×

Unranked Michigan Wolverines football team opens season with a chip on their shoulders

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh speaks during Big Ten Conference media days on July 22 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP file photo)

By LARRY LAGE

AP Sports Writer

ANN ARBOR — Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines are looking forward to a fresh start.

They need one.

College football’s winningest program is coming off a rough season, even by pandemic standards. Michigan won just two games, lost four and had three canceled due to a COVID-19 breakout.

And in recent seasons, the team with the winged helmets and rich tradition has lost luster and relevance nationally as losses against better teams — particularly rival Ohio State — have piled up.

The Wolverines will open the season unranked in The Associated Press college football poll on Saturday against Western Michigan at the Big House, where they were winless in 2020.

“There’s a much bigger chip on our shoulder as a team,” receiver Mike Sainristil said Monday. “We have a lot to prove. I feel like regardless wherever we are, whether it’s rankings or however people view us, I just feel like we’re underdogs for some reason.”

Perhaps that’s because as an underdog in six years under Harbaugh, Michigan is 0-11.

While that mark won’t get tested as a heavy favorite against the Broncos, it likely will on the night of Sept. 11 against No. 20 Washington and it probably will again against the No. 4-ranked Buckeyes at home to close the regular season.

At least for starters, the Wolverines are going with redshirt sophomore Cade McNamara at quarterback. He beat out highly touted freshman J.J. McCarthy for the job as the returning player expected.

“I didn’t doubt it,” McNamara said.

McNamara took the first snap of the team’s last game — a loss to Penn State in late November — and he played in three other games as a backup. He was 43 of 71 for 425 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

“Last season was very upsetting,” McNamara said. “I got hurt in the last game, which really my first, like, real start. That was obviously very frustrating. Everyone’s aware of what happened last season and I think we’ve done enough, this offseason to for sure, set up a season that’s going to be different.”

Michigan will have a new look on defense, but no one in maize and blue is willing to say too much about how Mike Macdonald’s scheme will be different from Don Brown’s blitz-heavy, man-to-man preferences.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh speaks during Big Ten Conference media days on July 22 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP file photo)