Michigan football mega preview: Key players, storylines, depth chart for 2023

By Aaron McMann |
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A wild, wacky and turbulent offseason that saw Michigan football end up in the spotlight for some of the wrong reasons is finally over.
From Jim Harbaugh dipping his toe into the NFL waters (again), the abrupt firing of an important assistant coach, an ongoing NCAA investigation and a summer distraction centered around the hire of the late Bo Schembechler’s son, the Wolverines have been able to sidestep the messes and move forward. As players say, the train moves on.
The results, of course, have been a mixed bag. Everyone is talking about Michigan because of its head coach’s looming three-game suspension to start the season. But the Wolverines also return a roster of star talent and experience that most in college football would clamor for.
Many of those same players have experienced the highs and lows of the last 24 months: From the uncertainty heading into the 2021 season to Michigan shocking the world by flipping the Ohio State rivalry, winning back-to-back Big Ten titles and making consecutive College Football Playoff appearances.
But the runs have ended in semifinal losses both years, setting the stage for could be a pivotal season in Harbaugh’s resurgence. It also has players reaching for the moon, publicly declaring a stated goal of winning a national title — no ifs, ands or buts.
Outside observers and the media agree, largely picking Michigan to win the Big Ten for a third straight year and reach the Playoff. And perennial contenders Georgia and Ohio State beginning the year with more questions than in previous years, it opens the door for a talent-laden team like the Wolverines.
With another favorable schedule on deck (see below), Harbaugh and his program may not have a better opportunity than now.
Keep scrolling for an in-depth season preview, with an index below:
• Schedule
• Coaching staff
• Key players
• (Unofficial) Two deep
• Key storylines
SCHEDULE
Sept. 2 vs. EAST CAROLINA (Noon, Peacock)
Sept. 9 vs. UNLV (3:30 p.m., CBS)
Sept. 16 vs. BOWLING GREEN (7:30 p.m., BTN)
Sept. 23 vs. RUTGERS (Noon, TBD)
Sept. 30 at Nebraska
Oct. 7 at Minnesota
Oct. 14 vs. INDIANA
Oct. 21 at Michigan State
Oct. 28 BYE
Nov. 4 vs. PURDUE
Nov. 11 at Penn State (Noon, FOX)
Nov. 18 at Maryland
Nov. 25 vs. OHIO STATE (Noon, FOX)
Penn State vs Michigan, Oct. 15, 2022
COACHING STAFF
Head coach: Jim Harbaugh*
9th season: 74-25 (.747), 51-17 Big Ten (1-6 in bowl games)
(*Serving 3-game suspension to start)
Offensive coordinator/ line coach: Sherrone Moore*
6th season on staff: Went from TEs coach to OL coach/co-OC; given play-calling duties in ‘22
(*Serving 1-game suspension to start)
Defensive coordinator: Jesse Minter
2nd season — took over for Mike Macdonald in ‘22
Defensive backs coach: Steve Clinkscale (also co-coordinator)
3rd season — added co-coordinator title in ‘22
Quarterbacks coach: Kirk Campbell
1st season — served as analyst in ‘22
Wide receivers coach: Ron Bellamy
3rd season — Michigan graduate
Defensive line coach: Mike Elston (also recruiting coordinator)
2nd season
Safeties coach: Jay Harbaugh (also special teams coordinator)
Longest tenured assistant: Coached TEs, RBs, safeties
Running backs coach: Mike Hart (also run-game coordinator)
3rd season
Linebackers coach: Chris Partridge
Returns after previous stint on staff (2015-19)
Tight ends coach: Grant Newsome
Former player, graduate assistant
Michigan football faces Michigan State under the lights
KEY PLAYERS
QB J.J. McCarthy — The junior quarterback looks to build on first year as starter, when he completed more than 64 percent of his throws for 2,719 yards and 22 touchdowns. McCarthy is considered one of the Big Ten’s best returning quarterbacks and his success (especially through the air) could help determine whether this Michigan team can win it all.
RB Blake Corum — The senior running back was in the Heisman Trophy conversation before a season-ending knee injury sidelined him for Michigan’s games against Ohio State, Purdue (Big Ten title game) and Texas Christian (Fiesta Bowl). Now he’s back and healed up, hoping to duplicate his incredible junior year (1,463 yards, 18 TD). He’ll have to contend with Donovan Edwards, who could be in the mix for more carries, but the backfield tandem is considered one of the best in college football.
OG Zak Zinter — The consensus first-team all-Big Ten lineman elected to return for one more season, foregoing an opportunity to become a Day 2 pick in the NFL draft. Zinter spearheads an offensive line coming off back-to-back Joe Moore Awards, and this year features plenty of talent and experience. Now it’s about putting it all together.
TE Colston Loveland — He broke out as a freshman, and if you listen to people close to the program they’re quietly beginning to compare his ceiling to that of Jake Butt. Loveland has big-play potential written all over him, evident by the 16 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman. Expect to see the Wolverines use the tight-end position plenty this fall, especially Loveland and his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame.
WR Cornelius Johnson — If Michigan is going to elevate its game and become a true national title contender, it must become a threat through the air. And the senior receiver is considered the leader of the group, having caught 32 passes for 499 yards and six touchdowns last season, including a breakout performance in the win over Ohio State. Johnson is the alpha male of the group, the team’s top outside option, and will be a focal point of the passing attack.
