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ESPN experts predict UM will be third in CFP rankings

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Wilton Speight

On the eve of the first College Football Playoff poll, Michigan is projected to be ranked third, according to ESPN college football analysts Joey Galloway and David Pollack.

The two appeared on an ESPN conference call Monday to advance the network’s exclusive coverage of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s weekly rankings that begins Tuesday. It is the first of five weeks of CFP polls that all will be revealed on the network.

Galloway and Pollack said they think the top four will look like this (in order): Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Washington.

Michigan, in its second season under coach Jim Harbaugh, is 8-0 and ranked No. 2 in the AP poll.

“Michigan looks to be the best team in the Big Ten,” Galloway said. “That is a surprise. I thought they were maybe a year away from being that, but right now, they look like the best team and the favorite to win the Big Ten and the favorite to represent the Big Ten in the playoff.

“What (Harbaugh’s) been able to do with Wilton Speight – coming into the season nobody knew who their quarterback was going to be, and now we look at Wilton Speight as a guy who has developed into a playmaker with the ability to go downfield. That makes this offense a much different threat. We knew they’d be physical. We knew they’d go two tight ends and run the ball between tackles, we knew they’d go play-action pass with their tight ends, but now the ability to go downfield makes Michigan a scary type of offense. That part of it is a surprise.”

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Pollack said Harbaugh has made the Wolverines relevant again and is not surprised they’re in the national playoff conversation.

“He’s worth every penny,” Pollack said. “Whatever it takes to get a guy like that because now, the whole offseason you’re talking about Michigan. Recruits are talking about Michigan. Ann Arbor is now a place that’s sexy again.

“He’s done amazing job offensively. The defense was already good. The defense was already set up to be successful. They had guys on D that were tough and physical. But now you’ve seen the offense start to take shape with him. You see him using a fullback, and you see him using tight ends and play-action. And you’ve seen Speight kind of grow up, too, and his toughness and his ability to hang in there and take shots and understand where to go with the football. So I don’t think anybody is surprised Michigan is back. Everybody saw them being more of a player.”

Michigan has four remaining regular-season games. Maryland comes to Michigan Stadium on Saturday, then Michigan travels to Iowa for a night game, returns home to face Indiana, and then plays Ohio State in Columbus. The Buckeyes have one loss in the Big Ten to Penn State.

Pollack, like Galloway, sees Michigan as the Big Ten favorite now.

“I feel a lot more comfortable and I feel a lot better about Michigan now that I’ve seen Ohio State, the chinks in their armor start to come to fruition,” Pollack said. “I think they’re looking even better with that matchup with Ohio State. At the beginning of the season when they were spreading the ball around and playing good D and the offense was really clicking and humming, I thought this was a team that could beat Michigan pretty easily. Now you start looking at it like, Michigan’s defensive line is obviously a lot better than Penn State and Penn State handled Ohio State up front. I think it’s actually going to be a heck of a showdown.”

Michigan is coming off a victory at Michigan State Saturday to remain unbeaten, which is exactly where Galloway thought the Wolverines would be.

“I’m not surprised at all they’re sitting at 8-0,” Galloway said. “We all looked at their schedule before the season began. Everyone thought the first half of their schedule was very soft even though Wisconsin has sort of come out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people and that has now become a good win. Colorado is becoming a pretty good team that’s surprised people and now that is a good win. We all thought they would go through the first half of their schedule pretty easily.”