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Michigan Wolverines 2016 Football Preview: Harbaugh’s debut had immediate impact in 2015

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A changing of the guard was necessary following another disappointing season in 2014. With the Wolverines still searching for a new athletic director, the administration still managed to pry the No. 1 target away from the NFL in ex-Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh.

Just a bit later it would be Harbaugh teaming up with his old football teammate Warde Manuel, who was hired as his athletic director.

Some questioned if the high-profile hire of Harbaugh was more publicity stunt than actual good news on the field. Well, the results spoke for themselves in year one of the Harbaugh era and those questions quickly went by the wayside.

Not everything was fixed in just one year though, and that means there was plenty of good, bad and ugly to the Wolverines 2015 season. It also means that before we look ahead we understand where Michigan comes from heading in to 2016.

 

The Good

No doubt about it, winning 10 games in ones first season on the job anywhere is a good start. That was especially so following Michigan’s 2014 season that ended with a 5-7 record and no bowl game.

From that dumpster fire rose a team capable of playing on a very high level almost every week, and a solid foundation for the future was put in place. Expectations of individual effort, team effort and coaching were all raised heading in to 2015 and it showed.

Perhaps most encouraging were the results in Big Ten play, where the Wolverines went 6-2 on the season and managed to hold opponents under 20 points in four of those six wins.

For all the talk of Harbaugh’s offensive mind, it was his defense that carried the day in 2015 and set the tone for this team as one of the toughest to score on in the Big Ten. That was the best thing that could happen given the past, as the defense was always a strength but never to the level that was put on the field in 2015.

The Bad

Winning double-digit games and having six conference wins is good and all, but the bad news is that both of the losses Michigan suffered in conference play were to its bitter rivals. More on the loss to Michigan State in a bit, but there was nothing worse than what took place on the final Saturday of the regular season.

Losing to Ohio State has become commonplace, with just one win in the last 12 games against the Buckeyes. However, the gulf between the two teams was on full display in 2015, as OSU put up 42 points on the Wolverines for the third straight season and won convincingly, 42-13, in Ann Arbor.

One wouldn’t have thought of it as a blowout after watching the first half though, as the two teams went in to the locker rooms with OSU leading just 14-10. Urban Meyer’s team made plenty of adjustments and Michigan mustered up just three points the rest of the way.

The struggles of the running game also creeped up, as Michigan gained just 57 yards on the ground and the defense gave up a whopping 369 yards on the ground to “Ohio.”

The Ugly

No two ways around this one — losing to in-state rival Michigan State once again was bad. Doing so in a dramatic, never before seen way? That was gut-wrenching and downright ugly for Michigan.

Leading 23-21 with 10 seconds on the clock and just having to punt the ball away to secure a much-needed victory over their rivals, the Wolverines saw disaster before their very eyes. Punter Blake O’Neill lost the handle on a punt, and the rest as they say…is history:

In a season of great moments, that was about as unlucky and ugly as it gets.

What It Means For 2016

Winning double-digit games and getting back on the national stage was a huge accomplishment considering where the team was before Harbaugh took over. However, we’ve seen this play out before over the past decade with Michigan.

One need only look at the start of the Brady Hoke era to realize that one year does not a turnaround make. You know, making a Sugar Bowl appearance, winning it and then being a pick for a top 10 position in the following preseason polls.

Sound a bit familiar?

The good news is that this team looks and feels different heading in to the second year of Harbaugh. His players have firmly bought in to what he is speaking of and with everyone pulling in the right direction this may be the team to break the curse at Michigan.

Of course, time will tell, but having been around the program for both the 2012 year and this year, there is a very different vibe being put out there and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team be as competitive as it was last year.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Can Shea Patterson transfer finally be the answer at QB for Michigan?

Shea Patterson arrives at Michigan with pedigree and production, will it transform the QB position enough to matter for the Wolverines?

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There’s no way around it — 2017 was not the year everyone expected to see from the Michigan Wolverines. A one-time national title contender (no seriously) turned in to an 8-4 team that finished fourth in the Big Ten East division.

Many have pinpointed the issues at quarterback as a large reason for that struggle.

It would be an easy and correct assumption, as 2017 was an unmitigated disaster at QB for the Wolverines. Michigan’s quarterbacks combined to complete just 54.5 percent of their passes for just 2,023 yards and nine touchdowns to eight interceptions.

Yes, that was nine touchdowns in 12 games played by three different quarterbacks for Michigan in 2017.

Apparently the coaching staff believes that was a major issue as well, as they went hard after Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson once he announced his intention to transfer from the program.

On Monday, Patterson announced he would be enrolling at Michigan as a transfer.

