Roundtable: How should we assess Michigan now and going forward?

Jim Harbaugh in action during the second half of an NCAA college football game between Michigan and Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Michigan won 27-20 in overtime. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Michigan fell to 5-2 after a blowout loss to Penn State on Saturday. The next day, the Wolverines were out of the top 25 completely.

Is this truly a disappointing season so far in Ann Arbor, or should we have expected a season like this from a team that lost so much talent? The Wolverines are the topic of this week’s roundtable, where Pat Forde, Pete Thamel, Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper assess the Wolverines’ season so far and what to expect going forward from coach Jim Harbaugh’s bunch.

PAT FORDE

Two things in Michigan’s defense: it lost an incredible amount of experience and talent from last year’s team — 17 new starters is a massive rebuild — and a major injury to the starting quarterback is a challenge as well. For those reasons alone, a 5-2 record is hardly a bust. Expectations probably were unrealistic heading into the season and through the month of September.

But Jim Harbaugh is being paid sultan money and treated like the second coming of Bo Schembechler, and with those two things come an expectation of being able to outcoach his roster shortcomings. That isn’t happening. Michigan has zero quality wins — if you’re counting Florida, wake up — and disappointing losses to the only two good teams it has faced. As I wrote earlier this season, Harbaugh’s career took off in his third year at Stanford when he started playing a freshman quarterback named Andrew Luck. He hasn’t found his Luck yet at Michigan.

I’d say Michigan will end up 8-4, and its best win will be over Purdue. That’s not a full-fledged disappointment, but it ain’t much to cheer about.

PETE THAMEL

Considering Michigan’s personnel losses on defense and the overall exodus of NFL players, it’s not surprising that they’re struggling this year. What is surprising is just how impotent they are on offense, as the pass game has regressed significantly. What Jim Harbaugh is realizing is that inferior personnel in college football can be highlighted in a pro-style system that’s predicated on physical dominance. Especially with pedestrian quarterback play. Michigan State found this out last year. So did Stanford at the start of 2016. The question will be how much is Harbaugh willing to adjust. Does he give one of his younger quarterbacks a shot?

Michigan should finish 8-4, which would likely put them in fourth place in the Big Ten East. Urban Meyer won a title his third season in Columbus. James Franklin won the Big Ten his third season in State College. (After inheriting a program with significant sanctions.) It would be a clear disappointment. Jim Harbaugh didn’t get paid $9 million last year to finish in fourth place in his division.


NICK BROMBERG

I think people would be viewing the Wolverines a lot differently if Michigan was 5-2 with dynamic quarterback play. Wilton Speight and John O’Korn are adequate QBs, but they’re nothing more than that. And the loss of Michigan’s receiving weapons from a year ago really set the offense back. Remember, WR Grant Perry was the team’s leading returning receiver and he had 13 catches a year ago.

I’m fascinated to see what happens when a quarterback like Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey takes over in 2018. Both were four-star recruits in their class and top-10 quarterbacks among their position subset according to Rivals. Adding a young QB who can make big plays to a young receiving group could be fun to watch in the future.

In the near future, mark me down for a loss to Ohio State for the Wolverines and I’m not sold that Wisconsin wins easily. The Badgers should deservedly be favored against the Wolverines, but what happens if Michigan stifles Jonathan Taylor? 9-3 is not out of the question heading into a bowl game.

SAM COOPER

Looking at Michigan’s season so far, this is pretty much what I expected record-wise. When you lose so much talent from one year to the next, there’s going to be a drop off, but I didn’t think they would be quite this bad on offense. Wilton Speight was solid last year but had a better line and receivers around him. I thought Speight would take a step forward and help the offense be better than most anticipated, but he played pretty poorly before his injury and John O’Korn, though he had a few nice moments against Penn State, hasn’t looked any better. Quarterback development is supposed to be Jim Harbaugh’s calling card, right? So why can’t Michigan get better-than-average QB play?

Part of me wonders if the style of offense Harbaugh runs needs to be modified in some way. You saw it Saturday night with Penn State spreading Michigan out and torching the Wolverines for 500-plus yards. Michigan’s offense just seems outdated. Harbaugh succeeded with this bruising style at Stanford, but he had Andrew Luck. Michigan fans are hoping Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffery can emerge as the start, or they might be in for another year of Speight in 2018.

In the end, I still think UM will end up finishing 8-4, beating Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland before losing to Wisconsin and Ohio State. How the Wolverines look in those games ultimately will determine whether the season qualifies as a disappointment or not.

Reader questions


Given the Pac-12’s awful year, yes. The only caveat to that answer comes if Georgia and Alabama meet in the SEC title game as undefeated teams, TCU and/or Oklahoma come through the Big 12 with one loss and Clemson emerges from the ACC with just the Syracuse loss. Then things get fun.


What about NC State even if its not a favorite this week? The Wolfpack have emerged after a Week 1 loss to South Carolina and can get a huge, huge boost when it comes to the playoff with a win at Notre Dame. If NC State wins Saturday, the Nov. 4 home game vs. Clemson is not only for the ACC Atlantic title but for a possible College Football Playoff spot too.


Who’s an upgrade over Bret Bielema? If you believe Iowa State coach Matt Campbell that ISU fans don’t have anything to worry about, he’s off the board. UCF coach Scott Frost makes more sense at his alma mater than at Arkansas. And then that leaves the Hogs with … who, exactly?


That Florida-Georgia Line would stop making (bad) music.

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