ANN ARBOR — Six things I think about the 2018 Michigan football team, one for every first-place vote Shea Patterson will receive for the mythical September Heisman ...
■ 1. If Michigan loses at Notre Dame, no headline the next morning will be too searing.
OK, that’s not exactly right.
FIRE HARBAUGH, SHUT DOWN THE UNIVERSITY!
That might be a few degrees too hot.
But you get the drift. The honeymoon is done. It’s time for Jim Harbaugh to, you know, do something.
If guys who wear baseball caps with suits were supposed to make America tired of winning, the message has eluded Harbaugh, who has not beaten a team with a winning regular-season record in 661 days.
A loss at 12th-ranked Notre Dame would drop him to 9-9 in his past 18 games and 28-12 overall. Know Brady Hoke’s record at UM through 40 games? 27-13.
Harbaugh is not on the hot seat. He’s done too much good. But Michigan isn’t paying him $7 million per year to be one game better than Hoke, either. Harbaugh needs to start winning the big ones in what feels like a crossroads season.
■ 2. If the Wolverines beat the Irish, forget every mean thing we’ve said.
MICHIGAN IS BACK!
In fact, this is the maize-bricked road I expect Michigan to follow.
UM has another big-time defense — with nine returning starters and NFL players everywhere — and, if you haven’t heard, a quarterback not expected to sabotage it.
Need we remind the Wolverines were an ordinary passer away from beating Ohio State the past two years? Well ...
Shea Patterson, the Toledo-born quarterback who has been named Michigan's starter, speaks to the media.
■ 3. Patterson is better than ordinary.
Maybe we should slow down, because it is hardly fair to project the hopes of a longing fan base all on to one right arm, to cast the 21-year-old Toledo native as the missing piece in a championship puzzle.
But what fun would that be?
Patterson — the most heralded player to hit campus since Drew Henson — looks like the guy to shepherd Michigan’s offense out of the Gilded Age.
Evidence: Michigan last year rated 112th nationally in passing offense and threw fewer touchdowns (nine) than two of the three triple-option service academies. Its three quarterbacks completed 53 percent of their passes for 2,226 yards in 13 games. In six full games at Mississippi, Patterson completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,143 yards and 17 scores.
Patterson might not replicate the numbers he produced in an Air Raid-style offense at Ole Miss, but he comes hyped for a reason. With a big, accurate arm and a natural flair and elusiveness in the pocket, the former five-star recruit was not just the top-rated quarterback in the 2016 class. He was, according to 247Sports.com, the highest-ranked passing prospect since Southern California’s Matt Barkley in 2009. At minimum, Patterson should be a major upgrade.
■ 4. Patterson needs help, and we’re not talking about the skill guys, but the indefinite loss of top camp target Tarik Black is a serious hit. Michigan still has enough talent, including running back Karan Higdon and a raw but blue-chip cast of receivers.
No, we’re talking about the guys up front.
My biggest question is not Patterson but an offensive line that resembled a rush-hour turnstile last year, ranking 114th nationally in allowing 36 sacks.
We’re not buying Michigan until we get the answer, but the addition of new line coach Ed Warinner — who fashioned top-end groups at Ohio State — has our mind open. Keep a close eye on James Hudson. A redshirt freshman tackle, the Central Catholic grad moved over from the defense just last fall and already is in the line rotation. Expect him to take one of the tackle jobs sooner than later.
■ 5. My boss is a smart man and I like my job.
So I will not tell you what I really thought when Blade sports editor Jeff Svoboda posed this question: Is it possible Michigan could go 10-2 and be the best team in the country?
I dutifully said, “Yes, sir,” then went to the break room to snicker with coworkers.
No, it is an interesting question.
Ultimately, you are your record, which is why this is a stretch. But Michigan’s schedule is brutal, easily the most difficult in the nation. Per the AP poll, the Wolverines play five of the top dozen teams in the country — including Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State on the road — to say nothing of an early-season trip to Northwestern, which won 10 games last season.
If Michigan ever had an excuse ...
■ 6. Problem is, nobody wants to hear it.
If you’re good, you’re good, and Harbaugh has had four years to build a team that finishes better than third in the Big Ten East.
So far, he has led the Wolverines to Rome and Paris. Now, with a roster of his design — including a defense more loaded than the national-best 2016 unit — and, finally, a quarterback, how about a trip to Indianapolis?
Little will surprise, including a true breakthrough season. But my suspicion is Harbaugh puts up, wins three of those marquee showdowns ... and still falls short. Prediction: 10-2, with losses at home to Wisconsin and at Ohio State in a winner-take-the-division finale.
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