Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Again, focus falls on the trenches.
Michigan, we assume, has made it this far on the strength of its downhill running game—the same way Auburn rode Malzahn's uptempo running game to the title game in 2013-14.
Tennessee, we assume, has made it this far on the strength of its defensive front—a group that, in addition to Barnett and Maggitt on the outside, also boasts two of the biggest incoming freshmen in the country: 5-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie (6'3", 354 lbs) and 4-star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (6'3", 315 lbs).
But in this case, the deciding battle falls across the line: Michigan's defense vs. Tennessee's offense. The Wolverines, led by Harbaugh, former Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and retained defensive line coach Greg Mattison, have what it takes to form a strong front seven next season. Otherwise, they wouldn't be here.
Tennessee's run game, however, would pose an Ohio State-sized threat. The Vols finished No. 32 in adjusted line yards (run blocking) last season, per Football Outsiders, and that was with a crazy young line. Next year, they should finish even higher, which bodes well for blue-chip running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.
Odds Shark lists Hurd, the No. 40 overall recruit in 2014, as a Top 30 Heisman candidate. Kamara, an Alabama transfer and the No. 2 JUCO recruit in 2015, has been the early star of spring practice.
"We know anytime Alvin touches the ball that he can break it," wide receiver Josh Malone said after UT's second spring scrimmage, per Wes Rucker of 247Sports. "As a group of wide receivers, we feel like if we secure the perimeter, he’s gonna have big, big days."
Last year, Ohio State won the national title in what was billed as a precursor season: a year of supposed talent development, growth and experimentation before a serious national title run in 2015.
Tennessee enters next year with the exact same expectations.
Why not the exact same result?
Final Score: Tennessee 31, Michigan 21
Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports' composite rankings.