Wolverines' revamped Big Ten schedule offers little breaks for team replacing a bunch of starters
After a tumultuous offseason where Big Ten football was going to happen, then canceled, and is now back on again, the crew here at Athlon Sports is finally ready to make some predictions for the Michigan Wolverines in 2020.
The new modified eight-game slate for the Maize and Blue features a number of possible pitfalls, beginning right off the bat with a trip to Minneapolis in Week 1 against P.J. Fleck and the Minnesota Golden Gophers which got a boost recently when star receiver Rashod Bateman opted back into the season regained eligibility. It doesn't get any easier from there with an in-state matchup the following week against Michigan State, followed by a crossover matchup against Wisconsin and a late November home contest against Penn State. Add in The Game against Ohio State on the road in the final week to close things out, and the schedule makers at the Big Ten offices did the Wolverines no favors in 2020.
Rebuilding is not a word often used in Ann Arbor, but with this slate of games, combined with Michigan having to replace numerous starters on both sides of the ball from a year ago, and this may not be a year for high expectations from the Wolverines.
Michigan Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Michigan is a hard team to get a read on this preseason, but there’s some upside here with breakout quarterback Joe Milton poised to start and the return of Jalen Mayfield to anchor the offensive line. Nico Collins’ decision to opt out was a significant loss, but coach Jim Harbaugh has playmakers at running back and receiver to utilize. As usual under coordinator Don Brown, the defense should be a strength. Opening the season against Minnesota isn’t easy, and Michigan has to play Penn State and Ohio State in two out of their last three games. If Milton quickly lives up to the hype, the Wolverines should be able to steal an upset and bump their record closer to 6-2 or even 7-1.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Before the Big Ten announced its initial postponement, Michigan was looking at a rebuilding situation from the standpoint that 12 starters would have to be replaced. Through all of the starts, stops, and starts again, the Wolverines have seen several players either opt out or announce they were leaving the program. While starting right tackle Jalen Mayfield has changed his mind and is returning, Michigan won't be whole as wide receiver Nico Collins is sitting the season out, cornerback Ambry Thomas has said he's declaring for the NFL draft, and quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, projected by some to be the starter back in the spring, has said he is transferring. So no matter how you look at it, the Wolverines will have a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball and don't have the benefit of a full or even typical offseason to prepare. Michigan is too talented to drop too far down the Big Ten East standings, but this doesn't look like the season the Wolverines will make their first appearance in Indianapolis either.
Mike Bainbridge (@MBainbridgeCFF)
As bad as this sounds, this might be the best time for Michigan to have an abbreviated schedule, as many viewed 2020 as a possible rebuilding year for the Wolverines with a new starting quarterback, revamped offensive line, and new faces on defense. That said, there is still plenty of talent in Ann Arbor to make some noise in the conference. The Wolverines have a dynamic duo at running back with Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins, a potential All-Big Ten tackle in Jalen Mayfield, and arguably the best pair of defensive ends in the conference in Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson. The biggest question mark is at quarterback with junior Joe Milton taking over with just 11 career passing attempts in two years. Who knows, maybe things get wacky for the Wolverines in 2020, because hasn't everything been that way this year, and they find themselves challenging for the Big Ten title come November. It's been that kind of year to this point where nothing should come as a surprise.