After starting out a perfect 9-0 last season the Wolverines had a disappointing finish losing three out of their last four games, a feeling that head coach Jim Harbaugh did not like heading into the offseason.
Now with the departure of 19 seniors, a whole new group of underclassmen and a few returning starters look to get Michigan over the hump and put them back on top. Let’s take a look at three key players to keep your eye on.
Coming into Michigan as the No. 1 recruit in the 2016 class, there was definitely high expectations for Rashan Gary. With an already powerful defensive line, Gary had to sit in the shadows and watch guys like Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton destroy opposing quarterbacks.
Gary still managed to post a solid Freshman season with 23 total tackles, 12 solo, 11 assisted along with one sack.
Heading into camp this go-round all eyes turned toward him, with the expectations of a breakout season for the former top recruit. He’s already landed on multiple preseason award watch lists (Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik Award, Walter Camp Award).
One big question for Michigan will be on defense as a whole, but no doubt that the Wolverines will need Gary to lead their D-line and be a driving force like they were a season ago.
Khalid Hill had an outstanding junior season in the backfield for Michigan in 2016. He tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns at 10 while also grabbing three touchdowns through the air.
Whenever Michigan got down within the five you could almost always expect Harbaugh to hand the ball off to his 6-2, 263-pound fullback and watch him bull over guys into the end zone.
With Harbaugh’s smash mouth, “pound it at them” type scheme you can expect fifth-year senior Hill to match the numbers he put up last year and hopefully exceed them.
Where would a team be without their guy under center calling all the shots and making the big plays happen? Well, Wilton Speight will most likely be that guy again this season with hopes to build off of a solid 2016 campaign. As a junior last season, Speight threw for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. He also posted a 75.1 adjusted QBR which ranked 22nd in the FBS.
Like Gary, he has already received high praise across the league being named to both the Maxwell Award (top overall player) watch list and Davey O’Brien (top quarterback) watch list. With another year of coaching under the former Michigan quarterback as his head coach, Speight looks to produce a great season and lead the Wolverines on a playoff run.
With the season-opener against Florida just a little over two weeks away there is definitely a lot to look forward to in 2017 for the Michigan Wolverines. Look for these three players to be key to the team’s success this season.