When a college football team loses 11 starters to the NFL draft, nobody knows quite what to expect. Perhaps that’s why the Michigan Wolverines are picked to finished third in the Big Ten east this year, behind Ohio State and Penn State.

But Michigan fans are used to unpredictability, whimsy, and weirdness. After all, their team has been coached by Jim Harbaugh for the last two years.

If anybody is ready for football season, it’s Harbaugh. Amidst a sea of business suits and button-downs at Big Ten Media Days Tuesday, the 13-year coaching veteran wore his “game-day attire,” Roman Stubbs of The Washington Post reports: “signature khakis, blue V-neck sweater, and ‘M’ block hat.”

When he started calling audibles in the hallways of the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, some attendees presumably had to look around to make sure it wasn’t September already.

“Ohhhh! Be loud! Blue 80! Blue 80!” Harbaugh screamed, per Stubbs, when asked what he expected of a young Michigan quarterback (Stubbs does not specify whom).

It seems Harbaugh already has the “loud” part covered. But the Wolverines’ young players are going to need more than volume if the team is going to put up a fight in a stacked Big Ten which includes a veteran Ohio State squad and the defending Big Ten champion Nittany Lions of Penn State.

Michigan, whose defense tied Alabama’s for fewest total yards allowed (261.8/game), will return just one defensive starter, Stubbs says. The offense, which finished 11th in the FBS with 425.3 total yards a season ago, will return just four of its starters, some of whom may not even start.

“We’ll go through training camp starting on Monday, just throw the balls out there and let the fellows compete,” Harbaugh said, ducking the question of whether or not senior quarterback Wilton Speight would start this year.

The Wolverines, who are among college football’s youngest teams, are bringing in the nation’s fifth best recruiting class, which includes Donovan Peoples-Jones, a five star receiver out of Detroit; Ambry Thomas, a four-star cornerback who also hails from Detroit; and Donovan Jeter, a four-star defensive end from Beaver Falls, PA.

Moreover, Stubbs says Harbaugh “spoke at length” about sophomore defensive tackle Rashan Gary, who was the number one recruit in the nation last season. Gary earned a USA Today Defensive Player of the Year award and a High School All-American designation, and was named the MVP of the UnderArmour All-America game, in which he recorded six tackles and three sacks. Last year, Gary had 23 tackles (12 solo, 11 assisted, 5 for a loss) and just half a sack in 12 games for the Wolverines.

“[Michigan has] recruited really, really well. They’re really talented. They were one of the oldest teams in the country last year, so we’ll see. I don’t think anybody is overlooking them,” Penn State Coach James Franklin said, per Stubbs.

It doesn’t matter much to Harbaugh whether his team is “being overlooked” or not. When asked whether Michigan was “flying under the radar,” Harbaugh said, ““I don’t know if we are, or that it matters. It’s irrelevant. I think we have the license and the ability to be great.”

Michigan was a few points away from being “great” a year ago. 5 points away, to be precise. That’s the combined margin by which the Wolverines lost three of their last four games, including the final game of the regular season, which they dropped to the Buckeyes in double overtime; and the Orange Bowl, in which Michigan fell on a last second touchdown after climbing back from a 20-6 halftime deficit.

Harbaugh said he’s been “avoiding all fun things” since that Orange Bowl buzzer, processing the anguish. But another year is around the corner, and college football, and college football is among the most fluid of games. Last year, Michigan was amongst the CFB’s most experienced teams, and OSU was among the league’s youngest. Now, the situation is flipped. Michigan hopes a few of the score lines might be flipped as well.

And as for Harbaugh, he can’t “avoid fun things for much longer.” It’s hard to imagine the vivacious competitor won’t be smiling a little bit on the sidelines when his team opens its season against the Florida Gators in Arlington, TX on September 2.

Those who don the blue and gold hope he is smiling just as widely when the final buzzer sounds on November 25, when the Wolverines will close the regular season against Ohio State.

In Michigan, this time. The situation is flipped. And having lost their last five matchups with their cross-border rivals, the Wolverines just might be due for a victory.

Featured image via Flickr/Ken Lund