How the Michigan Wolverines can win the 2021-2022 College Football Playoff

They've surprised many to get there, but can the Michigan Wolverines go all the way and win the 2021-2022 College Football Playoff?

The Michigan Wolverines are in the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history. After overcoming the odds to reach the final four, could they go all the way and win their first college football title since 1997?

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Can the Michigan Wolverines win the 2021-2022 College Football Playoff?

While the Cincinnati Bearcats appear to be the underdog in the College Football Playoff, Michigan has truly defied the odds. The Wolverines are the only team in the final four to have begun the 2021 college football season unranked. Head coach Jim Harbaugh began the season on the hot seat. After losing to Michigan State, Harbaugh’s inability to win the big games made his tenure unstable. As a result, Michigan’s chances of reaching the College Football Playoff was unlikely.

How the tables have turned down the stretch. After beating Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and landing their first Big Ten title since 2004, Harbaugh was named the AP College Football Coach of the Year. The Wolverines are in many respects the hottest team in the nation, steamrolling Maryland, Ohio State, and Iowa in their last three games.

The Wolverines have found an identity on both sides of the ball

For the first time in recent memory, the Wolverines have an identity. They play gritty, Big Ten-style football but with an element of flair. While Harbaugh’s past has earned him the reputation as a quarterback whisperer, his present and — by default — his long-term future is linked to the ground game.

Gone are the days of trying to lean on a quarterback who didn’t quite have the goods. With Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, the Wolverines have one of the most dangerous one-two punches in college football at the running back position. Haskins has rushed for 1,288 yards behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. Corum would have gone over 1,000 rushing yards if it weren’t for injury. The Wolverines rank sixth for total rushing yards in 2021.

Meanwhile, their defense has emerged as one of the most fearsome in college football. Aidan Hutchinson returned for another season in Ann Arbor and has developed into one of the best players in the nation. Having racked up a program-record 14 sacks, Hutchinson earned Heisman Trophy consideration, finishing second behind Bryce Young in the ceremony in New York.

At the opposite end of the defensive line, David Ojabo has emerged as one of the most exciting defensive line prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. A relative unknown before the season, the Nigerian native tallied 12 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and a remarkable 5 forced fumbles this season. While Hutchinson and Ojabo have headlined the Wolverines’ defense, Josh Ross, Daxton Hill, DJ Turner, and many others have made them a fearsome unit.

How can the Wolverines win the National Championship?

For a team that relies on the ground game, Michigan’s bid to win the College Football Playoff faces a difficult challenge in their semifinal. The Wolverines take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The Bulldogs have the third-best rushing defense in the nation. They’ve allowed under 82 yards per game to the rush this season.

However, the Michigan run defense is also no walkover. They’ve allowed just 121.54 yards per game this season. Georgia’s offensive success is predicated on the run. As witnessed in their SEC Championship Game defeat to Alabama, if you force the game into Stetson Bennett’s hands, the Georgia offense crumbles. Although the Bulldogs have allowed just 0.85 sacks per game, Hutchinson and Ojabo provide a different threat altogether.

If they can overcome Georgia, they have the recipe to win a title. The Wolverines’ scoring defense is better than Alabama’s. Michigan’s total offense is better than Cincinnati’s. Compared to their fellow teams in the 2021-2022 College Football Playoffs, Michigan’s strength of schedule has better prepared them for facing the sternest of tests. The Wolverines’ SOS is the 10th-hardest. Meanwhile, Georgia and Alabama rank in the 20s. There’s been enough conversation this season about Cincinnati’s strength of schedule.

The Wolverines have had more explosive plays this season than the rest of the teams in the College Football Playoff. They’ve allowed fewer than their potential opponents, too. Meanwhile, they’ve been able to dominate time of possession. If they can combine all these things over the final two games of the season while staying true to their identity, a Michigan 2021-2022 National Championship awaits.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson.

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