2019 is a critical season for the University of Michigan football program. Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines have underachieved in the eyes of many pundits. If the 2019 season ends with anything less than a berth in the Big Ten Championship, the questioning whispers over whether Harbaugh was the right choice will get louder.
If the Wolverines want to silence the critics, these five players hold the key to the team being in contention to win its first conference championship since 2004.
5. Christian Turner Sophomore- Running back
With the graduation of Karan Higdon and suspension of Chris Evans, there is an opportunity Turner to step in and become the lead back in new offensive coordinator, Josh Gettis, #speedinspace offense. Tru Wilson has the experience, and true freshman Zach Charbonnet has the accolades but last season Turner showed enough speed and power to become the lead back for a U-M offense that is trying to move away from the “three yards and a cloud of dust” mentality.
4. Kwity Paye – junior Defensive End
Good teams don’t rebuild, they reload! With Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary moving on to the NFL, it is Paye’s opportunity to continue the tradition of Michigan being one of the top defensive teams in the nation. Paye showed glimpses of big-play ability in limited action, but it will be his ability to set the edge as a run defender that will pay greater dividends. Michigan’s defense finished 23rd in the nation against the run, allowing 128 yards per game, but against Florida and Ohio State, it allowed a total of 507 yards. Given a larger role this season, Paye’s tackle-for-loss numbers will improve which will help the defense.
3. Lavert Hill – senior Cornerback
This season, Hill has an opportunity to add his name to a long list of talented and successful cornerbacks to don the winged helmet, but it won’t be easy. The early departure of David Long and unexpected illness of junior Ambry Thomas put pressure on Hill to take his play to the next level — he only had one interception in 2018.
2. Josh Ross – junior Linebacker
The linebacker plays an integral part of the Don Brown defense and now its time for Ross to step into a leadership role that was fortified by the play of Devin Bush. Ross may not have the sideline-to-sideline speed that Bush possessed but, he is more than capable of stepping into the starting role and play effectively. Considering the team’s struggles with crossing routes, it will be imperative that Ross learned from the misfortunes of last season.
1. Shea Patterson – senior Quarterback
Over the years Michigan has failed to live up to high expectations, and part of the reason was poor and inconsistent play at the quarterback position. In 2019, Shea Patterson hopes that his play in games that matter will be elevated and result in meaningful wins. The word out of Ann Arbor is that Patterson has quickly adapted to the offense laid out by the new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. But Michigan fans are taking these early reports with a grain of salt until it translates on the field.