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2018 Big Ten Preview: Michigan Wolverines

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

2017 Record: 8-5 (5-4 Big Ten)

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

2018 Record: 3-1 (1-0 Big Ten)

All-time record vs. OSU: 58-49

What has happened thus far in 2018:

Michigan opened its year up in a highly anticipated matchup against then-No. 12 Notre Dame, but fell to the Fighting Irish on the road in a 24-17 loss. The Wolverines have since taken care of business, beating Western Michigan, Southern Methodist and Nebraska by a combined score of 150-33. Again boasting one of the top defenses in the league, Michigan has allowed just 14.3 points per game while its offense has averaged 41.8 points and 420.8 yards per game.

Impact Player:

The easy answer would be junior defensive lineman Rashan Gary. A 2017 member of the first team All-Big Ten lineup, Gary appears destined to be taken early in the 2019 NFL Draft and will be a tormenter to offensive lines throughout the season. But if Michigan is going to have a successful season, junior quarterback Shea Patterson will have to be the team’s impact player. The Wolverines have not received consistent production from their starting quarterbacks in the past, but adding the former fourth-overall prospect in the nation according to 247Sports’ 2016 Composite Rankings — Gary ranked No. 1 — could help the offense find a reliable man under center like the team has not seen in years. Patterson was just 20-of-30 with an interception and no touchdowns against Notre Dame, though he has completed 41-of-57 passes since then with seven touchdowns and only one interception.

Strengths:

Entering the year, there were no questions asked about whether Michigan’s defense would remain the reason the team is competitive. While it could not totally ballast the team against Notre Dame, the defense did nearly all it could. The Fighting Irish averaged just 2.8 yards per carry and only 170 passing yards. With Gary, defensive end Chase Winovich, first team All-Big Ten linebacker Devin Bush and a stout secondary, Michigan’s defense will again be counted on to keep the Wolverines in games, if not win them altogether.

Weaknesses:

That defense will have to be the support group for the team because even with Patterson, Michigan lacks the offensive weapons around him to make for a truly potent offense. Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones has, at times, looked the part of the former top 2017 wide receiver recruit in the country, but hauled in only 38 yards on six catches against Notre Dame. Other options like former four-star tight end Zach Gentry and four-star wideout Nico Collins give Patterson additional targets, but need to prove themselves against top competition — though Patterson did connect with Collins on a 52-yard pass in the season-opener.

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