The Jim Harbaugh circus train left Ann Arbor awhile ago, but it continues to run throughout the country as the Wolverines sit poised to be the darlings of the media polls once again.
Starting out 3-0 and showcasing a powerful offense will have a way of making people pay attention. But, after three games that provided little test it is time for big boy football as the Big Ten slate is here.
With that in mind, it is time to take stock of the Michigan program and see what exactly we really do know about Harbaugh’s 2016 team following non-conference play.
The Good News:
We actually know that Michigan can respond to a punch from an opponent. Many believed that Michigan’s three-game non-conference slate was a joke heading in to the season. It’s first two opponents, Hawaii and UCF weren’t seen as challenges and Colorado has had one of the worst runs of any Power 5 team over the past decade.
Still, that didn’t stop the Buffs from apparently figuring some things out this offseason and they weren’t intimidated coming in to the Big House in Week 3. Instead, they came out and punched the Wolverines square in the mouth.
Down 14-0 before they even knew what hit them, Michigan did a great job of regrouping and came back to actually take a 24-21 lead right before the start of the second half. Heck, Colorado even managed a 70-yard touchdown pass to start the second half before Michigan responded back and scored the final three touchdowns of a 45-28 victory.
It certainly was an unexpected thing to see — Michigan losing to Colorado in 2016? No way was that supposed to happen. A potential major crisis was averted and along with it came the first real sign that Michigan may be for real on the field and not just on paper anymore.
The Bad News:
Jabrill Peppers can’t play every down on offense and defense. Seriously, that man is about as big of a freak of a college athlete as I have ever seen. His offensive play-making ability tops that of famous two-way Michigan player Charles Woodson, while his ability to play anywhere in the defensive scheme is scary and he still can return a punt to the house with the best of them.
No team in America has a player like him…now if only there was a way to put a ball in his hands on every play of every game. Amiright?
But in all seriousness, Michigan still has one issue it needs to solve — fumbling the damn football. Yes, the Wolverines have only one lost fumble and one interception against them this season. However, there have been four total fumbles and at some point that kind of luck is going to run out.
Against better teams with better athletes than what U-M has seen to date, things could be a lot different. Michigan needs to take better care of the football, or it may be in big trouble in the Big Ten.
Player Who Has Stepped Up: Jabrill Peppers, LB/PR/RB
When people saw his name as a linebacker early this offseason, most believed new defensive coordinator Don Brown was insane. After all, this was arguably the best athlete the Wolverines had and he was a pretty good safety in 2015.
So far in 2016, Peppers has proved exactly why Brown made the move with Peppers. He’s been all over the field on defense, still able to return a punt for a touchdown and has yet to be really needed on offense either.
You can bet you’ll see him as more than a decoy come Big Ten play, but it hard to argue that Peppers hasn’t been the biggest revelation on this team (sorry Wilton Speight).
Player Who Needs to Step Up: De’Veon Smith, RB
Michigan may be looking like a more balanced rushing attack in 2016, with two backs over 100 yards and a third nearing that total. However, the name at the top of the list in rushing yards isn’t the expected one — De’Veon Smith.
The senior running back has had a nice statistical start to his season, rushing for just over 50 yards per game and averaging nearly 5.0 yards per carry. However, those alright numbers have come against some really bad defenses.
Chris Evans is actually the leading rusher with five fewer carries than Smith has had so far this season. If Smith isn’t careful he may not only be second on the rushing yards total, he may see his carries dip under that of Evans.
Few would’ve expected Smith to be a superstar this season, but at a bare minimum he should be a larger threat than he is for opposing defenses. With Big Ten play here, let’s see if Smith can kick it in to another gear.