Positive news: Returned players live up to their promise to lead Michigan to a national championship

The Wolverines had a lot of players return this year to make it back to the playoff.

“But we’ll be back, and I promise that.”

One line, one quote from quarterback J.J. McCarthy laid the groundwork for the 2023 season.

McCarthy was disappointed after the Wolverines’ loss to TCU in last season’s College Football Playoff, but he was

already considering the upcoming season. He had no idea how accurate he would be.

McCarthy, who was nearing the end of his second season, was always going to be the Wolverines’ quarterback in 2023, but other players had important decisions to make. Zak Zinter, a right guard, is Michigan’s best offensive lineman and might have easily left for the NFL. Mike Sainristil had the option to leave after making significant progress as a defensive back and coming off of a few excellent games.

The list is endless. Left guard Trevor Keegan, defensive lineman Kris Jenkins, and linebacker Mike Barrett are among the others. They could all have gone, but they chose to stay.


But there was still one more guy who had a decision to make — running back Blake Corum. He was coming off a huge season in which he might have won the Heisman had his season not been cut short due to injury. His stock was a high as it could have been and he could have easily bolted for the NFL, but he stayed thanks to some “unfinished business.”

The Wolverines were ignited by Corum’s comeback, which laid the foundation for an incredible season. With 25 touchdowns, he established the single-season record for Michigan and has made play after play at the ideal moment.

Not just Corum’s return had a significant effect. Despite suffering a serious injury against Ohio State, Zinter was named a unanimous All-American. Barrett leads the team in stops with 61, including three sacks; Jenkins has been reliable with 35 tackles and 2.5 sacks; and Keegan has been a rock on the offensive line.

Sainristil, who finished 2023 with 36 tackles, two sacks, five interceptions, and two pick-sixes, has been the defensive standout. He has developed into one of college football’s top defensive backs and has produced some of the Wolverines’ biggest plays of the year.

Every individual who returned for a last year of college has left his mark. They all played a significant role in leading the Wolverines to their first-ever trip to the CFP National Championship Game, and they will have the opportunity to give Michigan its first national championship since 1997 on Monday.

It all began with a straightforward statement from McCarthy, and on Monday in Houston, history might be created.

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