The 2017 season was a significantly disappointing season for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines, particularly a three game losing streak to end the season and another loss to the rival Ohio State Buckeyes. The Wolverines finished the season 8-5 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten, and 5-7-1 against the spread. Poor Quarterback play has consistently plagued the Wolverines since Harbaugh arrived. The good news is 2018 will begin with the highest expectations from the Quarterback position in several years.
QB Shea Patterson is a transfer from Ole Miss and an NFL draft prospect. While at Ole Miss, Patterson finished 2017 with a completion percentage of 63.8 percent with 17 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. With Michigan’s talented running backs and receivers, Patterson should make giant strides. Sophomore receivers Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones are expected to stars in the making and likely NFL draft picks. Running backs Karan Higdon and Chris Evans combined for over 1600 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. The offensive line has been wildly inconsistent, but a new offensive line coach is expected to improve this unit substantially.
The defensive side of the ball is where the major excitement is generated. Many analysts predict the Wolverines will be a top 10 defensive unit in college football and maybe the best in the conference. Senior Defensive End Chase Winowich and Safety Tyree Kinnel will be high draft picks. Underclassmen Devin Bush and Rashan Gary are projected to be high draft picks when they elect to depart. The unit allowed 18.8 points per game in a down year last season. Expect a performance closer to the 14.1 points per game allowed in 2016. In addition, Michigan has one of the best place kickers in college football in Quinn Nordin who connected on 6 of 8 at 50 yards and beyond last season.
The over/under for Wolverine wins in 2018 is 9 and the odds to win the Big Ten stand at +400. The good news is Michigan is very talented and we believe this is a key season for Harbaugh to finally take this team deeply into a national championship picture. The bad news is the schedule is extremely tough with most analysts ranking the Michigan schedule difficulty as one of the 3-7 most difficult in the nation. Season opening road game against Notre Dame, road games against Ohio State, Northwestern and Michigan State in Conference, and home games against Wisconsin and Penn State in Conference are all spots that will be challenging. Michigan has not defeated Ohio State since 2011 and has lost 15 of the last 17 and Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin are all top 25 schools. We think the line is correctly valued and will not advocate a over/under bet. We also think a 4-1 proposition on winning the conference is too low. Although Michigan can be an explosive team, Ohio State has an extremely light schedule this season and outside of a potential upset at Penn State, we sense Ohio State will likely be undefeated going into the rivalry game against Michigan. If Ohio State is undefeated, even a Michigan win may not be enough to put the Wolverines in the Big Ten Championship game as Michigan may realistically have 2 losses by the finale. Hence, we’ll pass on both futures bets.
Week #1 as discussed opens with a road game at Notre Dame. Notre Dame is led by a mobile quarterback in Brandon Wimbush and an improving defense that has 9 returning starters. They defeated two top 25 teams at home last season in USC and NC State. There are high hopes in South Bend entering the season and this will not be an easy way to start the season. Overall we believe Michigan has more talent, but if Patterson takes some time to become acclimated to the Harbaugh offense, Notre Dame could grind out a low scoring win. The current line stands at Michigan -2.5. We will pass on this spot.
Week #2 is a home game against Mid American Conference Western Michigan. Western Michigan had a disappointing 2017 campaign following a stint where they were one of the better teams in their conference. Even with improvement Michigan will outclass this team, and would look towards Michigan covering a number of 17-21.
Week #3 is a home game against Southern Methodist University of the American Athletic Conference. SMU has a new head coach in Sonny Dyker who previously served as head coach at Louisiana Tech and Cal. SMU engaged in a lot of high scoring games last season while accumulating a 7-6 record. They struggled against quality teams on the road with losses by 20 at TCU and 21 at Memphis. With the growing pains of a new system, combined with the talent of Michigan, this will be another spot where the Wolverines should cruise. However, the line could easily be four touchdowns which may be too much.
Week #4 starts the Big Ten Schedule with a home game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska is seeking to rebound off a dreadful season that featured only 4 wins, worst the program has experienced since the 1960’s. The better teams in the Big Ten handled them fairly easily last season and although major improvement is expected under first year coach Scott Frost who was hired from UCF after going 13-0, it will take Frost some time to ramp up the recruiting quality again. Michigan is safe to cover 14-21 in this game.
September ends with a Week 5 matchup against Northwestern. Northwestern was 10-3 last season and returns a capable Senior Quarterback and his starting receivers from 2017. Northwestern does lose a key piece in Running Back Justin Jackson who was drafted in the 7th round of the NFL draft after finishing the season with over 1,300 yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Northwestern is very good. They allowed a total of 20 points in the last three regular season games of 2017 and bring a substantial part of the unit back for 2018. Michigan has more talent, but Northwestern has a bye week prior to this contest and will be rested. We expect this game to be closer than many may expect. Although we expect the Wolverines to win, look at Northwestern as a play if they are getting close to double digit points at home.
That concludes our analysis of the Michigan Wolverines. We expect an exciting season, but fear the difficulty of the schedule. We will provide updates as the season progresses and return with a month 1 recap at the end of September.