We’ll have to wait and see if the NCAA allows him to immediately become eligible, but that shouldn’t be an issue given Ole Miss’ NCAA penalties. He doesn’t qualify as a soon-to-be senior, so he will have to apply for and be granted a waiver. That appears not to be a major hurdle, but one can never assume when it comes to the NCAA waiver decisions these days.

As for Michigan, Patterson is the second transfer quarterback Michigan has brought in during the Jim Harbaugh era. The first was John O’Korn from Houston.

O’Korn never took full control of the Wolverines offense, ending his career as the third option on the depth chart before being forced back on to the field thanks to multiple injuries at the QB position.

But, Patterson is not O’Korn — in so much as Patterson has actually proven to be a quality quarterback and isn’t transferring because he is being pushed out at his old school.

He threw for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns in seven games at Ole Miss in 2017, before suffering a season-ending tear to his right posterior cruciate ligament.

So, there is risk in bringing Patterson in to the fold. Will he be 100 percent back to normal in 2018 or will the injury keep him from progressing? That’s likely not an issue though, as the PCL tear isn’t the most significant of knee injuries. Additionally, Patterson comes with a great pedigree on the recruiting trail.

He was the No. 1 rated pro-style quarterback in the 2015 class, started and played in his freshman season in 2016 and did work in his sophomore year in 2017.

While this move may smack of desperation for Michigan, these are desperate times in Ann Arbor. The lack of championship football is starting to wear off the shine of Harbaugh’s hire four years ago.

It’s also a good move for depth alone, as Michigan will see both O’Korn and Wilton Speight out of the program. Speight has declared his intention to transfer already.

That would leave just Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey on the depth chart.

Patterson has the experience and production advantage on both and the offense should be familiar to him as Ole Miss runs a pro-style offense.

Given the lack of production at QB since Harbaugh’s arrival, something has to change. Will Patterson’s addition be the change that is needed?

Clearly the quarterback position needs to get stronger. Adding Patterson does that, but it remains to be seen if it will be the transformational move that has been lacking since Harbaugh arrived.

If he can’t get the quarterback position right again in 2018, Harbaugh may not be long for the job everyone thought he’d have for a lifetime as long as he wanted it.

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Dantonio, Harbaugh jab at each other after bowl game selections

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Rivalries have no offseason, and that certainly is the case for Michigan State when it comes to in-state rival Michigan. That’s especially the case when bowl season rolled around in 2017.

That’s because Michigan is headed to Tampa Bay to play in the Outback Bowl, while Michigan State is off the…gasp…horrific site of San Diego for its bowl game.

No. 16 Michigan State is slated to play No. 18 Washington State in easily the best non-New Years Six bowl game the Big Ten has, while Michigan gets South Carolina. Despite the disparity in location and quality of opponent, some felt the Spartans were slighted.

Dantonio was asked if the program felt slighted by not playing on New Year’s Day, and this was his response:

It was a clear dig at the Wolverines, whom the Spartans have owned since Dantonio took over as head coach at Michigan State.

Harbaugh just couldn’t let that go, responding back on Twitter on Monday.

Backhanded compliment much?

It’s clear these two don’t get along much, because usually these things get settled behind closed doors. Instead, Harbaugh took a very public jab at Dantonio and all the off-field issues that took place over the last year and a half.

Who will get the ultimate last word? Well, this season that was certainly Michigan State. Not only did the Spartans beat Michigan, but they finished second in the East division, while Michigan faltered to an 8-4 finish in the regular season.

If anything, this should fuel an offseason of rivalry fun between these two programs.

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Michigan fans respond to John O’Korn with death threats following loss to OSU

John O’Korn leaves heartfelt message following loss to Michigan and some fans respond with death threats and more.

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Michigan was supposed to be an East division contender and a national power this season, but that didn’t happen the way some in the media thought it would. Instead, Michigan lost for the seventh straight season to hated rival Ohio State on Saturday to cap off a disappointing 8-4 regular season.

Naturally, the worst in Michigan fandom came out following the 31-20 loss. The biggest target of their ire? Backup quarterback John O’Korn, who had to fill in for an injured Brandon Peters.

A late interception by O’Korn didn’t help in a close game at home against the Buckeyes. It also led to some rather horrible abuse on Twitter — including advice to “kill yourself” and death threats due to this loss.

It couldn’t get much worse than this nugget:

Keeping it classy as always happens on Twitter, Michigan Twitter fans also went with the classic burn of “Yo Momma”

Then of course there were the more mild and idiotic Tweets. You know, things like the classic “you blow” burn and the like.

