After a week off, we are back with the latest installment of the Michigan mailbag.
A lot has happened since the previous edition. The football team looked potentially underrated in a season-opening win at Minnesota - then fell flat in an upset loss to Michigan State, easily the worst defeat of Jim Harbaugh's tenure. The basketball team, meanwhile, still has a few weeks before the season begins. But, in a single day, it landed a five-star recruit and found out that transfer Chaundee Brown would be immediately eligible.
And, of course, you might've heard that an election occurred this week. But this is not that type of mailbag.
To the questions!
STATE OF WOLVERINES: Harbaugh and the reality of U-M's inexplicable purgatory
ON THE COURT: Michigan basketball needs Eli Brooks to become that lead guard
INDIANA IS NEXT: Harbaugh wants to turn page; 'We gotta attack this day'
Where will Michigan football and basketball be in 5 years? - @colintj
Let's start with the easier section of this two-parter. You can never really safely predict a championship season in basketball, given the nature of the NCAA tournament. But, based on how Juwan Howard has recruited - especially in this current cycle, with Michigan's 2021 class ranked No. 1 nationally - I think he will have at least one team with legitimate title aspirations. He has landed prospects that don't project to be one-and-done types but should still be good multi-year contributors, which is the foundation for any team with championship hopes. He may supplement those players with the occasional one-and-done - such as five-star wing Caleb Houstan, who will provide an immediate impact as a freshman. Howard has one son, Jace, on the team and another, Jett, is a recruit in the 2022 class. This offseason, he also emphatically shot down rumors of interest in NBA jobs after teams were reported to be interested in him as a head coaching candidate. Provided he is still in Ann Arbor, and based on what we've seen from him so far, Michigan should be a safe bet to make the postseason every year. That should be the baseline expectation given what Howard inherited and the work he has done since. And, as outlined above, there are signs to suggest the roster could be talented enough to accomplish even more.
Football ... that's the tougher part. Jim Harbaugh has one year left on his contract after this season. It would be disastrous for the Wolverines' recruiting if he entered the 2021 season without an extension, with opponents able to sow discord and uncertainty - more than they already have. And recruits would be fair to question what the future in Ann Arbor would look like. Meanwhile, Harbaugh said this past offseason that, while he would expect "an announcement sometime," there were "bigger fish to fry" for the athletic department as it dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. It's not hard to envision him signing an extension that would allow him and his staff to recruit without worrying about the future. But, given the team's downward slide, it's honestly hard to see him around in five years.
In your experience, how much can one game (i.e. a horrible loss to in-state rival) shift recruiting tides? - @Max_Marcovitch
Michigan's loss already seems to have given Michigan State new life on the recruiting trail. The Spartans' class is ranked No. 44 nationally and No. 10 in the Big Ten, but they seem poised to add a major target on Nov. 9 when four-star defensive tackle Rayshaun Benny announces his commitment, according to the 247Sports Crystal Ball. Benny also happens to be a major target for Michigan, which held all of the Crystal Ball projections before Saturday's loss. By itself, losing one recruit probably won't change Michigan's bottom line - despite Benny's status as a highly-touted prospect at a position of need. But the Wolverines opened themselves up to another competitor on the trail when they had a chance to establish firm control of the rivalry with a third consecutive win. Now, they are besieged on all sides by Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State and Michigan State. And the Spartans - despite a surprising loss to Rutgers in the opening week - have more than just hope to sell.
[ Think Michigan-MSU rivalry doesn't matter to recruits? Think again ]
What's a fair expectation for Michigan's offensive line and run game going forward, after two extremely different showings in the first two weeks of the season? - Maxwell B.
Michigan State's success in defending the run game gave other teams a blueprint to stop Michigan. That blueprint: Load up the box, identify the pulling offensive linemen and attack the gap - which then forces Joe Milton to beat you through the air. The level of difficulty of Milton's throws differed greatly between Minnesota (a lot of screens and easy completions) and Michigan State. It makes sense for teams to try to force Milton, who hasn't had much success throwing downfield, to air it out. It's up to Michigan's offense and coaching staff to figure out how to adapt. If they can, it will be easier to run the ball. If they can't, well, you could see results like Saturday's again.
[ Why U-M's cornerbacks must have 'a short memory' ]
Should we expect carries to be split by committee, or will 1-2 guys start to dominate the workload? - @Kevin_M_Santo
So far, the workload has been pretty even: Hassan Haskins has 14 touches, Blake Corum has 13, Zach Charbonnet has 11 and Chris Evans has nine. Running backs coach Jay Harbaugh appeared on the 'Inside Michigan Football' radio show this week and said that the rotation would continue. But he also left open the possibility that the Wolverines could ride the hot hand within games - which they seemingly did against Michigan State, when Haskins was the only back to have any success on the ground, with eight carries for 56 yards. (The other three combined for 13 carries and 28 yards.) The answer to this question really depends on the situation. Michigan believes the four running backs offer different skill sets, which is why all four are playing. But their coach seems open to having less of a distribution if one back is considerably more successful than the others.
Is Michigan officially a basketball school yet? - @fdesmond4
Probably not. But it depends. I feel like the two sports are in completely different positions. And as a result, fans have differing expectations - and love - for each program at their favorite school. Basketball's postseason includes 64 more teams than football's. Teams with a seemingly overwhelming talent advantage (think Duke or Kentucky) don't always win - and don't always make it past the first and second weekend of the postseason, either. In college football, there is a cluster at the top, with the same teams seemingly fighting for a championship every year. LSU just ended a four-year run where Clemson and Alabama alternated championships. There's more parity in college basketball. Teams also see their rivals twice (or potentially three) times a season, and, if they get hot at the right time, can still have a successful year while losing double-digit games and barely finishing above .500. In college football, most fans would be calling for the coach's head if they lost 10 times in one season. These sports are just very different in general, which is why it seems rare to encounter someone who cares about both equally; usually one of the two sports will have a stronger grip on their fandom.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan mailbag: Why Juwan Howard should compete for a title soon