Michigan’s Mike McCray, left, is a captain of the team this season. His father, Mike, also was a captain, but with rival Ohio State in the late 1980s. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
ANN ARBOR — There are 17 new starters at Michigan this fall, and that doesn’t include entirely revamped special teams.
With all the new faces, perhaps the most intriguing is someone who could be the fourth option at his position.
When Kareem Walker committed to Michigan’s 2016 recruiting class, it was Jim Harbaugh’s first major coup. Walker, rated by many as the top running back recruit, redshirted last season after struggling in the classroom. Unheralded freshman Chris Evans surpassed Walker, as did Karan Kigdon and Ty Isaac.
Now, Walker is embracing a chance at redemption. It started with an impressive spring campaign, and it’s continued in the fall with spirited practices.
“He’s just improved in every regard,” Michigan running backs coach Jay Harbaugh said. “He has strung together many, many practices in a row. He’s healthy, has a better grasp of the playbook. He’s running like a physical presence we need him to be because he’s a bigger back and can run downhill with force.”
At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Walker cuts an imposing figure. His muscular frame gives him a dose of power, and Walker’s burst of speed yields yardage.
“He doesn’t have quite as much elusiveness,” Jay Harbaugh said. “But when he sees a hole, he can put his foot in the ground and really hit it with some violence. That in and of itself is almost a form of elusiveness.”
This wasn’t the journey Walker expected — he thought he’d be an every-game player as a freshman, like fellow New Jersey native Rashan Gary. But his absence from the sideline gave him an opportunity for reflection.
Those humbling moments did not include thoughts of transferring. Running, hiding, or giving up weren’t possibilities.
Walker met his adversity with the same treatment he gives defenders, by diligently dismissing roadblocks. He might be fourth on the running back depth chart, but his name is sure to ring familiar.
ROAD WARRIORS: One year after eight home games — and nine games total in the state of Michigan — the Wolverines only have six in Michigan Stadium. They play one nonconference game away from home (Florida in Arlington, Texas) and are a victim of the Big Ten’s nine-game schedule, with five games on the road. Michigan has just three home games before Oct. 27, and there are two sets of consecutive Big Ten road games.
DIFFERING ODDS: Las Vegas loves Michigan.
Despite losing 17 starters, the sports betting capital of the world gives UM the seventh-best odds at winning the national championship. The Wolverines are at 18-1, behind Alabama (5-2), Ohio State (9-2), USC (7-1), Florida State (9-1), Oklahoma (12-1), and Auburn (16-1).
Interestingly, though, they only have the fourth-best odds to win the Big Ten at 6-1. Ohio State is an overwhelming 20-23 favorite. Wisconsin (3-1) and Penn State (5-1) have the second-best and third-best odds.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Michigan a 0.1 percent chance of going undefeated and a 2 percent chance of winning the Big Ten. The Wolverines projected record is 9-3, with losses to Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.
QUOTABLE: “My dad in his fifth year was a captain at Ohio State. For me to be one as well is a surreal moment. How many people can say their dad was a captain at Ohio State and then I’m a captain here at Michigan?” — Fifth-year senior linebacker Mike McCray, whose father, Mike, played at Ohio State from 1984-88.