No. 5 Michigan football faces No. 10 Penn State
DT Kris Jenkins — Another key lineman who chose to return, the 6-foot-3 defensive tackle has bulked up to 305 pounds and by, all accounts, become a force in camp. Look for him to help anchor a stout, aggressive and much improved defensive line this fall.
LB Junior Colson — The junior linebacker quietly led the team in tackles last season (101) while playing through an injury, and is poised for an All-American season on the defensive side of the ball. Colson looks bigger, stronger and is all healed up, making him a bowling ball-like threat over the middle.
CB Will Johnson — Another true-freshman standout, Johnson established himself as a bonafide starter during the second half of the 2022 season and came alive during the Big Ten title game. He has future All-American written all over him with his speed and playmaking ability in the backfield, making this season an intriguing one for the Detroit native
S Rod Moore — A former three-star recruit, Moore has really blossomed into an elite, reliable safety, leading the backfield in tackles (72) and interceptions (4) last season. He returns for his senior year and might be Michigan’s best defensive back.
Offense —
QB: 1. J.J. McCarthy, 2. Jack Tuttle OR Davis Warren
RB: 1. Blake Corum, 2. Donovan Edwards
LT: 1. Karsen Barnhart OR La’Darius Henderson
LG: 1. Trevor Keegan, 2. K. Barnhart OR L. Henderson
C: 1. Drake Nugent OR Greg Crippen
RG: 1. Zak Zinter, 2. Andrew Gentry
RT: 1. Trente Jones OR Myles Hinton
TE: 1. Colston Loveland, 2. AJ Barner
WR: 1. Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson, Tyler Morris
Michigan vs. Colorado State football
Michigan defensive back Rod Moore (19) celebrates his interception during the game against Colorado State at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. (Neil Blake/MLive.com)Neil Blake/MLive.com
Defense —
NT: 1. Mason Graham, 2. Cam Goode
DT: 1. Kris Jenkins, 2. Kenneth Grant
EDGE: 1. Jaylen Harrell, 2. Derrick Moore
EDGE: 1. Braiden McGregor OR Josaiah Stewart
LB: 1. Junior Colson, 2. Jaydon Hood
LB: 1. Michael Barrett OR Ernest Hausmann
CB: 1. Will Johnson, 2. Amorion Walker OR Keshaun Harris
CB: 1. Josh Wallace, 2. Mike Sainristil
NB: 1. Mike Sainristil
S: 1. Rod Moore, 2. Zeke Berry OR Quinten Johnson
S: 1. Makari Paige, 2. Zeke Berry OR Quinten Johnson
K: 1. James Turner, 2. Tommy Doman
P: 1. Tommy Doman
Michigan football practice on Thursday, Dec. 29
KEY STORYLINES
1. Can Michigan finally win it all? It’s been more than 25 years since the Wolverines last claimed a national title, sharing a piece of it with Nebraska in 1997. Since then has been a long slog with multiple coaches, the BCS era and now the College Football Playoff, where Michigan has landed a berth the past two seasons. This is Jim Harbaugh’s most complete (and experienced) team to date, setting the stage for what may be the program’s best shot to do it.
2. Suspensions an early focus. Speaking of Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s three-game non-conference slate will be headlined by the absence of its head coach, suspended for all three in response to an ongoing NCAA investigation into the program. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter has been appointed head coach against East Carolina, while three others have been assigned duties for the games against UNLV and Bowling Green. Oh, and the Wolverines will be without Sherrone Moore, their offensive coordinator, play caller and offensive line coach, for the opener, too.
3. How do they split up the carries? Heisman Trophy contender and the Big Ten’s running back of the year, Blake Corum, is back alongside playmaker Donovan Edwards, making for an intriguing season on the ground. How does Michigan plan to split the carries between the two backs? Both backs have dealt with various injuries over the years, suggesting lighter loads and a more cautious approach to the run game might be coming.
4. What’s the run/pass split look like? Michigan has made the running game a focal point of its offense the past two seasons, and it was taken to the extreme last fall when the Wolverines finished with a 61-39 split. Jim Harbaugh predicted a more balanced, even split this summer, suggesting that coaches might look to throw the ball a bit more with J.J. McCarthy back behind center.
5. Can the defensive line generate more pass rush? It’s been a point of emphasis this offseason, pushing the interior players (Mason Graham, Kris Jenkins, Kenneth Grant) to get off the ball quicker and get more push inside. The hope, of course, is to help break free the edge guys and get to the quarterback sooner, helping all facets of the defense. It was a struggle last season, with the group generating just five sacks and four quarterback pressures while leaning on Mike Morris (gone), edge rushers and linebackers to help force the quarterback’s hand.
6. Breakout seasons expected on defense. With several options on the edge, linebacker Junior Colson and safety Rod Moore back for their junior seasons, and Will Johnson poised to make a sophomore leap, the Michigan defense is full of players ready to shine. The Wolverines have touted the unit as a no-frills, no-stars unit under coordinator Jesse Minter, who presided over a top-10 group a season ago. While they look to fill the holes left by the departed Mazi Smith and Mike Morris, they believe there’s enough talent and depth to make up for it and then some. How good can this defense be? It starts with this group, their ability to stay healthy and find a reliable second cornerback.

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