Saturday’s game will mark Senior Day for at least 11 scholarship players and several walk-ons. As the weekend approaches, we rank the top performances this season from the Senior Class and where their career would rank among their peers.
1 RB Karan Higdon – I’m sure there will be debate about putting Higdon No. 1 for impact this season, but consider what he has done:
• In rushing for 100 yards or more in seven straight games, he reached a milestone that hadn’t been done by a U-M running back in 11 years (Mike Hart, 2007).
• More than backfield counterparts Chris Evans and Tru Wilson, Higdon helped establish a culture of success in the ground game that had been missing from the Wolverine program in at least five years (since Denard Robinson graduated in 2012).
His tough, hard-nosed style -- he has picked up a first down or TD on 25 of 35 short-yardage situations this year (two yards or less) -- combined with an ability to hit the home run (seven rushes of 30 yards or more, second in the Big Ten) make him one of the most complete backs in the country, and offers a skill set U-M has not had since Brandon Minor (2006-09).
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 2
2 DE ChaseWinovich – We all love Winovich. No doubt he is a heart-and-soul player for the Maize and Blue, but his numbers just aren’t as significant as Higdon’s – Winovich is on pace for 15.5 tackles for loss in a 13-game schedule, a tally that has been done five times previously in the past two seasons under coordinator Don Brown.
That said, one of those players was Winovich himself, who had 18.0 TFL in 2017 and will finish his career with more stops behind the line of scrimmage than any player since linebacker Jake Ryan had 45.5 from 2011-14 – Winovch is on pace for 42.5 with at least three more guaranteed contests, and could surpass Ryan with a great finish.
If this was a career distinction he would rank first (and in fact does – see italics). This is a little bit like choosing between children. You love ‘em both, but you like one a little more right now because of recency bias.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 1
3 S Tyree Kinnel – Talk about someone who is not getting his due. Kinnel is second on the team with 53 tackles this year. He doesn’t get the love that fellow safety Josh Metellus is getting, largely because he doesn’t have the sexy stats – Metellus has three picks and four pass breakups while Kinnel has one PBU and no interceptions – but he’s also not asked to cover wide receivers like his teammate.
What Kinnel is asked to do is keep everything in front of him, and to that end, he’s been incredibly successful this year; Michigan’s defense ranks seventh nationally in big plays allowed, just 27 of 20 yards or more, and only four of 40 yards or more (just three teams are better).
As a captain, Kinnel has also been a strong influence in the locker room, giving a post-game speech after the loss to Notre Dame in Week 1. He’s Mr. Reliable, and a big part of the reason this defense has been so consistent game after game.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 3
4 RT Juwan Bushell-Beatty – I don’t have exact numbers on Bushell-Beatty’s pass pro efficiency or his run-blocking grade but I can tell you that since the first week of the season, I haven’t once worried about JBB keeping defensive ends at bay. His physicality has also been one of the driving forces of a successful running game.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 5
5 CB Brandon Watson – Watson is just the second player in school history (and first since Thom Darden in 1971) to have two pick-sixes in the same season. He leads the Wolverines in interceptions (three), is second in pass breakups (six) and is first among cornerbacks with 30 tackles, all while splitting reps in coverage.
When Watson announced he was coming back for a fifth year, there was a little bit of snickering from some, convinced he would play second fiddle not only to returning juniors David Long and Lavert Hill but he would also be passed on the depth chart by sophomore Ambry Thomas and perhaps true freshman Myles Sims.
But from the get-go, when he had an interception against Notre Dame, Watson has been superb, consistently one of Michigan’s best covermen (on a team full of them), its best secondary playmaker and a strong tackler. He has given Brown the ability to rotate his cornerbacks, akin to the way the defensive line has thrived by a strong rotation that keeps its players fresh.
