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2023 Opponent Snapshot: Michigan Wolverines

Michigan has established itself as a top team in the Big Ten over the past two seasons.

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sideline during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Quick 2022 Recap

Jim Harbaugh spent no time showing the world that 2021 was not a fluke by having an even better season than the previous, as they went undefeated in the regular season, pummeling Ohio State on the road along the way, and muscling its way into another Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance.

Of course, the same issue that plagued them in the 2021 season got them last year, and their run would end at just a playoff appearance. This time, it was the defense that could not contain a dynamic TCU offense. The Horned Frogs seized on every opportunity the Wolverines gave them, and went on to face a Georgia team that allowed them to score seven points while dropping a 60-burger themselves.

Offensive Player to Watch: Blake Corum

Arguably the best player on Michigan’s roster, Corum nearly single-handedly took Penn State to the woodshed last season. He’s back for one last go around and, with deserved Heisman hype right off the bat, it’s all but a guarantee that the Michigan offense will run through Corum once more.

An injury to end the 2022 season put a damper on his outstanding year, but he’s spent the offseason rehabbing the knee and should be back by fall camp. By the time Corum faces the Nittany Lions, barring an unforeseen setback, he should be at 100 percent.

Defensive Player to Watch: Junior Colson

With Mazi Smith off to the NFL, Michigan may be relying on its linebackers to continue the defensive pressure they put on opponents in 2022. The most productive of the returning players is Colson, who had 101 tackles in 2022 to go along with 2 sacks.

The Michigan defense as a whole will have plenty of playmakers, and, like last season, it’s likely that they’ll be better as a unit than having one or two stars that take up most of the attention of opposing offensive coordinators.

Penn State Wins if

Michigan is, ultimately, a Big Ten West team with Big Ten East talent. Every team in the West aspires to do what Michigan has done in the past two seasons: Run the ball at will, throw if you must, and keep opponents on their toes by having a quarterback good enough to give the running game a break from time to time.

So Penn State bests the Wolverines by making J.J. McCarthy to take over the game. He’ll have one more year of experience, and one would assume he’d have learned the lesson from the TCU game. Nonetheless, if McCarthy is forced to have to carry the team on his back, the Lions stand as good a chance to repeat what TCU did, as opposed to trying to get into a battle of “who can run the ball good and do other things good too.”

Michigan Wins if

The opposite of the above happens. If Penn State brings the same playbook as last season, lets McCarthy be comfortable by giving Corum and Donovan Edwards highways to run through, and manages nothing on offense by stubbornly trying to run the ball when it’s not working, well, you should expect the same result as last season.