It’s happening again. The college football world’s love affair with Michigan took a few months off, but looks like it has resumed.
The latest proof came in the release of Phil Steele’s vaunted college football preview magazine. There it was – all that was missing was the red ink and heart drawings – Michigan ranked No. 3 in Mr. Steele’s preseason top 40. Oh yeah, Steele also calls for Michigan to make the playoff.
The oddsmakers seem to agree with the optimism. Or at least they think bettors will agree with it. One of the two, or both. Michigan’s season wins total is priced at 9 1/2 with heavy juice to the over at most offshore sportsbooks. The Wolverines are 14-1 to win the national championship, which puts them somewhere around the fifth choice in the country.
Isn’t this the same Michigan program, that in its three biggest games last year, lost to the point spread by a combined 66 points? You remember, right?
Laying two at Notre Dame in last season’s opener and losing 24-17.
Laying four in the Horseshoe and losing 62-39 to Ohio State.
Laying four to Florida in the Peach Bowl and losing 41-15.
They must have everybody back, right? Wrong. Michigan’s calling card last season was defense, but even that was overrated when it mattered most. Still, statistically speaking this was a strong unit. But that group was decimated by the NFL Draft. The Wolverines had four defensive players drafted in the first three rounds. Only five starters return.
So it must be on offense where Michigan is expected to live up to expectations. In theory, when a team returns eight starters on offense, its output should grow. Michigan just might be in line for improvement after scoring 29 points per game, but how much can be expected?
To date, quarterback Shea Patterson has received more hype than is justified. The running game last season featured several slower-side running backs, the best of which was Karan Higdon, who left before the bowl to focus on the draft … but wasn’t drafted. The offensive line somehow gets accolades, but never didn’t strike us as anything more than average last season.
Michigan does have a ton of experience back at receiver … oh wait … there it is. The schedule. So that’s the reason for the hype. Ohhhhh, okay, we see it now. The Wolverines have a favorable schedule with their two biggest games coming at home against Notre Dame and Ohio State.
With a win total of 9.5, the Wolverines had better win both of those games, or else over bettors will need near perfection elsewhere on the schedule. That means winning road games at Wisconsin and Penn State.
We can see the argument that Michigan might be favored in every game, thus could be sitting on double-digit wins and wide open postseason options late in the year. But this isn’t a program you want to go into the foxhole with. Michigan has lost its last three bowl games despite being favored in all of them. Yet another example of the Wolverines’ lack of trustworthiness.
Call it The Harbaugh Effect or whatever you want, the fact is that Michigan’s perception vs. reality gap has been vast and costly to those who have been believers. A favorable schedule isn’t enough to justify this kind of optimism. Michigan will have to prove it to us before we believe. And that certainly won’t happen with our money on them.