Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which are being collected here. Next up, it's No. 11 Michigan.
THE BIG STORY
This year looks like Jim Harbaugh's best chance yet to win the Big Ten East. As usual, though, the path goes through Ohio State. Michigan has lost to the Buckeyes in each year of Harbaugh's four-year tenure. Last season the Wolverines rolled into Thanksgiving weekend at 10–1 then lost to the Buckeyes 62–39. The difference this year? With Shea Patterson returning under center, Harbaugh will have the advantage at QB.
New coordinator Josh Gattis's spread offense should suit Patterson well, as it resembles the one he ran at Ole Miss before he transferred to Michigan. In his first season Patterson threw for 2,600 yards and 22 TDs, with little familiarity with Harbaugh's pro-style system. Gattis's RPO offense will better suit the QB's ability to connect with playmakers like junior wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Last season, the D was dominant before Thanksgiving, a mess after: The Wolverines followed up the Ohio State game by giving up 41 points to Florida in the Peach Bowl. The pressure is on junior Kwity Paye to lead the way to opposing QBs; given time, they could carve up the Wolverines' inexperienced secondary.
With one of the Big Ten's top offensive lines returning largely intact, Michigan's ground game has the potential to be a strength. But the depth chart at running back is still largely a mystery after the departure of Karan Higdon, who ran for a team-best 1,178. Beyond senior Tru Wilson and sophomore Christian Turner, the Wolverines will turn to fullback Ben VanSumeren and former linebacker Hassan Haskins. The most intriguing option is true freshman Zach Charbonnet, who missed spring ball with a knee injury but should be healthy come fall. The highest-rated recruit Michigan has signed during the Harbaugh era, Charbonnet could make an instant impact.
OVER OR UNDER?
Over 8.5 wins. After a rough schedule last year, the Wolverines' toughest opponents—Ohio State, Notre Dame, Iowa and Michigan State—all come to Ann Arbor.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Losses to Ohio State and Florida in their final two games spoiled a promising 2018 season. The program has made strides under Harbaugh, but at Michigan it begins and ends with beating the Buckeyes.