Ann Arbor — The expectations and goals haven’t wavered or changed for Michigan over the years. Still, the program has not won a Big Ten title since 2004, and despite coming off an 8-5 record, the players say they have a good feeling about this upcoming season.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been described as being more low profile this offseason. He spent the immediate weeks following the Wolverines’ bowl loss reshaping his offensive staff. He added former Florida coach Jim McElwain to coach receivers and former Ohio State offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Ed Warinner is now the offensive line coach, while Sherrone Moore is now coaching the tight ends. Harbaugh insists there is a smooth-running “collaboration” and hasn’t named an offensive coordinator.
The players have consistently sung the praises of new strength coach Ben Herbert, there has been the addition of quarterback transfer Shea Patterson and the return of almost the entire defense from last year’s group that ranked No. 3 nationally.
Those are significant pieces, but teams tend to mirror the head coach, and Harbaugh has been zoned in.
“I think he’s just focused,” tight end Zach Gentry said recently. “That’s a big thing I’ve noticed. He’s always been a laser-focused guy. But I think that this year everybody feels we have a lot of potential. I think there’s been a lot more of that collectively as a team, just kind of keeping low and keeping our heads down and trying to do the best we can because we all know we have a good amount of potential that we need to fulfill.”
Gentry said he has witnessed the day-in and day-out of winter conditioning, then spring practice and then offseason workouts heading into camp, and that’s where he has seen the potential emerge. Michigan opens the season Sept. 1 at Notre Dame.
“The biggest thing was how hard we worked in the summer,” Gentry said. “There isn’t anything in particular I could name, but just the feeling. I had kind of a special feeling this summer and so far in fall camp, I think we’ve done a good job of bringing the energy.
“Just kind of a different feeling in the air I guess.”
Junior linebacker Devin Bush Jr. said Harbaugh told the team recently the time is now.
“One thing he brought up the other day, we’ve got one shot with this team, with this group of guys,” Bush said. “Can’t miss. That’s what he stressed to us. Really open your eyes like we do have something special here and you’re going to make the most of it. We have to. You only get one shot at this.”
It all starts with winning that elusive Big Ten title.
“That’s what we’re here for,” junior offensive lineman Ben Bredeson said. “Selfishly, personally for myself, that’s what I’m here for. That’s what I came to do. I want to win a Big Ten title and I know that’s what the team goal is. We know that the chances are if you win the Big Ten championship, odds are you’re going to go to the playoff and all bets are off from there.”
Teams always set goals before the season. Players set personal goals, of course, but for Michigan, it’s all about finally getting back to the top of the Big Ten.
“We talk about it a lot,” Gentry said. “The thing of it is, whether you go 5-7 or 11-1, it doesn’t matter at a place like Michigan — there’s always high expectations. I don’t think that feeling ever goes away that we need to set the bar higher for ourselves. That’s always something that’s in the back of our minds.
“This team is very motivated and hungry and ready to go prove something.”