Mountain West Football: First Look At The Michigan Wolverines
Colorado State and Hawaii will visit Ann Arbor’s Big House to face the Wolverines in non-conference play this season.
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The maize and blue will be tough to beat.
Colorado State Football: First Look at 2022 Non-Conference Opponents
Michigan | Middle Tennessee State | Washington State | Sacramento State
Hawaii Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
Vanderbilt | Western Kentucky | Michigan | Duquesne | New Mexico State
The Colorado State Rams and Hawaii Warriors will both have one of Mountain West football’s hardest non-conference assignments this fall, as both teams will have to hit the road and face the Michigan Wolverines.
Though Michigan had finished in the top 20 four times in six years, 2021 represented a long-awaited breakthrough as the Wolverines finally cracked the College Football Playoff. They lost to eventual national champion Georgia in the semifinals, but the program has been newly invigorated and should remain a major player in the Big Ten for this season and beyond.
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Conference: Big Ten
Series History: Michigan leads the series over Colorado State, 1-0, and leads the series against Hawaii, 3-0.
2021 Record: 12-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (eighth year at Michigan; 61-24 with Wolverines, 90-45 overall). Long considered one of college football’s top head coaches, Harbaugh nonetheless received more pressure every year that UM failed to get over the top. Last year, then, exorcised a lot of demons: Michigan beat bitter rival Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and won its first outright Big Ten title since 2003.
Ronnie Bell, WR
The Wolverines’ leading receiver in both 2019 and 2020, Bell looked like he was ready for a major breakout in 2021 when he caught a 76-yard touchdown during the team’s opener against Western Michigan. Unfortunately, that was the only highlight he was able to create before a leg injury shut him down for the remainder of the year.
This off-season, Bell himself has expressed confidence that he’s back to 100%, which means it is likely he’s the single best pass catcher that the Rams and Warriors will face this season.
Cade McNamara, QB
Nothing in college football is guaranteed, not even a QB1 role for a team that just made the College Football Playoff, but McNamara has the tools to build off of his very successful 2021. He completed 64.1% of his throws for the Big Ten champions with 2,579 passing yards (7.9 yards per attempt) and 15 touchdowns, and he also knew how to take care of the football with an interception rate of just 1.8%.
Cade McNamara dropped this in the 🪣#CFB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 27, 2021
Ryan Hayes, OT
Hayes might have been the most important piece of an offensive line which won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best in 2021. He protected McNamara’s blind side in all 14 games last year after missing most of 2020 with injury, earning a second-team all-Big Ten nod while posting an overall PFF grade of 66.7, and has a real chance to hear his name called at next year’s NFL Draft with a strong final campaign.
Mazi Smith, DT
Many of last year’s major players on the Michigan defensive line have moved on, but Smith is back as the centerpiece of the front lines. The 6-foot-3 and 326-pound Grand Rapids native knows how to take up space on the interior and finished 2021 with 37 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups, all of which coincided with a 75.6 PFF overall grade that ranked third among Big Ten interior defenders.
Jake Moody, K
Yes, Moody is a kicker but he’s not just any kicker. In 2021, he became a consensus All-American, a Bakken-Andersen Big Ten Kicker of the Year winner, and a Lou Groza Award winner after scoring 125 points, the fourth-most among FBS kickers, on 56-of-56 extra point tries and 23-of-25 field goal attempts. He also sent 66.3% of his kickoffs for touchbacks and there is every expectation among the maize and blue that he’ll provide more of the same in 2022.
The first Michigan Wolverine to win the Lou Groza Award, Jake Moody talks about his journey the past four years that led up to this point.#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/IeQcFjoycP
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) December 30, 2021
Michigan didn’t possess the flashiest offense in the country last year, but they didn’t need a ton of flash to be highly proficient, ranking 20th among FBS teams by available yards percentage, 18th in line yards per carry, 13th in points per drive and 6th with a 3.3% sack rate allowed. Not much has changed in terms of personnel, though Harbaugh elected to replace offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who bolted for Miami, with new co-OCs Sherron Moore and Matt Weiss.
That duo inherits a pretty good situation. Up front, the offensive line returns three starters in Hayes and guards Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter and also add Virginia grad transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi, who had 32 starts for the Cavaliers and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy last season. The most pressing question behind them is who will replace running back Hassan Haskins, though Blake Corum had 952 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns himself, so there shouldn’t be too much drop-off.
Meanwhile, Bell’s return to the field can only bolster a group of pass catchers that returns basically every major contributor from last year’s CFP run. Cornelius Johnson (39 catches, 620 yards, three touchdowns) picked up the WR1 mantle in his absence, but he’ll get plenty of help from the likes of tight ends Erick All (38-437-2) and Luke Schoonmaker (17-165-3) and wide receivers Roman Wilson (25-420-3) and Mike Sainristil (22-312-2).
The Wolverines defense was one of the best in the country last year, and not just because of Aidan Hutchinson, ranking 14th overall by yards per play allowed and available yards percentage allowed while finishing 12th in points per drive allowed. Now that Hutchinson and David Ojabo are in the NFL, however, new defensive coordinator Jesse Minter will need to resolve some important questions by the fall.
Chief among them: Who’s going to lead the pass rush in 2022? Hutchinson and Ojabo were outstanding last season, accounting for 25 of Michigan’s 34 sacks, but the team sack rate was actually right around the national average at 6.8%, 62nd among FBS teams. Graduate defensive end Taylor Upshaw leads all returning defenders with 2.5 sacks, so he and Smith at least provide some veteran experience up front. A youth movement could get underway, too, with sophomores like George Rooks and Rayshaun Benny, as well as prized 2022 recruit Derrick Moore, getting long looks.
Linebacker appears a little more set with both Nikhai Hill-Green and Junior Colson back for 2022. Each spent half of 2021 as the starter at weakside linebacker, but one or the other are the likeliest candidates to replace Josh Ross. Jaylen Harrell also got three starts and could carve out a larger role for himself.
The secondary is reloading after losing three of last year’s starters, but Michigan isn’t totally bereft of experience in this unit. Gemon Green and DJ Turner split time opposite of Vincent Gray last season while R.J. Moten and Rod Moore did the same alongside Brad Hawkins, though five-star 2022 recruit Will Johnson or four-star Keon Sabb could also work their way into the mix.
One way or another, Michigan is going to be one of the nation’s top teams in 2022, so while Hawaii and Colorado State have each begun a new chapter with fresh optimism, neither will seriously compete with the Wolverines in the Big House.
Michigan 42, Colorado State 20
Michigan 52, Hawaii 14