J.J. McCarthy returns as the staring quarterback along with All-America running back Blake Corum and perhaps one of the best offensive lines in college football. The defense is experienced with several returning starters, including All-Big Ten linebackers Junior Colson and Michael Barrett, and standout cornerback Will Johnson.
As successful as the last two seasons were — finally beating Ohio State and winning a school-record 25 games — each ended in humbling fashion in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Michigan gave up 51 points in a loss to TCU last season and was routed by Georgia a year earlier.
“If we get there, we just got to get over the hump,” Corum said. “For me, I have high standards so yeah, it’s win or bust.”
Harbaugh didn’t quite agree with the title-or-best mentality, but has been pleased that his team isn’t satisfied with previous accomplishments.
“Not one of them wants to hear about what they did last year, or the last two years,” Harbaugh said. “Now is the time that matters, that’s the attitude.”
The Wolverines know they have work to do to catch up to the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs. To close the gap, they implemented a “Beat Georgia” drill last spring after adding a “Beat Ohio State” section of practice two years ago.
“To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,‘” Corum said. “Georgia is at the top right now. And if we want to be able to be at the top, we’ve got to beat them.”
Harbaugh could be facing a four-game suspension for breaking NCAA rules over improper contact with recruits. Michigan submitted a negotiated resolution to the NCAA in a case that has been in the works for about two years but NCAA officials have more questions. The case may go to a full hearing, which would lengthen the process and push any suspension back.
“Nothing to be ashamed of,” Harbaugh said this preseason, declining further comment.
Corum said if Harbaugh is suspended, the team will be even more motivated.
“If anything, it’s going to light a fire under us,” Corum said.
CALL IT A COMEBACK
Corum has been cleared medically, bouncing back from surgery on his left knee after he was injured late in the regular season last year. The senior will share carries in the backfield with Donovan Edwards, who will line up at receiver at times to take advantage of his speed and hands.
McCarthy beat out Cade McNamara to be the No. 1 quarterback last year and in Year 2 under center, he plans to run more while improving his passing.
“He’s a once-in-a-generational-type quarterback,” said Harbaugh, comparing McCarthy’s talent and selflessness to NFL greats Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
All-Big Ten offensive lineman Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan lead a line that should give McCarthy time to throw, and provide holes in the running game. Colston Loveland, a 6-foot-5 tight end, may emerge as McCarthy’s go-to target.
“The longer it takes him to realize how good he is, the better off he’ll probably be,” Harbaugh said. “But the secret is out. He’s really, really good.”
Michigan won’t leave home in September for the third straight year and likely won’t be tested against East Carolina in the opener Sept. 2 or in the following games against UNLV, Bowling Green and Rutgers.
Michigan will face at least a pair of challenges on the road: Oct. 21 against rival Michigan State and Nov. 11 at Penn State. The Wolverines iwill host rival Ohio State, hoping to win three straight in the rivalry for the first time since 1995-97, on Nov. 25 to close the regular season.