The Michigan Wolverines finished the 2018 season in all-too-familiar territory as they were run out of the stadium in the finale against Ohio State, and then had a dreadful performance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Florida in a 41-15 blowout defeat.
If Michigan is to finally break through in 2019 and make its first appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Wolverines will have earned it with this year's upcoming schedule. Non-conference bouts are on tap against rival Notre Dame and an Army squad that finished last year with an 11-2 record. Big Ten cross-divisional matchups are against Iowa and Wisconsin, two teams that have given the Wolverines trouble in recent years. And there's still the annual matchups with Penn State, Michigan State and of course, Ohio State.
That slate is not for the faint of heart, and the Wolverines will need all hands on deck in order to accomplish their ultimate goals in 2019.
Byes: Week 3, Week 11
Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. Middle Tennessee (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
The Blue Raiders generally have one of the top offenses among Group of 5 teams, but have to replace a four-year starter at quarterback in Brent Stockstill, who topped 3,000 passing yards in three of his four seasons. Middle Tennessee has talent returning at the skill positions in sophomore running back Chaton Mobley and leading receiver Ty Lee, but that won’t be enough to seriously threaten this Wolverines defense.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Army (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Remember last season when Army went into Norman and pushed Oklahoma to overtime, suffering a narrow seven-point loss? Triple-option teams should never be taken lightly, especially one in Army that finished 11-2 a year ago and brings back its dynamic starting quarterback in Kelvin Hopkins.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 at Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.)
The home team has won in each of the last three matchups between the Wolverines and Badgers, with Michigan winning in blowout fashion 38-13 last year. Does that trend continue for a fourth season? Wisconsin will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, whether that be veteran Jack Coan or true freshman Graham Mertz, but should still have the dominant ground attack we are all accustomed to with reigning Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor back for his junior year.
Week 5 — Sept. 28 vs. Rutgers (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
After winning the first-ever matchup between the two teams back in 2014, Rutgers has been outscored 204-37 in the last four meetings with the Wolverines. It's unlikely the 2019 version of Michigan vs. Rutgers will be much of a contest.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 vs. Iowa (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Michigan fans still have nightmares about that fateful night back in November 2016 as they rode into Iowa City with a perfect 9-0 record before falling to the Hawkeyes by one point on a last-second field goal. The Hawkeyes lose their two best players from last season in tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, but the return of starting quarterback Nate Stanley and defensive end A.J. Epenesa should keep them in contention in the Big Ten West in 2019.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 at Illinois (Champaign, Ill.)
Illinois and Michigan have met just once in the last six seasons with the Wolverines dominating the last matchup back in 2016, winning 41-8 in Ann Arbor. Lovie Smith needs to find a capable starting quarterback to lead his offense but will field one of the top rushing attacks in the conference that brings back four starters on the offensive line along with the top four rushers from last year. Michigan would be wise to not look ahead at the upcoming schedule here.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 at Penn State (University Park, Pa.)
The average margin of victory for the last three meetings between Michigan and Penn State has been 37.7 points, with the home team winning all three. Will that trend continue in 2019? Penn State loses quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Miles Sanders, but little to no drop-off is expected with the wealth of offensive talent James Franklin has brought to Happy Valley in recent years.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. Notre Dame (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Michigan fans also have a sour taste in their mouth following last year’s debacle against the Irish after seeing Shea Patterson get hit, harassed and beat up all night long in a 24-17 loss to open the season. Notre Dame has some retooling to do at linebacker and in the secondary, but will return starting quarterback Ian Book, and has a formidable pass-rushing combo in Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem (collective 12.5 sacks last season). Expect another competitive matchup between the two bitter rivals.
Week 10 — Nov. 2 at Maryland (College Park, Md.)
Michigan has won seven of the eight matchups with Maryland since the Terrapins joined the Big Ten with only one contest (Maryland win in 2014) being decided by fewer than 10 points. Former Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley takes over as head coach and will need to find a new starting quarterback if the Terps are to challenge in a highly competitive Big Ten East division. Former Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson could be that guy.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 vs. Michigan State (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
The Wolverines took care of business against their in-state rivals last season, holding the Spartans to 94 yards of total offense in a 21-7 victory. Head coach Mark Dantonio reshuffled his entire offensive staff this offseason after ranking 126th in the nation in scoring, while the defense returns the majority of the starting lineup from a unit that ranked eighth in the nation in points allowed per game. If the offense makes significant strides, the Spartans will be a factor in the Big Ten East race in 2019.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 at Indiana (Bloomington, Ind.)
I’m sure Indiana fans are sick of hearing it, but it needs to be reiterated – Michigan is now on a 23-game winning streak against the Hoosiers after a 31-20 victory in 2018. That said, the last two times the Wolverines have made a trip to Bloomington, they were pushed to the brink with two narrow overtime victories. Indiana is stocked with talent at the skill positions with 1,000-yard back Stevie Scott and four of their top six receivers all returning. The staff just needs to settle on a starting quarterback between Peyton Ramsey, Michael Penix Jr., and Utah transfer Jack Tuttle.
Week 14 — Nov. 30 vs. Ohio State (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
62-39. It’s been widely documented all offseason now how the Wolverines were embarrassed last season in Columbus. With Urban Meyer no longe the head coach, is this the best chance Michigan will have at beating their biggest rival? The Buckeyes lose their starting quarterback, best defensive player, and a former 1,000-yard rusher, but the roster is still littered with 5-star talent across the board.
— 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.