Sometimes Twitter really is the worst of humanity. Luckily, these tweets were a small sampling compared to the overwhelming group that showed support and thanks for the efforts of O’Korn and the Michigan team despite the loss.

Yes, losing to your arch-rival in a football game doesn’t feel very good. Yes, fans are going to get riled up continually losing those kind of games.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time this season something like this has happened to a Michigan quarterback. It all started with the vocal criticism and threats made to former starter, Wilton Speight.

Here’s a small piece of advice — if you feel the need to tell someone to kill themselves or to threaten them with death — put the Twitter machine down, walk away and don’t ever come back to it. Seriously? As much as we all love football, it is just a game at the end of the day and wishing death on someone because they didn’t play the way you wanted them is about as low as it gets.

O’Korn clearly left everything he had on the field for the Wolverines. Was it good enough to win this game? No.

But, what more can you ask for from any player other than to give it all for their team.

While O’Korn and the Wolverines lost the game, those who threatened him and the team following it are the ones losing at life.

Get over yourselves and move on with life. One loss by a team you support shouldn’t define your life. If so, it’s truly a sad one and we feel sorry for you.

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Michigan embracing spoiler role, hoping for miracle finish

Michigan’s once-hopeful season reduced to playing spoiler and hoping for a miracle East division title.

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This isn’t how the final two games of the season were supposed to be set up. Michigan had Wisconsin and Ohio State in a perfect back-to-back weekend scenario to end the season.

Win those games and it should be off to the College Football Playoff, right?

Instead, two losses have already piled up for the Wolverines and the hopes of an East division title are but gone. So too is any talk of a College Football Playoff berth, which most in the national media were openly talking about going in to the season.

Some wonder where the Wolverines will rank on Tuesday night in the latest College Football Playoff poll, especially given the chaos in front of them over the past two weeks. But, at 8-2 on the season and 5-2 in Big Ten, does the ranking really matter much at this point?

For players and coaches it appears the motivation is going to be about spoiling the season’s of the next two opponents and letting the chips fall where they may.

“I’m not really worried about that (the College Football Playoff ranking),” fifth-year center Patrick Kugler told reporters on Monday, via MLive.com. “Wisconsin is next. We can still be a 10-win team and kind of ruin people’s seasons. That’s kind of my goal right now.”

Kugler continued that theme noting a 10-2 season could theoretically get them in to the Big Ten championship game. He also noted that this team is going to embrace ruining someone else’s season.

“It’s kind of fun to ruin people’s seasons,” Kugler said. “We can be 10-2 and still make the Big Ten championship. It’s just kind of fun. To go in there, a hostile environment like Wisconsin, if we can come out of there with a victory, there’s nothing better than that.”

It is good news the team is staying positive, but also tells you how far adrift from expectations this season has gotten.

Embracing a villain’s role?

Hoping to play spoiler in the two biggest games on the schedule?

This is what Michigan’s season as been reduced to — a focus on what winning would do to the teams on the other side of the field.

That should tell you all you need to know really. Michigan’s season is reduced to playing the “we’ve got a chip on our shoulders” card and hoping someone else can help them make a miracle run to the Big Ten championship game.

Of course, it’s not an impossible task ahead of them, but as far as this season has told us it certainly feels that way.

Yet, Michigan’s players are still talking a big game.

“This whole week in practice, we’re going to be getting after each other, making sure everything’s perfect,” said Rashan Gary, via MLive.com. “We got an opportunity in front of us and we don’t want to let it go.”

Michigan’s coaches and players have sung this same tune before, especially leading up to its annual rivalry game against Ohio State. Yet, all that talk hasn’t amounted to a win in that series since 2011 and the Wolverines have generally struggled against ranked opponents over the course of the 2010’s.

The Wolverines are just 7-19 in games against ranked opponents since the start of the 2010 season. This is clearly a long-term problem, one that has admittedly gotten better since the start of the Harbaugh era.

Michigan is currently 5-5 against ranked opponents since 2015, but are just 2-4 against ranked Big Ten opponents and both of those wins came at home.

Then there’s the matter of the reality of the actual teams they have to face over the next two weeks.

How is Michigan’s offense going to be able to score on that Wisconsin defense? How will Michigan’s defense cope with the high-powered offense of Ohio State?

With so much money spent to try to bring Michigan back to national prominence, finding answers to those questions is the only way to salvage this season.

Then again, this is a program that had supreme confidence heading in to each and every season so far under Harbaugh. Each and every one of those seasons has ended in disappointment of one kind or another.

It’s that track record that makes all of this talk hard to buy in to once again.

Until the Wolverines show it on the field against a quality opponent on the road, perhaps all of this is best left unsaid to the public?

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