The Michigan Wolverines closed the 2019 season in all-too-familiar territory as they were run out of the building, again, in the finale against Ohio State, and followed that up with an uninspiring performance in the Citrus Bowl against Alabama in a 35-16 blowout defeat.
And that was with a veteran roster littered with experience on the two-deep.
Headed into 2020, the Wolverines have just 10 returning starters and will have to navigate through another challenging slate of games, but because of the Big Ten's decision on July 9 to employ conference-only schedules for all fall sports, one matchup Michigan doesn't have to worry about anymore is on the road against Washington to open the season. There are still contests against Big Ten elites Wisconsin and Penn State, and, of course, The Game against Ohio State in Columbus.
Here's how we rank the Wolverines' Big Ten-only slate (which could change) this season from easiest matchup to most difficult.
9. Nov. 14 at Rutgers
After winning the first-ever matchup between the two squads back in 2014, Rutgers has now been outscored 256-37 in the last five meetings with the Wolverines. It's unlikely the 2020 version is any different, even with Greg Schiano back in charge.
8. Nov. 7 vs. Maryland
Michigan has won eight of the nine matchups with Maryland since the Terrapins joined the Big Ten with only one contest (Maryland win in 2014) decided by fewer than 10 points. Second-year head coach Mike Locksley has this program trending in the right direction if their recent recruiting is any indication, but this will be a multi-year rebuild in College Park.
7. Oct. 24 vs. Purdue
If, and that's a big if, Purdue can settle on an adequate starting quarterback in 2020, this offense has a chance to be among the best in the conference with record-setting sophomores Rondale Moore and David Bell back at wide receiver. Along with the QB competition, the Boilermakers have major questions on defense, finishing 12thor worse in the Big Ten in every major category.
6. Nov. 21 vs. Indiana
Make it 24 consecutive victories now for the Wolverines over the Hoosiers after defeating Indiana in Bloomington last season 39-14. The Hoosiers notched their first eight-win season in 26 years in 2019, and head coach Tom Allen has this program on an upward trend, but competing with the Big Ten's upper-echelon teams has been a consistent issue for Indiana. The Hoosiers could have one of their most explosive offenses in years with ascending quarterback Michael Penix Jr., along with running back Stevie Scott and wideout Whop Philyor.
5. Oct. 10 at Michigan State
Rivalry games on the road can always be troublesome, especially against a team in Michigan State that has given the Wolverines fits over the last decade. But a new coaching staff is in town, and the Spartans are replacing a dozen starters. This is a matchup that should heavily favor the Maize and Blue.
4. Sept. 26 vs. Wisconsin
The home team has won each of the last four matchups between these teams, with the Badgers posting a 35-14 blowout a year ago. Does that trend continue? Wisconsin seems to always find a centerpiece of the offense at running back year in, and year out, but replacing Jonathan Taylor and three starters along the offensive line will be a tall task.
3. Oct. 3 vs. Penn State
Same trend here as we saw above — the home team has won each of the last four meetings. Penn State should be one of the best running teams in the country with Journey Brown carrying the ball and four starters back up front. More will be needed from the passing game with second-year starter Sean Clifford at quarterback and big shoes to fill outside with the loss of KJ Hamler.
2. Oct. 17 at Minnesota
Michigan has won two of the last three, and eight of the last nine matchups with the Golden Gophers, but the two teams haven't faced each other since 2017. A lot has changed since then, with P.J. Fleck bringing in top talent to Minneapolis and having the Gophers in the conversation for a conference championship. The Wolverines will have their hands full on the road with an offense that features top talent at the skill positions and an offensive line that brings back all five starters.
1. Nov. 28 at Ohio State
Goes without saying at this point, right? This is, and will always be, the most difficult game on the Wolverines' schedule, especially if the Buckeyes continue to recruit at the clip they've been going on in recent years. With this season's matchup being at the Shoe, barring unforeseen circumstances, Ohio State will likely be a double-digit favorite one again entering The Game.
Note: Schedule subject to change. Prior to the Big Ten's decision to go with a conference-only schedule, Michigan's scheduled game with Ball State (Sept. 12) would have ranked last (12th) on this list. The Wolverines' Sept. 19 home date with Arkansas State would be ninth and the Sept. 5 opener at Washington would have checked in at No. 5.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.