The Michigan Wolverines fell short of their ultimate goal last season, losing to TCU 51-45 in the first round of the college football playoffs. First-year starter J.J. McCarthy played incredibly well at times, while making mistakes and throwing key interceptions at other times.

Michigan competed better against the Horned Frogs than they did against the Georgia Bulldogs in the playoffs the previous season, and now it’s up to coach Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines to put it all together in time to win it all in 2023.

The team will need several players to step up to the plate if a national championship is to become a reality. Here are the top five:

1. Will Johnson- 

The sophomore cornerback is getting a great deal of praise thus far as the season draws closer. Johnson has the coverage skills, hitting and tackling ability to be the best cornerback Michigan has had since Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.

With Mike Sainristil, Rod Moore and Makari Paige joining him in the defensive backfield, Johnson has the support he needs to become the best defensive back in the Big Ten and one of the best nationally. For Michigan to win it all, Johnson will have to make big plays in big games, similar to Woodson in 1997.

2. J.J. McCarthy- 

The La Grange Park, Illinois native has a rocket for an arm and is one of the best running quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Against TCU, he looked hesitant at times and often telegraphed throws that would have been big gains in the Big Ten.

For McCarthy to take the next step, Michigan will need to prioritize the passing game more in 2023, something Harbaugh has already promised. Michigan can beat even the second tier Big Ten teams by simply rushing the ball. McCarthy needs more reps and more practice putting the game on his shoulders to get used to making the tough throws when the defense knows it’s coming.

3. C.J. Stokes/Benjamin Hall- 

Michigan’s depth at running back was found lacking last season when Heisman candidate Blake Corum suffered a season ending injury. Donovan Edwards filled in admirably, but was beaten up by the end of the season, sporting a cast on his right arm.

Edwards’ skill as a pass catcher was mostly nullified later in the season.

Stokes, a sophomore, and Hall, an incoming freshman, can help to pick up the slack in 2023.

The hope for Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore is that the competition between these two leads to improved depth and overall strength at the running back position. Both Stokes and Hall have what it takes to spell Edwards and Corum in the long and short-term. At this stage, it’s a matter of both players getting enough reps to learn the offense and honoring the process.

4. Sherrone Moore- 

Moore is said to be one of the brightest assistant coaches in college football. This year, he will take over complete offensive coordinator duties now that Matt Weiss is no longer in Ann Arbor after an alleged computer access related impropriety.

Moore is known to favor the ‘ground and pound’ style of offensive attack. Harbaugh, meanwhile, is touting aspirations of a 50/50 split between passing and running on the offensive side of the ball.

How the offense progresses and handles challenges along the way could decide whether Michigan has what it takes to beat the most successful recent programs in college football including Ohio State and a potential college football playoff opponent.

5. Braiden McGregor/Josaiah Stewart- 

A young defensive end from Port Huron, McGregor has the size, strength and skills to become a dominant pass rusher. Still, he has much to prove at the position as he has yet to turn in a full season as an impact defensive lineman.

Edge rusher Jaylen Harrell has shown the ability to get after the quarterback and ball carriers in the backfield, while transfer linebacker Ernest Hausmann from Nebraska has shown the same ability.

With Eyabi Okie gone from the transfer portal, McGregor or someone else will have to step up and become a first class pass rusher. Derrick Moore, a sophomore defensive end, and Coastal Carolina transfer Josaiah Stewart also have the skills to make life miserable on opposing quarterbacks.

Watching defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s pass rushing pecking order take shape over the course of the season could provide clues as to whether Michigan’s defense will be as stout as in previous seasons or not.

The primary pass rusher will have plenty of help from the interior defensive line, as Kris Jenkins and Mason Graham are poised to cause havoc in the backfield.


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