With so many starters back, Michigan football ‘a train that kept on rolling’

Published Aug. 07, 2023, 4:14 p.m.
By Andrew Kahn |
In sports, there are teams that are fortunate enough to reload and others forced to rebuild from one year to the next. Michigan football, entering the 2023 season, is able to resume.
The Wolverines bring back most of their starters from last season’s team, which won a school record 13 games and didn’t lose until the College Football Playoff. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is back along with eight of his 10 assistants, including both coordinators.
The large number of returners has made for a seamless transition from the end of last season -- a disappointing loss to TCU in the semifinals -- to winter conditioning to spring ball and, now, to the start of fall camp.
“It really is just a train that kept on rolling ever since TCU,” Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy said on Monday. “We ran into a little bit of an obstacle, but that train kept moving. All the guys that came in -- the young guys, the transfers -- they hopped on and helped us push all the way from the start of this winter offseason.”
Each of the past two seasons, Michigan beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten, and reached the playoff. There’s no indication Michigan has lost any of that momentum heading into the Sep. 2 season opener against East Carolina.
A big reason is roster continuity. McCarthy returns, as do the top two running backs from last season, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. Three starters from the nation’s best offensive line are back (plus a fourth who started six games). The defense lost just three starters.
In total, Michigan brings back 81 percent of its offensive and defensive production, according to an ESPN story
Published in February, a figure that ranks fifth in FBS.
“It’s nice to have a lot of dudes come back,” offensive lineman Zak Zinter said. “It’s not really one of those rebuilding years that some teams have. It kind of felt like we came in and just picked up right where we left off.”
Michigan was voted second in the preseason coaches’ poll, released Monday. Expectations are high outside of Schembechler Hall, and surely within the facility, but the Wolverines will try to ignore the hype.
“What we did last year doesn’t matter,” edge Jaylen Harrell said. McCarthy cited a saying from a high school coach: “Don’t eat the cheese.”
It’s a good problem to have -- and better than the alternative, where players talk about changing the culture after a down season or two. That’s where Michigan found itself following a 2-4 season in 2020. It was during that season that McCarthy, not yet enrolled at Michigan, told fans, via social media, to have faith that things would improve.
On Monday, he compared the program back then to an arrow being drawn in a bow, about to be released.
“That arrow is still soaring through the air,” he said, “and it’s reaching new heights.”

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