Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.
Today’s team: No. 10 Michigan (Related coverage: How Michigan handles freshmen — play them or redshirt?)
Best-case scenario: Michigan, just a win or two away from a Big Ten title in Jim Harbaugh’s first two seasons, earns a signature victory for him over SEC power Florida in Week 1 in Arlington. Then the Wolverines roll through the conference and into a showdown at home against Ohio State. A win there puts Michigan into the College Football Playoff for the first time.
Worst-case scenario: The Wolverines come up short in their hopes of reloading a roster that was depleted to graduations and the NFL draft. The running game is inconsistent, causing Harbaugh’s program to dip in Year Three. The defense also must replace high NFL picks in Taco Charlton and Jabrill Peppers.
The key game: Nov. 25, Ohio State. This is the key game for both programs every year. There might not be a more important and more meaningful rivalry in the history of college football; this year’s winner may get one of the berths into the CFP.
INSIDE THE WOLVERINES
Coach: Jim Harbaugh (third year, 20-6; 78-33 overall at San Diego, Stanford and Michigan)
2016: 10-3, 7-2 in the Big Ten (lost to Florida State 33-32 in the Orange Bowl)
Returning starters: 4 offense, 1 defense
Goodbye: DE Taco Charlton (Cowboys, 1st round), DB Jabrill Peppers (Browns, 1st), TE Jake Butt (Broncos, 5th), WR Amara Darboh (Seahawks, 3rd), WR Jehu Chesson (Chiefs, 4th), CB Jourdan Lewis (Cowboys, 3rd)
Spring cleaning: Michigan made offseason news by taking its spring practices to Rome, yet another move in Harbaugh’s effort to make Michigan a national brand. It also helps in recruiting when you can promise a teenager a free trip overseas to practice football. … No team in the country must replace more starters than the Wolverines; the team returns only one defensive starter but strong recruiting classes mean Michigan is likely ready to reload. Look for five-star defensive line prospect Aubruy Solomon and five-star wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. The 2017 signing class ranked fourth in the country.
Passing: Wilton Speight, 204-331-2,538, 18/7
Rushing: De’Veon Smith, 181-846-10 (1st); Chris Evans, 88-614-4 (2nd)
Receiving: Amara Darboh, 57-862-7 (1st)
Tackles: LB Ben Gedron, 106 (1st)
Sacks: DE Chris Wormley, 6 (2nd); DE Chase Winowich, 5 (3rd)
RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (13)
Offense: T Erik Magnuson (1st team), WR Amara Darboh (2nd), C Mason Cole (2nd), T Ben Braden (2nd), G Kyle Kalis (2nd), QB Wilton Speight (3rd)
Defense: DE Chris Wormley (1st), CB Jourdan Lewis (1st), DT Ryan Glasgow (2nd), LB Ben Gedeon (2nd), CB Channing Stribling (2nd), S Delano Hill (2nd), P Kenny Allen (2nd)
Roster overhaul: It’s unusual for a coach to face his toughest coaching challenge in Year Three. But Harbaugh, who’s gone 10-3 in back-to-back years to start his tenure, will be hard-pressed to duplicate that 2016 success with more starters lost from last year’s team than any other FBS school. The talent is on campus, but most of it is inexperienced. Young teams tend to be inconsistent.
Running when it matters: Harbaugh — a former quarterback — is known for his hard-nosed approach to running the football. His stops at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers have been proof and his first two Michigan teams have followed that blueprint. Yet Michigan averaged only 2.4 yards per carry in the three losses last season.
Who’s next?: A fan base like Michigan’s doesn’t allow for excuses. Harbaugh won’t be allowed to use the 2017 season as a platform for 2018. He’ll be expected to win 10 games and compete for the Big Ten title, something that’s alluded the Wolverines since 2004. Only five starters return. Michigan has recruited well over the past three cycles, so the question becomes: Who are the next stars? Eleven Wolverines were drafted this year, more than any other school in the country.
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 2||Florida (Arlington)|
|Sept. 16||Air Force|
|Sept. 23||at Purdue*|
|Oct. 7||Michigan State*||W, 32-23|
|Oct. 14||at Indiana*||W, 20-10|
|Oct. 21||at Penn State*||W, 49-10|
|Oct. 28||Rutgers*||W, 78-0|
|Nov. 11||at Maryland*||W, 59-3|
|Nov. 18||at Wisconsin*||W, 14-7|
|Nov. 25||Ohio State*||L, 30-27|
|* Big Ten game|
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKING||BOWL GAME|
|TOTAL||40-24 (25-16)||1-3 in bowls|
|2012||8-5 (6-2)||8th/24th||L Outback|
|2013||7-6 (3-5)||17th/NR||L Buffalo Wild Wings|
|2014||5-7 (3-5)||NR/NR||No bowl|
|2015||10-3 (6-2)||NR/12th||W Citrus|
|2016||10-3 (7-2)||7th/10th||L Orange|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
2016 NATIONAL STAT RANKS
Scoring: 11th (40.3 ppg)
Points allowed: 2nd (14.1 ppg)
Passing: 85th (212.0 ypg)
Rushing: 33rd (212.9 ypg)
Total off.: 58th (424.9 ypg)
Total def.: 1st (261.8 ypg)
OUR TOP 25 SO FAR
No. 25: Boise State
No. 24: Oregon
No. 23: Tennessee
No. 22: Texas
No. 21: Kansas State
No. 20: Miami
No. 19: West Virginia
No. 18: South Florida
No. 17: Florida
No. 16: Stanford
No. 15: Louisville
No. 14: Georgia
No. 13: Wisconsin
No. 12: LSU
No. 11: Auburn
No. 10: Michigan
No. 9: Coming Friday. Want a hint? This school produced the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner who went on to become a member of both the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fames.
SEC (11-Auburn, 12-LSU, 14-Georgia, 17-Florida, 23-Tennessee)
Big 12 (19-West Virginia, 21-Kansas State, 22-Texas)
ACC (15-Louisville, 20-Miami)
Big Ten (10-Michigan, 13-Wisconsin)
Pac-12 (16-Stanford, 24-Oregon)
AAC (18-South Florida)
Mountain West (25-Boise State)
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