivers — Michigan relied mostly on true freshmen Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins at times, while junior Grant Perry led the team with 307 yards receiving — things aren’t likely to play out in a positive manner for you offensively.

“I think it’s a concern when – it’s maybe different if you still had Jake Butt and your two big receivers didn’t go onto the NFL – because I think that’s a lot of security blanket,” Feldman said. “Especially the offensive line. I don’t want to say it was patchwork. But I think when you have all those things combined and then Wilton Speight, who’s a tough guy, and had experience – then he goes down, it’s like all of a sudden, you’re picking up the pieces. And you’re doing it against a pretty tough schedule. It’s not like they’re doing it, and they’re a team that’s in the AAC.

“I think it’s relative. I don’t think it’s shocking. They came close to beating Ohio State. It’s not like they were embarrassed by teams, it’s just I think the margin for error just wasn’t as great and you had a really good defense, despite losing a lot of guys last year. And I think that’s still going to be the case, but they’ve just got to break through. I think there’s got to be a lot of frustration for a lot of people there.”

But, as Feldman mentioned, the defense for the Wolverines remained stalwart, and kept the maize and blue close in all but one game.

With award watchlist season in full-swing, it seems that Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa is atop many pundits’ player to watch lists. But, Feldman believes that Michigan also has the pieces up front to pay attention to — starting with former consensus number one recruit in his class — Rashan Gary.

“The production – obviously those guys make a ton of plays,” Feldman said. “Obviously Rashan Gary came in with a ton of hype. He’s lived up to it, and you see it. Devin Bush was a really special player, I thought. Lost a lot of guys in the secondary – a new batch of guys stepped up. Hudson’s a playmaker. It’s hard to say there’s a better defensive coordinator out there than Don Brown. So, all those pieces come together, and a lot of those guys are back – that’s a great part to be optimistic about.

“People know Bosa, but you could as easily make the case for Rashan Gary. This is such a ridiculously deep group of D-linemen in this junior class, that’s going to be a big storyline in college football. It’s those guys, it’s Ed Oliver, it’s the guys at Clemson. The guys at Mississippi State are really good. It’s crazy how many D-linemen are there.”

If the defense comes to play and Michigan’s offense improves, there’s no reason why the Wolverines can’t be a team to beat in the Big Ten and beyond in 2018, Feldman says.

Asked by WolverinesWire what it would take for Michigan to contend for the conference and a College Football Playoff berth, Feldman said it comes down — essentially — one player, and one scenario.

“If Shea Patterson plays like a five-star guy. I mean, that’s a big if. 

“I think what’s interesting to me here is, Dwayne Haskins, another five-star guy, another guy with a terrific arm — I think there’s probably a little more benefit of the doubt for him. I don’t think (Ohio State’s) defense is better than the Michigan defense. What I do think is, the running backs, as good as the Michigan guys are, I think, maybe, Dobbins and Weber are a bit better. I think the receiving corps is more experienced.

“But, again, if Shea Patterson is as good as people thought he was coming out of high school — and he’s definitely talented — and Jim Harbaugh can take him to the next level, and Pep Hamilton can get him to push even past that, who knows? I don’t think there’s a big gap between what (Ohio State has) given how loaded that defense is. They should be able to play with anybody.”

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