There are less than 100 days until the start of the college football season, so of course it’s time to start thinking about it. What better way than exploring some bold predictions.
The crystal ball is cloudy and no one knows for sure what will happen this fall, except what’s on paper – Michigan plays all three rivals, Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame, at home; first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis will introduce his "speed-in-space" concepts; and defensive coordinator Don Brown needs to find replacements for Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary and David Long.
Of course there’s still offseason workouts and preseason camp, but when have those little details stopped anyone from taking a stab at predicting what might happen? So here goes:
1. Shea Patterson is Big Ten's best
Former Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight said it best a few months ago, suggesting Shea Patterson will be an even better quarterback this fall with the “handcuffs off.” When pressed after the spring game, Patterson said that the handcuffs are indeed off.
He did what he was supposed to do last year in the Jim Harbaugh/Pep Hamilton offense. But now, Patterson already seems more comfortable in Gattis’ up-tempo, no-huddle pro-spread. This is right in Patterson’s wheelhouse, similar to what he ran at Ole Miss during his 10 games as starter.
Imagine this: A Patterson-led offense with strong pieces around him at each position. He will be the best quarterback in the Big Ten in 2019.
2. Patterson will threaten Navarre's record
John Navarre owns Michigan’s single-season passing record of 3,331 yards, set in 2003, and Jake Rudock in 2015 threw for 3,017 yards to rank second. Patterson threw for 2,600 yards in last season’s offense, eighth all-time at Michigan, but the arrival of Gattis means the offense will be opening up.
Will it be basketball on grass? Might be a bit soon to call it that considering the offensive players are still learning Gattis’ scheme. Still, Patterson will be in range of Navarre’s record. He had a strong group of receivers at Ole Miss in 2017 when, in seven games he threw for 2,259 yards. Michigan also has a talented bunch of receivers with Nico Collins, Tarik Black, freshman Mike Sainristil, Oliver Martin and Donovan Peoples-Jones, provided he’s healthy.
Patterson is older and wiser now, smarter with the ball and more on-target than when he was younger. Navarre's record is on notice.
3. Michigan will finally beat Ohio State
Bold? Did someone say bold? What could be bolder than picking Michigan to beat Ohio State? So here it is: Michigan will snap the Buckeyes' seven-game winning streak in the series.
Ohio State has won 14 of the last 15 against the Wolverines, and this would be Michigan’s first win against its chief rival since 2011 in Ann Arbor. This has little to do with Ryan Day being in his first season as the head coach. Day coached this team well early last season when Urban Meyer served a suspension and from all accounts he seems more than capable of filling those big shoes.
But can he be as masterful as Meyer in terms of motivating his team to a different level when it comes to The Game? Can he get Justin Fields acclimated fast enough to his system and Big Ten football? Remember, Day had Dwayne Haskins at quarterback last year. (To answer that question, it’s a good bet Fields fills in nicely.)
But here’s the difference: Patterson isn’t leaving without a win over OSU, and there’s no way defensive coordinator Don Brown or any of the defensive coaches are going to let what happened last season happen again. The embarrassment from that 62-39 rout last year in Columbus weighs heavily on the Wolverines.
4. Collins will lead the receivers
Maybe it’s not a stretch, but Nico Collins will be Michigan’s leading receiver, hands down. Collins led the team last year with 632 yards on 38 catches and had six touchdowns, but Donovan Peoples-Jones had 612 yards and eight touchdowns. The status of Peoples-Jones, who missed spring practice because of a groin injury, is unclear, and there’s also Tarik Black who, sidelined and slowed by foot injuries the last two seasons, has plenty to prove.
But Collins is sure-handed and a big, 6-foot-4 target. And don’t forget, Josh Gattis has coached receivers and is coaching them at Michigan. Not that Michigan is Alabama, where Gattis was co-offensive coordinator last season. But look at what the Tide did in 2018: The top five receivers, including one tight end, had 693 yards or more, with Jerry Jeudy leading the way with 1,315 yards and Jaylen Waddle with 848.
5. Freshman Hill will start
By the fourth game of the season, which would be the second game of the Big Ten season (at home against Rutgers), freshman safety Daxton Hill will be starting. Hill is the gem of this incoming freshman class and is a difference-making type of player. J’Marick Woods will have the edge early since Hill did not enroll early, but look for Hill to make an impact early.
6. UM vs. Notre Dame will be night game
You have to believe the Michigan-Notre Dame game at Michigan Stadium – the last in the series for now, at least – will be under the lights. It was last year at Notre Dame Stadium to kick off the season with GameDay there, and the rivalry game was the first night game at Michigan Stadium in 2011. The two played a night game in Ann Arbor in 2013, as well.
This game is a departure from the early-season matchups between the two and falls on Oct. 26, a week after Michigan plays in a “white out” game at Penn State, presumably with a late kickoff, and a week before the Wolverines travel to Maryland.
And then, Michigan plays Michigan State in Ann Arbor. Two years ago, the in-state rivals played a prime-time game for the first time in the rivalry. Will it happen again? That would mean consecutive night home games – with that Michigan game at Maryland the week before when MSU has a bye. Sure, SEC schools do it, and TV certainly plays a significant role, but would Michigan want to have two straight home night games? Probably not.
7. Hudson becomes a household name
Maybe it would be better to say “Khaleke” becomes a household name. Khaleke Hudson, a viper in Don Brown’s defense, said he returned because he and the team have “unfinished business.” He enters this season with 22.5 tackles for loss and has the single-game record of eight against Minnesota in 2017.
Linebacker Devin Bush is gone, a high first-round NFL pick, and don't think he won't be missed, in large part because of his presence and how he set the tone for the defense. Can Hudson take on a similar role? Bank on it.
8. Uche will be a key to the 'D'
So this defense doesn’t have “name” guys like Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, David Long and Devin Bush – names in the sense that everyone was talking about them entering last season. There are a lot of names on defense to know going into this fall, such as Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson and Carlo Kemp and Mazi Smith, to name a few. But Josh Uche is going to be the name you hear a lot. Uche is a versatile player, the Swiss Army knife of the defense, a linebacker who lined up at defensive end, as well, last season, giving Don Brown plenty of options. Uche will give quarterbacks fits this fall.
9. Mason will have an impact
Ben Mason will work at no fewer than 11 spots on offense, defense and special teams this season. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but Mason will have an impact, though the fullback position won’t play a big role in Josh Gattis’ offense. Mason can play some tight end, he worked in at defensive tackle during the spring, and he also plays special teams. The guy is a bulldozer and he wants to hit people. How Michigan ends up using Mason is the big question, but expect to see him on the field frequently.
10. Platoon duty for the kickers
This is probably not the conventional approach, but Michigan has two talented kickers. Quinn Nordin is a fiery competitor and has a strong leg. Yes, he struggled last season, but from all accounts he has matured and was solid during spring practice. Jake Moody performed quite well for a freshman, making all six of his attempts in the Indiana game, the week before the regular-season finale at Ohio State, and didn't look back. But this is the approach that could work – Moody on the shorter kicks, and Nordin on kicks of 45 yards or more.Two can be better than one.
Michigan 2019 schedule
Sat., Aug. 31, Middle Tennessee
Sat., Sept. 7, Army
Sat., Sept. 21, at Wisconsin
Sat., Sept. 28, Rutgers
Sat., Oct. 5, Iowa
Sat., Oct. 12, at Illinois
Sat., Oct. 19, at Penn State
Sat., Oct. 26, Notre Dame
Sat., Nov. 2, at Maryland
Sat., Nov. 16, Michigan State
Sat., Nov. 23, at Indiana
Sat., Nov. 30, Ohio State