2024 Michigan Wolverines Will Look Very Different Than Team That Just Won National Championship

By Dan Hope on January 26, 2024 at 8:35 am
Sherrone Moore
Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan football team that takes the field in 2024 will look very different from the one that won the national championship in 2023.

Of the 22 players who started for the Wolverines in their national championship win over Washington, only six of them are still with the team: tight end Colston Loveland, wide receiver Tyler Morris, defensive tackle Mason Graham, cornerback Will Johnson and safeties Rod Moore and Keon Sabb.

The Wolverines will have to replace many of their best players who led them to a 15-0 season this past year, including quarterback J.J. McCarthy, All-American running back Blake Corum, leading receiver Roman Wilson, their entire starting offensive line, leading tacklers Junior Colson and Michael Barrett, star nickelback Mike Sainrstil and three starting defensive linemen (Kris Jenkins, Jaylen Harrell and Braiden McGregor).

Key Departures from Michigan’s 2023 National Championship Team
Pos Player 2023 Impact
QB J.J. McCarthy Big Ten Quarterback of the Year
RB Blake Corum All-American running back
WR Roman Wilson Second-team All-Big Ten wide receiver
WR Cornelius Johnson Team’s second-leading wide receiver
TE A.J. Barner John Mackey Award semifinalist
LT LaDarius Henderson First-team All-Big Ten offensive tackle
OL Karsen Barnhart Second-team All-Big Ten offensive tackle
RT Trente Jones Three-game starter at right tackle
LG Trevor Keegan Second-team All-Big Ten guard
RG Zak Zinter All-American guard
C Drake Nugent First-team All-Big Ten center
DE Jaylen Harrell Team’s sack leader
DE Braiden McGregor 15-game starter at defensive end
DT Kris Jenkins Second-team All-Big Ten defensive tackle
LB Junior Colson Second-team All-Big Ten linebacker
LB Michael Barrett Third-team All-Big Ten linebacker
CB Mike Sainrstil All-American slot cornerback
CB Josh Wallace 11-game starter at cornerback

They’ll have to do all of that with a new head coach after Jim Harbaugh left the Wolverines to lead the Los Angeles Chargers. They could have to do it with a brand new group of coordinators, too; offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore is expected to be the new head coach, but defensive coordinator Jesse Minter and special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh are both expected to follow Jim Harbaugh to Los Angeles. (Update: Moore was officially named Michigan’s new head coach Friday night.)

Pair all of that with a challenging regular-season schedule that includes road games at Ohio State and Washington as well as home games against Texas, USC and Oregon, and the Wolverines will have to clear plenty of hurdles to make the College Football Playoff – even with its expansion to 12 teams – let alone defend their national championship.

Michigan’s 2024 Regular Season Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 31 Fresno State
Sept. 7 Texas
Sept. 14 Arkansas State
Sept. 21 USC
Sept. 28 Minnesota
Oct. 5 @ Washington
Oct. 19 @ Illinois
Oct. 26 Michigan State
Nov. 2 Oregon
Nov. 9 @ Indiana
Nov. 23 Northwestern
Nov. 30 @ Ohio State

From Ohio State’s perspective, none of that is to say that the Buckeyes can afford to view Michigan as anything less than a major threat once again this year. On paper, Ohio State was the more talented team than Michigan for the past three years, too, yet the Wolverines won all three games. Moore already proved he could win in The Game by guiding Michigan to a 30-24 win over Ohio State as acting head coach with Harbaugh suspended this past November.

Michigan should still have one of the nation’s best defensive lines, led by the standout defensive tackle tandem of Graham and Kenneth Grant and a talented pair of returning edge rushers in Josaiah Stewart and Derrick Moore. Its secondary should still be excellent, too, led by an All-American cornerback in Johnson and a terrific trio of safeties in Moore, Sabb and Makari Paige. Donovan Edwards and Kalel Mullings give Michigan a dynamic pair of running backs, while Loveland is one of college football’s best tight ends.

That said, the offensive line that has been the foundation of Michigan’s success for the past three years is a major question mark for the Wolverines entering 2024. So too is quarterback, where the Wolverines could be poised to turn to a QB who didn’t attempt a single pass last season (Alex Orji) or a true freshman (Jadyn Davis) barring a late transfer addition.

Alex Orji vs. Ohio State in 2023
Alex Orji could be Michigan’s starting quarterback in 2024 even though he didn’t attempt a pass in 2023. (Photo: Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK)

And while Michigan did an excellent job last season of filling its holes through the portal, the Wolverines have added only two new transfers for 2024: former Northwestern guard Josh Priebe and former Maryland linebacker Jaishawn Barham. Both of them are experienced Big Ten players who should be plug-and-play starters for the Wolverines, but they don’t project to be as impactful as Ohio State’s additions of Caleb Downs, Will Howard and Quinshon Judkins.

Winning in November is much more important than winning in January, and the Wolverines have consistently done that over the past three years. At least some of the coaches who helped lead Michigan to those wins will likely still be a part of the new staff, and the anticipated promotion of Moore will likely ward off a mass transfer exodus like that which happened at Alabama following Nick Saban’s retirement.

Even if Ryan Day and Ohio State are now clear favorites to beat Michigan this year – the betting line for The Game, which opened at 3.5 points on FanDuel Sportsbook two weeks ago, has since climbed to 6.5 – the Buckeyes still have to make it happen. The departures of Harbaugh and many of Michigan’s biggest stars from its championship run only increase the pressure on Day to turn the tables in the rivalry; a loss to the Wolverines this year would be the toughest one yet to excuse.

But while Michigan finished the 2023 season on top of the college football world, Ohio State has been the team building momentum to start the 2024 offseason. While the Buckeyes are building what they believe should be a championship roster for the season ahead, the Wolverines will start their title defense season with far less returning experience than they had a year ago.

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