ANN ARBOR, MICH. – While Jim Harbaugh’s absence from the sidelines in Ann Arbor for the season opener has been getting plenty of attention, even his absence cannot hide the fact Michigan figures to be one of just a handful of teams that has the potential to unseat Georgia as the top team in the country when the dust settles on the 2023 college football season.
The Michigan coach was suspended by the school’s athletic department on Aug. 21 as part of self-imposed sanctions in an ongoing NCAA matter related to its football program.
Harbaugh will miss the first three games of the season, including Sept. 2 when the Wolverines open the season at home against East Carolina. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter will serve as interim coach for that game, while duties were also assigned for the other two contests that Harbaugh will miss as a result of the sanctions.
Sherrone Moore, the offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, will coach the Sept. 16 game against Bowling Green. Jay Harbaugh (special teams coordinator/safeties coach) and Mike Hart (run-game coordinator/running backs coach) will split the coaching duties in the final game of Harbaugh’s absence when Michigan plays host to UNLV.
Michigan swept through the regular season last year and defeated Purdue in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. A setback to TCU ended the Wolverines’ record at 13-1 on the season.
When the season begins Saturday inside iconic Michigan Stadium (cap. 107,601), the Wolverines will look to put the disappointing end to the 2022 season once and for all. It will be the first-ever meeting between Michigan and East Carolina.
And the Wolverines have every reason to be optimistic as the new season prepares to get underway.
After all, they return 88 players who have started at least one game during their time at the school. And Michigan, already the all-time leader in wins, has a chance of adding to that record. The Wolverines need 11 wins to reach 1,000 in their storied history of football at the school.
Blake Corum (5-8, 213, Sr., RB) returns to lead a Michigan offense that averaged three rushing touchdowns per game in 2022. And Corum was responsible for much of that.
Despite missing two games because of an injury, he rushed 247 times last season for 1,463 yards (5.9 ypc) and scored 18 touchdowns a year ago on his way to becoming a consensus All-American for the Wolverines after averaging 121.9 yards per game on the ground.
Corum posted single-game career-highs in rushing attempts (33 vs. Michigan State), yards (243 vs. Maryland) and touchdowns (5 vs. Connecticut) last season.
He was awarded the Silver Football by the Chicago Tribune as the most valuable player in the Big Ten and was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year. Corum went on to finish seventh in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.
In his career wearing the winged helmet of Michigan, Corum has appeared in 30 games and has amassed 2,492 yards on 417 carries (6.0 ypc) and has scored 31 touchdowns.
Entering the season, Corum is 17th on Michigan’s all-time rushing list. With a third straight season with at least 1,000 yards, he would pass Rob Lytle (3,317 yards) and could surpass Chris Perry (3,696 yards) and move into No. 7 on the school’s all-time list. He is tied with Steve Smith for seventh place with 31 career rushing touchdowns. With 10 scoring runs this season he would tie position coach Mike Hart for fourth place in that department at Michigan.
Donovan Edwards (6-1, 210, Jr.) is being counted on to provide Corum with a quality running mate out of the backfield for the Wolverines.
Last season, Edwards ran for 981 yards on 140 carries (7.1 ypc) and scored seven touchdowns. He rushed for 216 yards, 85 of those on an 85-yard scamper against Ohio State last season in the regular season finale between the two arch-rivals. He also tallied 200 yards receiving on 18 catches and two additional scores for the Wolverines last season.
Corum and Edwards have a chance to become just the second set of running backs to both go over 1,000 yards in a single season with big campaigns in 2023.
The only duo in school history to have already accomplish that feat are Rob Lytle and Gordon Bell in 1975.
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy (6-3, 202, Jr.) began his career as a starter at quarterback with 12 straight wins before suffering his first loss in the setback to TCU in the national semifinal game.
He finished the year with 2,719 passing yards after completing 208 of his 322 aerial attempts and threw for 22 touchdowns. He also rushed 70 times for 306 yards.
McCarthy’s favorite target through the air is expected to be Cornelius Johnson (6-3, 208, Sr., WR), who caught 32 passes for 499 yards and scored six touchdowns a year ago. He has appeared in 46 games (31 starts) in his Michigan career and has 1,484 yards on 91 catches and 13 TDs as a Wolverine.
Zak Zinter (6-6, 315, Jr, OL) and Trevor Keegan (6-6, 320, grad., OL) are expected to be stalwarts along the offensive front for the Wolverines. And both could be among the best in the conference at their positions.
Zinter, who started 31 games in his career at Michigan, was charged with just one sack and six hurries on 325 pass-blocking snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Keegan, meanwhile, has started 23 games as a Wolverine and joined Zinter as an all-conference selection in 2022.
The Michigan defense also has its share of standouts returning in the new season.
Junior Colson (6-3, 247, Jr.), a linebacker, is the active leader with 162 total tackles in his first two seasons at the school. Included in that total are 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He has also registered one fumble recovery and three pass breakups in his 28 career games, 21 of those as a starter.
Last season, Colson paced the Wolverines with 101 total tackles, including a career-high 15 tackles in the win over Purdue in the Big Ten Championship. He had six tackles for loss on the season. He registered at least five tackles in 11 games last season.
Kris Jenkins (6-3, 305, S., DL) tallied 54 total tackles last season for the Wolverines, including 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. His 31 run stops in 2002 were the most among all defensive interior players and was graded as the third-best against the run among all interior Power Five players.
Mason Graham (6-3, 318, So., DL) and Will Johnson (6-2, 202, So., DB) were both voted freshmen All-Americans after standout seasons in 2022. Graham, whose 80.3 grade by Pro Football Focus, was the best by a true freshman in 2022, finished his first collegiate season with appearances in all 14 of Michigan’s games and tallied 27 total tackles, including 2.5 sacks.
Johnson, meanwhile, tied for highest grade (88.2) by a Power Five true freshman at any position. He was also graded at 91.1 in man coverage. He also appeared in all 14 games (five starts) last season and recorded 26 total tackles (20 TFLs) and had three interceptions.
Sept. 2 EAST CAROLINA
Sept. 9 UNLV
Sept. 16 BOWLING GREEN
Sept. 23 RUTGERS
Sept. 30 at Nebraska
Oct. 7 at Minnesota
Oct. 14 INDIANA
Oct. 21 at Michigan State
Oct. 28 Open Date
Nov. 4 PURDUE
Nov. 11 at Penn State
Nov. 18 at Maryland
Nov. 25 OHIO STATE
(9-0 Big Ten/13-1 Overall)
W-COLORADO STATE 51-7
W-at Iowa 27-14
W-at Indiana 31-10
W-PENN STATE 41-17
W-MICHIGAN STATE 29-7
W-at Rutgers 52-17
W-at Ohio State 45-23
Big Ten Championship at Indianapolis, Ind.
W-vs. Purdue 43-22
College Football Playoff at Glendale, Ariz.
L-vs. TCU 51-45
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.