247Sports: Michigan football a dark horse candidate for 2021 College Football Playoff

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Unlike most years in Ann Arbor, there isn’t a ton of optimism surrounding Michigan football this offseason.

Yes, there’s been something of an overhaul of the coaching staff, but after a moribund 2020 campaign, the fan base isn’t exactly anticipating a big season for the Wolverines. While the maize and blue tend to win biennially against Penn State and Wisconsin, they’ve lost two in a row to both, and have to face both on the road again. Not to mention, they’ve stood no chance against rival Ohio State.

But games are played for a reason. Aside from Shea Patterson taking over the reins at QB in 2018, there wasn’t much of an expectation coming out of 2017 that the Wolverines would be in contention for the Big Ten and beyond up to the final week of the regular season, yet they were a game away. So when it comes to picking a dark horse candidate to make it into the College Football Playoff in 2021, 247Sports’ Big Ten representative is actually Michigan.

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Here’s why:

There’s a lot for Jim Harbaugh to prove in 2021. The Michigan Wolverines are primed to have better quarterback play this coming season and seem to be stabilized. However, the Big Ten East is still run by Ohio State, and Penn State looks like they’re going to bounce back as well. But, Harbaugh has new life after a new contract after the 2020 season. If they can finally beat Ohio State, that should indicate their victory over the division and get to the Big Ten Championship. Of course, for the playoff, they’ll need one loss or less this year. It’s basically who can beat Ohio State and that’s it for the Big Ten, but whoever comes out of the East is the likely champion in the end and don’t rule out the Wolverines, particularly if they embrace the youth movement at quarterback with JJ McCarthy.

“(Five-star freshman quarterback) J.J. McCarthy’s the key. We can talk about Josh Gattis at OC,” 247Sports Late Kick host Josh Pate said. “We can talk about Harbaugh as the head coach. It’s J.J. McCarthy. I mean, it’s not rocket science out here. You’ve got to get the right quarterback in. They think they did. I, for the record, am in agreement with that. I think that’s the best shot that they will have had. Problem is he’s a true freshman. So if we’re talking about something to prove this year, he needs to have a great season as a true freshman.”

Of course, getting to the playoffs would mean beating Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin as well as Washington in Week 2. It can be done, but it will take a major reversal. And though 247Sports’ rationale surrounds J.J. McCarthy, Michigan is more likely to start either incumbent Cade McNamara or transfer Alan Bowman this upcoming season.

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