The Michigan Football Storylines We Should Be Tracking This Week
Michigan Wolverines football was originally scheduled to open its season on Sept. 5 at Washington. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wolverines were then set to play a conference-only schedule after the Big Ten made its revision, which had them hosting Purdue in the opener that day instead.
Neither scenario will take place.
Just six days after the revised schedule was released, commissioner Kevin Warren and the conference's presidents pulled the plug, making the controversial decision to postpone the season and saying it's unsafe for fall competition in Big Ten country.
This week, we're closely monitoring the latest developments surrounding a potential late-fall, winter or spring season, including the fact that Michigan's coaching staff continues to push for games to be played — and soon. Head coach Jim Harbaugh tweeted his support for a return to play over the weekend, after associate athletic director Sean McGee revealed that the football program has had zero positive coronavirus tests among players and staffers for the entire month of August.
We, along with the Michigan fanbase, wish the storylines of the week were different. If the Wolverines were kicking off the 2020 campaign on Saturday against Purdue (ideally, it would've been Washington), the following talking points would be the ones being discussed at water coolers and Zoom meetings, and on social media and our message board, The Fort. Let's break it down.
The Quarterback Battle
Under normal circumstances, Harbaugh would be meeting with the media Monday at noon. With it being the week of the first game, he would've undoubtedly been asked if he's ready to name a starting quarterback.
Would he have named a starting signal-caller ahead of the opener for the third time in his six years as the head man?
Statistics say that we’d have to wait until Saturday to find out who begins under center, and that Harbaugh and the players and coaches who conducted interviews throughout the week would praise each quarterback in the mix — redshirt junior Dylan McCaffrey, redshirt sophomore Joe Milton and redshirt freshman Cade McNamara.
Who Starts On The Offensive Line?
With four starting offensive linemen from 2019 now in the NFL, position coach Ed Warinner was tasked with developing a young, but talented group and finding the right fit up front.
If the season were set to begin this week, redshirt sophomore Jalen Mayfield would likely still be on the roster as the starting right tackle.
But who would start in the other four spots? Would the center job be won by redshirt freshman Zach Carpenter or the veteran, fifth-year senior Andrew Vastardis? Is redshirt junior Chuck Filiaga able to fend off several youngsters to claim a guard job? And which players round out that starting group?
Harbaugh has said in the past that there won’t be any “right guard controversy,” meaning that he won’t go into detail on who is in the mix at every single position on the team. But we most likely would have some more clarity from the coaches and players this week on who is emerging in the trenches for Warinner and Co.
Breakout Contributor Candidates
Each season, it seems, a young Wolverine will break out early in the season, becoming a contributor much earlier than expected.
A question players and coaches are often asked during training camp is which freshmen or inexperienced underclassmen are impressing in practice.
Top candidates who could potentially fit such a description are freshman running back Blake Corum, freshman wideouts Roman Wilson and A.J. Henning, redshirt sophomore tight end Erick All (who already has drawn recent praise from fifth-year senior Nick Eubanks), redshirt freshman defensive tackle Mazi Smith or one of the young cornerbacks such as true freshmen Darion Green-Warren and Andre Seldon and redshirt freshmen D.J. Turner and Jalen Perry. There's numerous others who could emerge and become breakout players.
On the flip side of the coin, upperclassmen who have not contributed much to date may finally ready to take on a bigger role. Names like the aforementioned Vastardis and Filiaga, in addition to redshirt sophomore cornerback Gemon Green, redshirt junior defensive tackle Philip Paea, redshirt junior defensive end Luiji Vilain, would be candidates for the "most improved player."
Captains And Team Leaders
Captains of college football teams probably won't be meeting at the middle of the field for a coin toss due to virus protocols, but Michigan would have its captains at this point, with other veteran leaders also stepping up to form the identity of the ball club.
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp would've likely become just the 15th player in program history to be a two-time captain. Others who could've joined him are senior fullback Ben Mason, senior wide receiver Nico Collins, the aforementioned Eubanks, senior defensive end Kwity Paye, junior end Aidan Hutchinson, senior cornerback Ambry Thomas (who is now off to the NFL) and senior safety Brad Hawkins.
Many of the team's veterans would most likely be available to the media this first game week, and their quotes would dominate the media coverage of the Wolverines, including their expectations for the season, the mentality of the team and more.
Last season, fifth-year senior Quinn Nordin and junior Jake Moody split the place kicking duties for Michigan throughout most of the season, while fifth-year senior Will Hart won the punter job over senior Brad Robbins.
Hart is expected to be the primary punter once again, but it is unknown how Harbaugh will handle the place kicker position. Nordin has actually worked on punting, kicking off and booting field goals throughout the offseason, training with elite trainer Brandon Kornblue, so he may be able to claim more than one spot (Moody has been the kickoff specialist each of the last two seasons).
Beyond that, the Wolverines are looking for a kick returner, after Donovan Peoples-Jones has departed the program for the pros. Candidates to replace him are sophomore wide receiver and kick returner Giles Jackson, fellow sophomore wideout Mike Sainristil and junior receiver Ronnie Bell, among others.
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