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2021 Michigan college football preview: Anxiety in Ann Arbor

Will the 2021 Michigan football season be a turning point for the Jim Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor...or the end?

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The COVID-19 pandemic brought nothing but chaos for the Big 10 in 2020, and the Michigan Wolverines exemplified that aura of instability with their short season being nothing short of a disaster.

Their abbreviated six-game schedule looked promising to start with a 49-24 win at Minnesota, but the good vibes were short-lived as they proceeded to look ineffective in back-to-back-to-back losses to Michigan State, Indiana, and Wisconsin. A missed field goal at the end of regulation allowed the Maize and Blue to escape a triple-OT bout with Rutgers before the team ultimately fell at home to Penn State. With positive COVID tests rising in the program, UM was mercifully spared the indignity of once again being blown out by hated rival Ohio State as the game was canceled.

Now the Wolverines enter the 2021 campaign with questions surrounding the viability and future of head coach Jim Harbaugh, who enters his seventh season in Ann Arbor. The former Wolverine quarterback has a successful 49-22 record since his arrival in 2015 and has sent several high-end defensive prospects to the top of the NFL Draft. It’s a resume that several coaches would die for. However he has failed to produce a division title nor a single win against the Buckeyes, the standard that Michigan holds themselves against. The 2021 season is bound to determine the trajectory of this program moving forward.

2020 Season Review

  • 2-4, 6th in Big Ten East
  • Things truly went south for Michigan on the odds front with the 49-24 opening win over Minnesota serving as the only game where the Wolverines covered the spread.

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 13th
ESPN Returning Production: 73% overall (49th): 77% offense (46th), 70% defense (69th)
Returning Talent Index: Positive, 1st in Big 10
Returning starters: 3/11 offense, 9/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Cade McNamara (Junior)

Making sporadic appearances early in the 2020 season, McNamara ripped the starting job from now Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton during the Rutgers game, going 27-of-36 for 260 yards and four touchdowns in the triple OT victory.

The junior from Reno, NV, enters the fall as the presumed starter but will still have healthy competition for the job with the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman and five-star signee J.J. McCarthy.

Offense (non-QB): RB Hassan Haskins (Senior)

The Wolverines will have their top rushing option back at Michigan Stadium this fall with Hassan Haskins returning for his senior campaign. Sharing carries with the now departed Zach Charbonnet, the St. Louis product broke out on the scene in 2019 with a solid sophomore season that was highlighted by a 149-yard performance against Notre Dame. He led the team in rushing last year with 375 yards on 61 carries and six touchdowns.

Defense: DE Aidan Hutchinson (Senior)

With Kwity Paye gone to the Indianapolis Colts, the next pass rusher to step up for Michigan’s defensive line is Aidan Hutchinson. The 6’6”, 269 pound senior is being touted as a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and could’ve potentially gone high in this past draft if his 2020 season hadn’t been derailed by an ankle injury against Indiana.

The Plymouth, MI, native previously racked up 68 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups, 4.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in an uber productive sophomore season in 2019.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 33rd overall: 42nd offense, 36th defense, 68th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 23rd overall: 32nd offense, 27th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +10000
To win Big Ten: +1600
Win total: 7.5 (Over -152, Under +120)

2020 Against The Spread: 1-5
2020 Point Total: Over 4-2

2021 Michigan Schedule

2021 Michigan Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 Western Michigan 12:00 pm/ESPN UM -17.5
Saturday, Sep. 11 Washington 8:00 pm/ABC UM -1
Saturday, Sep. 18 N. Illinois 12:00 pm/BTN UM -27.5
Saturday, Sep. 25 Rutgers 3:30 pm/TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 at Wisconsin TBA UM +9.5
Saturday, Oct. 9 at Nebraska TBA UM -2.5
Saturday, Oct. 16 OPEN TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 Northwestern TBA UM -9.5
Saturday, Oct. 30 at Michigan State TBA UM -6.5
Saturday, Nov. 6 Indiana TBA UM -2.5
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Penn State TBA UM +7.5
Saturday, Nov. 20 at Maryland TBA UM -7
Saturday, Nov. 27 Ohio State 12:00 pm/Fox UM -10.5