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Top 25 Countdown: No. 5 — Michigan

Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

College football is on its way back, so we continue with the Today’s U Top 25 preseason rankings. We’re trotting out a new team each day. We started at No. 25 and we’ll build each day until we reach No. 1.


Last Season: 10-3 (6-2 Big Ten East, won 41-7 against Florida in the Citrus Bowl).

Last Five Seasons: 41-23 (four bowl games).

Coach: Jim Harbaugh (second year, 10-3).

Overview: It didn’t take Jim Harbaugh long to get some attention. The Wolverines posted their first double-digit-victory season since 2011, finishing with a smashing bowl-game victory against Florida. He made a big splash in recruiting. He held spring football in Florida and worked satellite camps all over the map.

Player To Watch: WR Jehu Chesson. He’s the latest great receiver from Michigan and he’s poised for another breakout performance. Chesson, voted Michigan’s Most Valuable Player last season, had 50 receptions, 764 yards, a 15.3-yard average and 12 touchdowns.

Top Newcomer: DL Rashan Gary. Who else? Gary, a 6-foot-5, 293-pounder, was the top-ranked recruit in America. Expectations are high that he will show up in a big way, beginning with Michigan’s Sept. 3 opener against Hawaii.

All-Conference Potential: TE Jake Butt, DL Ryan Glasgow, DB Jourdan Lewis, OL Erik Magnuson, DL Chris Wormley.

Key Question: Who’s the quarterback? The Wolverines got solid play last season from Jake Rudock, the graduate transfer from Iowa. Now it’s likely a choice between Houston transfer John O’Korn, a senior who had 34 touchdown passes in a season-and-a-half with the Cougars, and sophomore Wilton Speight, who led a fourth-quarter comeback at Minnesota.

Best Unit: Defensive line. It’s old-fashioned Big Ten football. The Wolverines will flat get after you on the front line. There’s considerable size with Chris Wormley (6-5, 305), Ryan Glasgow (6-4, 300) and Taco Charlton (6-6, 285), but surprising mobility as well. Last season, Michigan recorded 32 sacks and limited opposing running games to 3.6 yards per carry. And this doesn’t even mention the expected emergence of five-star recruit Rashan Gary.

Good Stat: Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin fled to take the head-coaching job at Maryland. Harbaugh promptly hired Don Brown, who helped Boston College rank first nationally in total defense (254.3 yards per game) last season.

Bad Stat: Michigan has had just 1,000-yard rusher since the 2007 season. Last year’s running game managed just 158.2 yards per game, good for 83rd nationally.

Big Game: Nov. 26, at Ohio State. Captain Obvious reporting for duty! After surrendering a six-touchdown scoring fest in each of the past three meetings — losing 42-13, 42-28 and 42-21 — Michigan is seeking to break a four-game losing streak at the hands of its biggest rival. Once the Wolverines break through, it’s on. With Jim Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer, the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry hasn’t seen such flavor since Bo Schembechler vs. Woody Hayes.

Final Words: Harbaugh remains king of the quick fix. The Wolverines, floundering for a few seasons, are up and running, while establishing themselves as legitimate contenders for the College Football Playoff. Michigan’s defense should be a given. If the quarterback issue resolves itself and a better version of the running game emerges, the Wolverines could run the table and win the Big Ten title. Either way, Harbaugh will make it interesting.

Next: No. 4 Oklahoma.

ICYMI: No. 6 Clemson; No. 7 Tennessee; No. 8 LSU; No. 9 Notre Dame; No. 10 Stanford; No. 11 Michigan State; No. 12 Ole Miss; No. 13 Washington; No. 14 Baylor; No. 15 Houston; No. 16 Georgia; No. 17 San Diego State; No. 18 TCU; No. 19 Louisville; No. 20 USC; No. 21 Iowa; No. 22 North Carolina; No. 23 Oregon; No. 24 Oklahoma State; No. 25 Florida.

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