Where Michigan football ranks in PFF Big Ten 2021 projection

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Here’s the good news: PFF doesn’t expect Michigan football to repeat its atrocious 2020 2-4 season. The bad news? The advanced analytics site has the Wolverines finishing third in the division, once again.

The maize and blue are talented, but certainly not on the level with rival Ohio State at the moment — then again, no team in the conference is. But with eight NFL draft picks this offseason, the Wolverines will be inexperienced once again this upcoming year. That said, with Cade McNamara likely leading the charge at quarterback and some solid pieces on defense, PFF expects a rebound in Ann Arbor.

But in its 2021 Big Ten power rankings, Michigan football comes in ranked fifth in terms of conference win probability — an improvement on 2020, but still far beyond fan expectations.

5. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Conference Championship Appearance Probability: 9%
Conference Championship Win Probability: 5%
Projected Win Total: 7

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, it doesn’t look like their 2021 roster will be capable of knocking off rival Ohio State. The good news is that they should be better than they were last year, giving them a shot at ending their five-year bowl game win drought.

The safety tandem of Daxton Hill and Brad Hawkins is among the best in the Big Ten and has the potential to be one of the top pairings in the Power Five. And edge defender Aidan Hutchinson — a top-five player at the position nationally — is back and fully healthy after missing half of Michigan’s six games in 2020. The big thing to monitor on the defensive side of the ball is the outside cornerback unit. The group was scorched for a good part of the shortened 2020 season, ranking 57th of the 65 Power Five teams in expected points added allowed per target to outside receivers.

On offense, starting quarterback Cade McNamara — a four-star recruit in 2019 — is the obvious linchpin. He attempted 71 passes on the year over a few starts en route to a middling 65.0 PFF grade. He did manage to lead the Wolverines to an efficient passing offense on those reps, generating 0.110 expected points added per dropback. Still, McNamara is going to have to be significantly better than that for this team to be anything special in 2021.

Yes, PFF has Michigan ahead of Penn State — though the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions have a higher win probability at 7.2, they only have a 4% conference championship probability. But with 2021 being something of a rebuilding year with yet another new starter at quarterback and unproven talent on the defensive side of the ball, it’ll be a step-by-step process.

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