Watson will leave Michigan with a senior-year legacy that will be remembered fondly for years to come, and no one would have said that at the end of the 2017 season.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 6
6 WR Grant Perry – It’s been a strange season, and really a strange career, for Perry. After a strong debut as a freshman, with 14 catches for 128 yards, Perry has caught just 54 balls the past three seasons. This year started with a bang – five grabs for 48 yards at Notre Dame – but he’s had just 11 catches since, an average of 1.2 receptions per contest. In fact, he’s gone two straight games without a catch.
Perry is a selfless player and a strong blocker, always willing to do what is best for the team. You don’t hear him peep about a lack of targets, even as he’s seen sophomores Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins become bigger focal points offensively.
He made one of the biggest plays of the year on a pass breakup that was on its way to becoming an interception as Michigan and Michigan State were tied 7-7 in the third quarter of the Wolverines’ eventual 21-7 victory.
A lack of touches (and really opportunities) is not Perry’s fault – U-M’s 244 pass attempts this year ranks 113th nationally – but he’ll likely leave Michigan with many wondering what could have been had he been featured more consistently. Perry, however, probably won’t care one bit (nor should he) if he leaves with a Big Ten title and a college football playoff appearance.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 4
7 DT Bryan Mone – Mone was once considered Michigan’s best player, before a foot injury sidelined him for the entire 2015 season. When he returned to action as a sophomore in 2016, many expected him to be the dominant player he was billed to become. It didn’t happen, and there was a feeling of being letdown in 2016-17 (which wasn’t fair to Mone).
This fall, expectations were tampered way down, and while he’ll never be remembered as an all-time great, Mone has been a very strong support player for the Wolverines along the interior of the defensive line.
He has actually started all 10 games this year at nose tackle. He ranks second among defensive tackles with 12 tackles and is third with 1.5 tackles for loss. He’s been a consistent contributor, and can hold his head high when he takes his helmet off for the last time.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 8
8 FB Jared Wangler – Had Michigan signed two more recruits in the 2018 class, Wangler likely would have been told there wasn’t a spot for him on scholarship on the 2018 roster. But that’s not how it went down, there was room, and Wangler worked tirelessly to transition to fullback and become someone the coaches could trust.
He’s been that and more, sliding in as a backup to sophomore Ben Mason and playing heavy reps against Northwestern, Maryland and Wisconsin. He had his first career catch at Northwestern, picking up nine yards on Michigan’s game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown drive. He also scored a touchdown, on a seven-yard grab, against Maryland.
A football legacy, Wangler will not cast a shadow longer than his father’s, John, a two-year starter at quarterback in 1979-80, but with his play this year, Jared can at least step out of his father’s, with his performance standing on its own merit.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 10
9 DT Lawrence Marshall – Like Mone, Marshall was once talked about as an emerging player, but poor practice habits, injuries, and just getting beat out by better players caused him to tumble down the depth chart year after year.
Marshall worked over the last year to evolve into a defensive tackle, and he’s been able to step in when needed as injuries to juniors Michael Dwumfour and Carlo Kemp limited their play earlier in the season.
Marshall has produced eight tackles and a pass breakup, and like many on this list, will be remembered for playing a positive role in his senior season.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 9
10 SLB Noah Furbush – A five-game starter in 2017 at SAM linebacker as the Maize and Blue worked to develop Khaleke Hudson in the Viper role, Furbush was a valuable player early in 2017 and remained a steady performer throughout his junior campaign.
He returned for a fifth year and has been a part-time player for the Wolverines this year, but the team can always count on him in the snaps he does get (about 15 per game).
Furbush has contributed five tackles, a pass breakup and had an interception against Western Michigan.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 7
11cDB Casey Hughes – In terms of impact, Hughes falls into the same category of cornerback Wayne Lyons (2015) as opposed to quarterback Jake Rudock (2015) among grad-transfers.
There was a little bit of buzz about the former Utah Ute after he appeared in 11 games defensively in 2017, but it never materialized at Michigan, largely because the Wolverines weren’t desperate for help in the secondary.
Hughes has yet to record a statistic this season and probably won’t.
Career Rank Among Seniors: No. 11