This is part 3 of WCBN Sports’ Preview of Michigan Football 2019:
Alex: We’re back for the third and final part of our season preview for Michigan football. Today we look at the schedule, and let’s start with this: what stands out to you most?
Evan: The last three home games are against Michigan’s three biggest rivals: Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State. I don’t think that has ever happened before. I don’t even know if we’ve ever played all 3 teams at home in the same season. This is absurd.
Alex: Good year to own season tickets, eh?
Evan: It really is. A season opening night game against MTSU, non-conference meeting with Army, and division crossover game with Iowa round out an awesome home schedule. I think they might be playing a high school team at home one week? Can’t remember that team’s name but I think it starts with Rut.
Alex: But, while Michigan gets the big three rivals at home, it is a brutal schedule. Phil Steele calls it his #9 toughest schedule in the country and obviously November 30 looms as by far the most important game on the schedule. But outside of Ohio State, which game do you think is the toughest on the schedule?
Evan: I already know what you think is second, but I think it’s the Notre Dame game. In terms of talent, they’re the second best opponent behind only Ohio State. Add in that it’s a rivalry game and comes after back to back road games including a trip to Happy Valley (which I think you’re about to dive into a little deeper) and it scares me quite a bit. The one nice thing for Michigan is that it’s 1) the most lose-able game in that it doesn’t affect their standing in the conference and 2) the last lose-able game if they have conference title and/or CFP aspirations.
Alex: Notre Dame is by far the second best team on the schedule in my mind, but the intimidating environment in State College is always daunting. Penn State has a tough defense and if it’s a night game, it catapults to number two in my book. But we don’t know if it will be at night or at 3:30 (or could be noon?), and to me that is an important distinction. Happy Valley in mid-afternoon isn’t a big difference with the usual road game. But Happy Valley at night is second only to Kinnick. And with a top twenty team in PSU that is loaded with blue chip talent ... that's not a pushover.
That said, I do have a lot of questions about Penn State, largely on offense with a new QB and another year farther away from Joe Moorhead.
Evan: This feels like a make or break year for James Franklin. He has to prove he can win without the three headed monster of Joe Moorhead/Trace McSorely/Saquon Barkley that propelled the program back to national relevance. That game could be massive for both teams.
Since you brought up Iowa in that Kinnick namedrop, does that one scare you at all? It’s a noon game at home against a much less talented team, but Iowa is among the most consistent and difficult to beat teams in the conference regardless of venue.
Alex: Iowa is Iowa. They have the same blueprint year after year. They’re going to be physical and tough, with good offensive and defensive lines, relying heavily on the TE’s offensively. And they have talent! They have two potential first round picks at tackle in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, in addition to potential top 5 NFL Draft pick in DE AJ Epenesa. I actually picked Iowa to win the B1G West this year (it was a tossup between a bunch of teams) and they’re absolutely good enough to beat you if you’re not on your game, but the ceiling is not super high. The Hawkeyes won’t be dynamic, but they’ll be a tough 8-4 team and at home, if you’re a B1G Championship team, that’s a game you should win, period.
Evan: Agreed. The non-rivalry home game that scares me a little bit more is Army. They obviously aren’t an extremely talented team, but they went 11-2 a year ago and one of those losses was a one possession road loss to CFP team Oklahoma. They run the ball more than anyone in the country, literally, and with a young, inexperienced interior defensive line, Michigan will be tested early. It shouldn’t be all that close, but with so few possessions, Michigan’s offense and front seven will need to play extremely well against a disciplined team.
Let’s shift gears. What’s your biggest trap game?
Alex: It feels too easy to say it, but quite obviously Indiana. The Hoosiers have always given Michigan fits since Harbaugh arrived, playing a pair of OT games in Bloomington and two nerve-wracking games at the Big House. Indiana is a talented team with playmakers on offense (Stevie Scott, Westbrook, Hale) and a new scheme, also being motivated to finish 6-6 after falling a game short each of the last two years. Tom Allen always has his guys ready to play and a week before Ohio St., the Wolverines have to be careful. How about you?
Evan: I think you hit on the biggest one, but I’ll talk about Maryland instead. It’s another road game and it comes after a rivalry game (ND) before a bye and then another rivalry game (MSU). Maryland should be worse than Indiana, and having a bye helps, but it’s a road B1G game so…
Alex: Well there’s also the added intrigue between the ongoing feud between Josh Gattis and new Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, who seem to bickering about who gets more credit for Alabama’s offensive explosion last season. It’s going to be a project for Locksley in College Park, but he inherits a team with some talent in transfer QB Josh Jackson and RB Anthony McFarland, who had a huge season last year. Both Maryland and Indiana have the distinction of being in between the big games and could theoretically get lost in the shuffle. Any final schedule thoughts?
Evan: It’s a difficult slate overall but it’s set up fairly well. Michigan starts out with one of their easiest games of the year, has a bye week before a road trip to Wisconsin, and a bye week before playing Michigan State. The only truly brutal stretch is @Penn State followed by Notre Dame at home. If this team plays to the potential we’ve described in the previous two articles, they should be able to get through it with a [prediction redacted] record.
Alex: I too am very fearful of making a prediction after years of coming up short. What I will say is it’s a manageable schedule, more so than last year, which featured the three rivals all on the road. Michigan is currently favored in every game and it could stay that way wire to wire. There are a lot of talented teams but the Wolverines definitely have the ability to make it through and win the conference, potentially even running the table. But with so many tough opponents, the potential for disappointment is also high. So it goes in the Big Ten East.
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