By: Will Burchfield
In many ways, Michigan’s season went as expected.
There was promise and potential, but ultimately too much inexperience to overcome.
The Wolverines closed out the regular season with a record of 8-4 and 5-4 in the Big 10 after Saturday’s loss to Ohio State. It wasn’t the most gratifying campaign — Michigan didn’t beat a single winning team — but just wait for what’s next, says senior Khalid Hill.
“This team, two, three years down the line, will be one of the best teams in college football, in my eyes,” said Hill. “You have to understand that these young guys are getting their first year of experience, some guys (their) second year, so imagine these guys having three or four years of experience.
“That’s going to be dangerous, a dangerous team. I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys do next year and a couple years from it.”
Thanks to a senior-laden roster in 2016, Michigan relied heavily on its underclassmen in 2017. Three freshmen and seven sophomores started versus Ohio State on Saturday and 29 underclassmen in total appeared in the game. 18 of them were defensive players.
Hill said several youngsters caught his eye over the course of the season.
“Khaleke (Hudson), Devin (Bush), Donovan (Peoples-Jones), Carlo (Kemp), Sean (McKeon), every young guy on this team that’s played a lot of minutes and helped us be the team that we are today. Even though we came up short and had some losses, they helped us a lot. Without them we wouldn’t be here, so I applaud those guys,” said Hill.
Senior linebacker Mike McCray echoed Hill’s comments.
“They’re going to be a great team. They have a lot of fight, especially on defense,” said McCray. “I can see a bright future for this team.”
Michigan had a top-five recruiting class this year and will surely add to that talent next year. Senior defensive end Chase Winovich said the Wolverines were just “a few pieces” from beating Ohio State on Saturday for the first time in six years.
“I told some of the recruits in the locker room today, ‘If anything, you should be more motivated than ever to come here and win this game.’ They see our faces and how much it hurts, and know how close we are. The feeling that we get, we can taste it, we’re right there,” Winovich said. “The whole game we’re battling and we’re a few pieces or inches away, in my mind.”
On top of a stout defense, Michigan is building a strong passing attack. Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, who missed Saturday’s game with a concussion, should take over next season, while the freshman receiving duo of Tarik Black and Peoples-Jones will be reunited and ready to make plays in the air.
Black missed most of the year with a foot injury. Peoples-Jones did most of his damage on special teams, as he demonstrated on Saturday with a 42-yard punt return that set up Michigan’s second touchdown.
“Heck of a play by Donovan. He’s been really good, spectacular at times,” said Harbaugh. “As a true freshman, that speaks volumes (about) what kind of player he is, to be able to go out there and make plays in his very first year. Just the consummate guy. Really glad he’s on our team, just does everything right. He’s a do-stuff-right guy, in all phases. One of our most favorite players.”
Asked what he learned about his team this season, Harbaugh said, “They’re fighters. They work, they don’t complain, they don’t whine, and I love coaching them. That’s going to continue. We’re going to keep going on the same demanding, punishing path, and keep improving and getting stronger.”
“Need to get stronger, need to get better,” he added. “That’s our mission.”