Wednesday was busy in Ann Arbor.
The morning kicked off with an announcement from the Big Ten that the college football season would begin on October 24, with teams playing a nine-game schedule with a special cross-divisional game during championship week.
Then the shaking really started.
Newsbegan trickled out that quarterback Dylan McCaffrey fighting for the runway scheduled to sign out for the season and transfer. Around that time, the offensive tackle by Jalen Mayfield’s father, Brian, reiterated to the Free Press that his son had no intention of reconsidering his decision to opt out and sign up for the 2021 NFL draft. hours later, Sports Illustrated reported that star receiver Nico Collins had signed with Drew Rosenhaus news that, in all likelihood, means that Collins will not be joining his teammates on Oct. 24.
Take a moment to catch your breath.
There is a lot to process.
The main takeaway is this: college football is back. It will look very, very different. And Michigan, one of the most visible programs in the country, looks like Example A for how the Big Ten’s long layoffs and early postponement can affect a roster.
And that’s for a team that went into spring at No. 125 in recurring production, according to Bill Connelly from ESPN. Which means that an insecure team just became more insecure.
Collins was the star recipient to return to Ann Arbor for his senior season and looked ready for a big year on the offensive. Mayfield, as a junior, was the most promising candidate on the team. Ambry Thomas was the team’s No. 1 cornerback, but now it’s moving to the NFL draft. And McCaffrey was the program’s most experienced and prolific returning quarterback.
Michigan isn’t the only Big Ten team facing departure. Minnesota Rashod Bateman, Penn State’s Micah Parsons and Purdue’s Rondale Moore, three of the conference’s top players, have all opted out during the Big Ten’s delay. And last week, Ohio State’s Shaun Wade joined them in the statement for the NFL draft.
But no other Big Ten program has had as many players sign up for the draft and sign with agents as Michigan, with three players fitting into that category in Mayfield, Thomas and now Collins, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.
As it stands, Michigan will be one of the least experienced teams in the conference. And it will have significantly less stellar power than it did in February.
The Wolverines must replace two of their top three receivers. They must rebuild a line of attack that loses four NFL draft picks in addition to Mayfield. They need to develop two new starting corner ridges. And they need to find a new starter in the most important position of all: Quarterback.
Every team faces depth map issues at one point or another (Michiganunderwenta similar rebuild under Jim Harbaugh in 2017). The big question, however, is what a rebuild during COVID-19 could be. The team has already lost significant development time, with the cancellation of spring football (the Wolverines were one of the teams that didn’t have any spring training) and the hiatus in all athletic activities until mid-June.
Michigan will get a little over a month to prepare for the nine-game season. But can that make up for lost time? Or reduce the learning curve for younger players?
And will Michigan be able to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak? Under the Big Ten’s new protocols, any athlete who tests positive for COVID-19 is 21 days out. And the practice and / or competition could be halted if a COVID-19 outbreak sweeps through the program and the community by 5% and 7.5%, respectively.
For a team already lacking depth in key positions, it cannot afford a loss to COVID-19, which could mean that a player misses 37.5% of the season due to a positive diagnosis. Already teams likeOklahoma have struggled through COVID-19 outbreaks, with Coach Lincoln Riley telling reporters that his team’s season opener against Missouri State had been questioned; other teams such as TCU, SMU and Arkansas State have not been so lucky, with matches canceled due to outbreaks.
Of course, these issues did not come to mind on Wednesday.
Michigan players welcomed the return of college football with open arms and took to social media to voice their excitement.
Harbaugh may have summed it up briefly: “Stay positive. Test negative. Let’s play football,” he said in a press release.
Those words certainly resonated with Michigan fans who have anxiously awaited the return of college football. Now they will just have to wait and see how much of the team they can recognize.
Please contact Orion Sang at[email protected]. Follow him on Twitter@orion_sang. Learn more about the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for ourWolverines newsletter.The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you canget access to our most exclusive Michigan Wolverines content.
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