As eligibility expires for key players at Michigan State and the NFL beckons for Ohio State's studs, Michigan football's roster will remain largely intact for 2016.
The Wolverines will compose the veteran unit of the Big Ten, and college football followers saw in 2015 how dangerous depth of experience can be when watching Iowa run the table during the regular season.
Next year, Michigan will discover if continuity under head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff translates to defeating raw talent with similarly elite coaching.
Although the Maize and Blue must replace a handful of team leaders—most notably quarterback Jake Rudock, center Graham Glasgow as well as linebackers Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan—a strong majority of Michigan's standouts will return.
Second-team AP All-American tight end Jake Butt and cornerback Jourdan Lewis have announced their intentions to come back for another season. First-team All-Big Ten receiver Jehu Chesson is sticking around, and defensive back Jabrill Peppers cannot bolt for the pros quite yet.
Six more offensive starters—including versatile lineman Mason Cole and leading pass-catcher Amara Darboh—and 10 notable defensive contributors are also eligible to return.
Compare that to the program's two biggest rivals, and Michigan has a significant advantage.
Ohio State is losing a stunning nine underclassmen to the professional ranks, which is a testament to the stellar player development in Columbus. Combined with the handful of NFL-bound seniors, though, the Buckeyes are set to undergo a major transitional period.
Now, this isn't the death of Urban Meyer's Ohio State. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise. MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner shares that sentiment:
As long as quarterback J.T. Barrett is healthy, the offense can thrive. Additionally, the program is working on its sixth straight 247Sports composite top-10 recruiting class. The Buckeyes will remain a formidable opponent.
Nevertheless, will Ohio State excel right away and sustain a high level of success? That's a lot of change to overcome and unproven talent to infuse while attempting to meet lofty—maybe undefeated—expectations.
Michigan State's forecast likely won't be as optimistic from the national crowd.
The Spartans will be without Connor Cook, Aaron Burbridge, Jack Allen, Jack Conklin, Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas, Darien Harris, RJ Williamson and a few other meaningful pieces.
Again, doubting the coaching staff isn't smart, but those are multiyear team leaders. Programs rarely brush off that kind of turnover. Were it not for a tremendous defensive performance to stun Ohio State, the questions surrounding MSU would be louder.
If the Spartans feature an elite defense, they shouldn't have much of a problem reaching the 10-win mark again. Considering Malik McDowell, Riley Bullough, Demetrious Cox and potential sixth-year senior Ed Davis will headline the unit, elite can happen.
But another Big Ten title? "It's possible, though perhaps not probable," MLive.com's Mike Griffith said.
The knocks on reloading Ohio State and Michigan State aren't to say the Wolverines are obvious front-runners for the East Division crown. That title may fall on the Buckeyes because of Barrett.
Besides, not only is reloading not an insult for MSU and Ohio State, Michigan has clear weaknesses. Who will play quarterback is unknown. The offensive line is improved but not consistently great. Depth at linebacker is a glaring issue.
Plus, the first matchup among any two of the three programs is Michigan at Michigan State on Oct. 29. Cohesion and chemistry will—or won't—be obvious by then. Until shown otherwise, the division title will be won or lost during the three total meetings between Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.
But the 2016 Wolverines will strive to show that experience from Lewis, Chesson, Butt, Peppers and the rest of the returning players is a more important asset than their rivals' promising, yet unproven talent.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.
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The North Dakota State Bison won the FCS Championship in 2011—and no one else has since.
However, if the No. 3 team in the country wants to win its fifth-straight title, it's going to have to beat the No. 1 team in the land.
The Jacksonville State Gamecocks come in with a 13-1 record in their first appearance in the championship game.
Head coach John Grass watched film of past North Dakota State games when he took over as head coach in 2014, per Tyler Greenawalt of NCAA.com.
“I wanted to see how the best did it,” Grass said. “I wanted to see where the bar was.”
It looks like that strategy may have paid off, as he has his team one win away from a championship.
What: NCAA Division I Football Championship
When: Jan. 9
Where: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Time: 12 p.m. ET
The Defending Champs vs. The Upstarts
North Dakota State may come into the game ranked lower, but rest assured Grass will not be overlooking the Bison, per Greenwalt:
I studied that film inside and out and to kind of see where the direction, where you needed to be at in recruiting and what type caliber athletes you needed to compete at this level, because they are the standard. You've got to go through North Dakota State to win a National Championship. I think that's where the bar is at right now.
The Bison have overcome adversity this season to get where they are. Star quarterback Carson Wentz was lost for the season after he broke his wrist in an Oct. 17 loss to the South Dakota Coyotes.
The senior had completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,454 yards, 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions prior to the injury. The Bison had lost their second game in a season for the first time since 2010, and head coach Chris Klieman said many wrote off his team, per Greenwalt.
“People thought, well, the Bison are probably done,” Klieman said. “Then when Carson Wentz got hurt, I would have said most people didn't think this team probably was going to maybe even get to the playoffs, let alone make a run.”
Boy, were they wrong.
North Dakota State hasn't lost in eight games since, despite playing with a freshman at quarterback, Easton Stick, who has filled in admirably with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The two teams feature different styles—at least in the playoffs—and one will have to break in order to crown a champion.
Jacksonville State has been bullying opponents in the playoffs with plays like this during its 62-10 victory over Sam Houston State in the semifinals, per FCS Football:
While the Gamecocks have been lighting up the scoreboard, it might not be as easy to do against the Bison, per FCS Football:
No matter what happens, as FCS Football shows here, it should be a good game considering the success each head coach brings to the table:
With one day left until game time, final practices and preparations are being made, but Klieman said once the ball is kicked off, it will come down to nothing more than who wants it the most at that moment, per Greenwalt.
“All those things are little things that maybe take some of the nerves away. But it's going to play no factor once we kick that thing off at 11 o'clock [CT] against a great football team."
For Grass, he's just glad his team has a chance to make history, per Greenwalt.
“We're excited about an opportunity to play in this game and have the opportunity to play for a National Championship,” Grass said. “It's going to be a great game.”
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