Two Michigan football ‘players’ make ESPN’s top 25 most important in 2022 CFP race

·4 min read

Finally, Michigan football is getting some respect with respect to the 2022 College Football Playoff race.

For the past several months, pundits seemed to have forgotten that the Wolverines made it to college football’s final four as they preview the 2022 season, instead having wide eyes for USC or the annual ‘Texas is back!’ phenomena. The coaches voted the maize and blue sixth in the preseason rankings, but any thinkpiece that’s come out in the past few months about who will contend and who’s important this year has generally omitted the Wolverines.

Yes, Michigan lost a lot in terms of defensive starters, along with running back Hassan Haskins, but the bulk of the offense returns, and while the other side of the ball will be starting a lot of new players, those players have a lot of requisite experience.

ESPN’s analytics guru Bill Connelly put together a list of the 25 most important players in the sport when it comes to the CFP race, and the Wolverines got two spots, albeit somewhat non-specifically. Given that we know little about how good the defense will be, with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo gone, edge rusher is a big question mark for Michigan this fall. Instead of lazily stating that the maize and blue will take a step back without those two, Connelly instead thinks that whoever gets heavy playing time at the position for Michigan will actually be quite important in the grand scheme of things.

14. [Insert defensive end here], Michigan

Despite the departure of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, Michigan could be poised to improve offensively thanks to overall experience and upside. But If you’re trying to talk yourself into Michigan having a shot at another Big Ten title or CFP appearance, it’s hard to overlook the departures of star ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. They combined for 28.5 TFLs and 25 sacks and offered Michigan a chance at constant pressure without excessive blitzing.

Five returning ends combined for just 5.5 TFLs and four sacks. Mike Morris, Taylor Upshaw, Braiden McGregor and company have a ridiculously high bar to clear if the Wolverines want to avoid regression. It doesn’t matter who takes a star turn as long as someone does.

While the next ‘player’ hasn’t exactly been overlooked, nationally, pundits have wanted to have other conversations (remember how back Texas is? Quinn Ewers for six Heismans this year!) surrounding players at schools that haven’t been contenders for some time. Meanwhile, Cade McNamara, who was instrumental leading the offense in Michigan’s CFP run last year has tended to fall under the radar.

Perhaps, in part, that’s because J.J. McCarthy is breathing down his neck this offseason, and very well could be the starter once fall comes. Connelly notes their dual importance when it comes to the overall playoff picture, and the benefits that the winner of the QB job in Ann Arbor will have given the offensive line and the weapons surrounding him.

4. Cade McNamara (or J.J. McCarthy), Michigan

Last year, McNamara led Michigan to its first CFP bid and first outright conference title since 2003; he finished ahead of stars like Cincinnati‘s Desmond Ridder and NC State’s Devin Leary in Total QBR, too. And yet, if you’re talking about what he might be capable of in 2022, you have to include an “… as long as he’s still the starter” asterisk. Such is life when your backup (McCarthy) saw just enough snaps to confirm his blue-chip potential.

Whoever starts will have an excellent line in front of him and a high-upside skill corps (RB Blake Corum, WR Ronnie Bell, TE Erick All) surrounding him. He’ll also likely have to engineer enough improvement to offset defensive regression. McNamara is safe and efficient, and McCarthy is explosive. Which will Harbaugh and his coaching staff prefer?

It’s been a weird offseason considering that usually teams that have a good year get a little more respect (Penn State is still living off of a 2016 win over Ohio State which launched it into a Big Ten championship — that was six years ago)! But maybe it’s better for Michigan that it’s being overlooked, given how much the chip on the shoulder mentality worked for the maize and blue a year ago.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire