Michigan Preview Football

In this 2019 photo, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh walks out with players during the team’s annual spring NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich. Harbaugh seems to be set up for success at Michigan in his fifth season, leading a program that is a popular choice to win the Big Ten.

The power structure in the Big Ten could be in for a shakeup.

Jim Harbaugh enters his fifth year at Michigan overdue for a breakthrough, and two-time defending conference champion Ohio State is transitioning from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day and replacing a first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback.

Momentum Nebraska built the second half of last season is expected to carry over into Scott Frost’s second year. Wisconsin ceded control of the West with five losses in 2018, and the division is considered wide open with six teams capable of making it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.

Last year, Michigan was in position to win its first conference title since 2004 and make the College Football Playoff for the first time before embarrassing losses to Ohio State and Florida sent Harbaugh into the offseason looking for answers.

The offense returns quarterback Shea Patterson, four starting offensive linemen and an experienced group of receivers. Most important, new coordinator Josh Gattis promises to jazz up the offense with and a fast-paced system featuring run-pass options. The defense lost two first-round draft picks, but there’s plenty of returning talent.

Harbaugh doesn’t disagree with those who pick the Wolverines to win the East and the league.

“I think that’s where I would pick us,” he said.

Why?

“I feel like our team is in a really good place,” he said. “Young, enthusiastic team with players with a lot of good experience. I feel really good about our coaching staff. I feel like it’s good, it’s tight, and we’re proceeding on a daily basis to make it even tighter, even better.”

Nebraska, coming off a 4-8 season, brings back one of the nation’s most dynamic young quarterbacks in Adrian Martinez. Scoring has never been a problem for a Frost team, whether at Central Florida or Nebraska. The biggest question is whether the defense can improve on its No. 94 national ranking.

The Huskers benefit from a schedule that has them playing at home against Ohio State, defending West champion Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.

“Nebraska is one of the teams that for a long time was one of the blue bloods of college football and winning as many game as anybody. That wasn’t built overnight. It’s not going to be built overnight again,” Frost said. “I have a strong sense that we’re way ahead of where we were a year ago, and I think we’ll keep improving from here.”