Look below for my bold, sure-to-be-100%-correct predictions for 2021.
It doesn’t get any bolder than picking the guy who has finished #1 or #2 in rushing the past two seasons (and the #1 guy from 2019 is playing for UCLA now). Yes, you guessed it. I’m picking Hassan Haskins. Haskins was a ho-hum recruit who has become a very dependable runner, if lacking great breakaway speed. Last season he took a stranglehold on the job, running 61 times for 375 yards (6.2 yards/carry) and 6 touchdowns. Sophomore Blake Corum should also get a good chunk of carries, but in crunch time, I expect Haskins to be the primary back.
Prediction: Hassan Haskins, 900 yards
Hit the jump for the rest of the prognostications.
There’s a lot of bluster coming out about various receivers stepping up, whether it’s junior Cornelius Johnson, transfer Daylen Baldwin, or others. While Michigan is breaking in a new quarterback that could change things up, I have a hard time picking against Ronnie Bell. Bell had more catches and yards than Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones in 2019, and he outperformed Johnson, Giles Jackson (now at Washington), and others in 2020. Nobody really has any reason to predict Bell to get passed other than those hanging on to his recruiting ranking from four years ago.
Prediction: Ronnie Bell, 800 yards
The coaches have been raving about the leadership and play of Josh Ross this off-season. He supposedly had an injury that slowed him in 2020, when he led the team with 53 tackles despite not playing particularly well. Hopefully he can stay healthy, and I think he will lead the squad in tackles again.
Prediction: Josh Ross, 75 tackles
For all the talk about senior Aidan Hutchinson being a first round draft pick, an All-American, etc., he’s a player with just 4.5 career sacks. He consistently gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but he can never quite finish. He has lost 10-15 pounds this off-season after moving from defensive end to outside linebacker, and that might help him move a little better. I think he’s the natural answer to this question because nobody else has shown an ability to get to the quarterback, either, although I think the new defense will do just fine at getting to the QB.
Prediction: Aidan Hutchinson, 6.0 sacks
This is a little bit of a bold guess, but I think newcomer D.J. Turner II will lead the team in interceptions. Why? The corner on the opposite side, Gemon Green, is more of a PBU guy than a ballhawk, and I think opponents will try to target the lone new guy. With more opportunities, I think Turner will step up and force a couple turnovers.
Prediction: D.J. Turner II, 2 interceptions
ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM
Prediction: Aidan Hutchinson
LEADING SCORER (NON-KICKER)
Prediction: Hassan Haskins
BREAKOUT OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Cornelius Johnson showed last year that he can be an effective player, but it was such a short season – and he was invisible for a couple games – that I’m not sure full breakout status was achieved. I liked his speed and athleticism, and I think he and Cade McNamara are going to work together well. I also expect Erick All to make some big plays this year, even though he really struggled in 2020.
Prediction: Cornelius Johnson
BREAKOUT DEFENSIVE PLAYER
With a full year (sort of) of experience as a starter, I think Gemon Green is going to have a good year. He got his hands on a number of balls last season, and I like his length and aggression. There’s no getting around the fact that he had a rough 2020, but I thought he showed progress and I liked his mentality.
Prediction: Gemon Green
MOST DISAPPOINTING OFFENSIVE PLAYER
This is a tough choice, because nobody seems to be expecting much from the offense. How can there be a disappointment if expectations are low in the first place? I will go with freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Lots of people want(ed) him to come in and start immediately, which is not easy to do. I still think McCarthy will be a good player, but not necessarily in 2021.
Prediction: J.J. McCarthy
MOST DISAPPOINTING DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Oregon State transfer Jordan Whittley was thought of by fans as a potential savior for the interior defensive line when he announced his commitment to Michigan. He opted out of 2020, and getting used to the college game again after a year off for a giant (348 pounds) defensive lineman is difficult. I don’t know if his strength and conditioning will be there for him to contribute much.
Prediction: Jordan Whittley
THE BIG FINISH
September 4 vs. Western Michigan: WIN. Western Michigan is a solid MAC team, but Michigan should have too much talent.
September 11 vs. Washington: LOSS. This is really a 50-50 proposition for me. Michigan does well at home in night games, but their performance against good teams has been subpar. I often tend to be overly optimistic in my season predictions, so I’ll pick a loss here.
September 18 vs. Northern Illinois: WIN. Last year was a weird year, but NIU was 0-6 and before that, they were 5-7 in 2019. The once dangerous NIU Wolfpack don’t seem quite as dangerous anymore.
September 25 vs. Rutgers: WIN. Rutgers can present some problems with their pace of play and energy, along with Greg Schiano’s solid coaching. But I’ve got Michigan winning this one at home.
October 2 at Wisconsin: LOSS. I think Wisconsin might be falling back to the pack a little bit, but since the game is in Madison, I’ll pick the Badgers.
October 9 at Nebraska: WIN. Nebraska has a decent defense and a fast quarterback, but they don’t have playmakers on offense outside of Adrian Martinez.
October 23 vs. Northwestern: WIN. Northwestern lost most of its top guys from last season, and they’re in a little bit of a rebuilding mode.
October 30 @ Michigan State: WIN. I know Michigan State is a bit of a joke in Michigan circles, but I actually think Mel Tucker has made some good moves this off-season to bring in transfers to plug holes. I still think Michigan wins, but this is an improved team.
November 6 vs. Indiana: WIN. Indiana had a long drought against Michigan, and I have a hard time believing they’ll win two in a row, especially with this one coming in Ann Arbor.
November 13 @ Penn State: LOSS. It might be a toss-up game at Michigan, but it’s a white out in Happy Valley. I’m chalking this one up as a loss.
November 20 @ Maryland: WIN. Maryland is another team that I think is on the rise, but Michigan should be the more talented team.
November 27 vs. Ohio State: LOSS. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Michigan doesn’t play very well against OSU these days.
What did I get right, and what did I get wrong?
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