Jan. 05, 2017
Why Michigan Will Win the National Championship
It's the final day of October and the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings is slated to be unveiled on Tuesday, and one thing is clear: if there's one team that can stop Alabama from winning its second consecutive national title, look no further than the Michigan Wolverines.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has pulled off one of the most impressive turnaround jobs in recent memory, and his Wolverines have all the pieces to not only win the Big Ten but also make some noise in the CFB Playoff.
As the old saying goes, "defense wins championships," and Michigan is certainly set in that regard. Defensive coordinator Don Brown has presided over the best defense in the country, a unit that is stocked with playmakers all over the field. The Wolverines lead the country in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense and rank 15th in rushing defense.
Opposing teams are averaging only 231 yards and 11.6 points per game, and Michigan has held its opponent to eight points or fewer in half its games.
But beyond the stats, Michigan's personnel is built for beating fellow juggernauts like Alabama, Ohio State and others.
Jabrill Peppers was regarded by most as the best safety coming into the season, but now U-M has him playing in a hybrid linebacker-type role to maximize his athleticism. Jourdan Lewis is one of the best cornerbacks in the country and has made two big interceptions this season, including an ultra-acrobatic one against No. 8 Wisconsin earlier this season.
It's one of the best you'll see, courtesy of SportsCenter:
The linebacking corps lost its top three players from last year's team, but others have stepped up and haven't missed a beat. Ben Gedeon has taken over the leadership role in that group and has blossomed into the team's top tackler. Senior Mike McCray, a former 4-star recruit who entered the season with minimal game reps under his belt, has played superbly as well.
Simply put, this Michigan defense is downright stout. It doesn't rely heavily on forcing turnovers -- which can be dangerous come the postseason when the opponents are better and are more careful with the football -- it just limits big plays, doesn't miss many tackles, consistently gets penetration through the offensive line and has excellent defensive backs who don't let opposing receivers run free in the secondary.
Still don't think U-M's defense is legit? Consider this: Michigan State, a team that prides itself on controlling the line of scrimmage and running the ball effectively, ran seven plays inside the Michigan 10-yard line on its first drive of the third quarter and came away with zero points.
It's why the Wolverines can beat any team in the country -- their defense is that good. The one question that remains, though, is whether or not their offense can score enough to win. And I think right now, the answer is yes.
Harbaugh has installed a pro-style offensive attack that isn't as high-powered as some offenses around the country, but it gets the job done and complements the U-M defense perfectly. The Wolverines scored on six of their first seven drives against the Spartans, and first-year starting quarterback Wilton Speight continues to mature and look more comfortable.
He has plenty of weapons around him, including pass-catchers Amara Darboh and Jake Butt and three running backs that have rushed for at least 400 yards. And if those options aren't enough, there's always Peppers to fall back on.
Peppers, who remains a Heisman candidate due to his incredible versatility and explosive big-play capability , has taken handoffs, caught passes and taken snaps in the Wildcat formation throughout his career and has the ability to electrify the offense every time he touches the ball.
About that versatility from Peppers -- he gives the term "Swiss Army knife" a new meaning:
Now, there is still a ton of football to be played this season and if there's one thing we learned this past weekend it's that any team can go down at any time. Just ask the three top-10 teams that lost and the four others who barely hung on for victories against lesser opponents.
But that's how college football is -- any team can win on any given Saturday -- which is why Michigan has so much potential moving forward. Harbaugh has built a team that can win in a variety of ways. It can win sloppily in a defensive struggle and it can also score plenty of points when it has to, as it recently did against its big rival Sparty. It can win top-ten matchups where the margin for error is minuscule and it takes care of business when heavily favored.
And it has a coach in Jim Harbaugh who possesses so much fire and intensity that he seems to will his teams to win. Whether it was at Stanford, in the NFL with the 49ers or now with his alma mater, he has constantly proven that he has that quality, which comes in handy in December and January when winning is rarely easy.
Moving forward, the Wolverines have three games on the schedule that they should win. That would put them at 11-0 and set up a massive matchup in The Game against their archrival Ohio State. It will certainly be an interesting matchup, but the Buckeyes are still searching to find their identity on offense and haven't been impressive of late.
All in all, an undefeated regular season is well within the realm of possibility for Michigan. That would put them into the Big Ten championship against either Wisconsin or Nebraska, both of which would be hard-pressed to beat the Wolverines at a neutral site with a trip to the CFB Playoff on the line.
Next up is the Playoff, which is when absolutely anything can happen and Michigan will be better prepared than anyone due to its dominant defense and stellar coaching staff.
American is salivating at the possibility of an Alabama-Michigan matchup.
Jim Harbaugh vs. Nick Saban.
Crimson vs. Maize.
It would be an epic slugfest, and the Wolverines just might have what it takes to come out on top.