One would say that Michigan had quite the favorable schedule in 2016. Five consecutive home games to start the season, getting both Penn State and Wisconsin in the Big House, and only four true road games for the entire year.
Yet that good fortune to begin the season came back to haunt the Wolverines in November when their year was derailed with two losses in three weeks to Iowa and Ohio State – eliminating them from College Football Playoff contention.
The schedule for Jim Harbaugh and company heading into 2017 does not set up as favorably with a doozy of a matchup to start the year against a top-notch SEC foe in Florida, a road game against defending Big Ten champion Penn State and a rigorous November that features both Wisconsin and Ohio State.
If Michigan is to make the Big Ten Championship Game this season, the Wolverines will certainly have earned it.
From the easiest to most difficult matchup, below is how the 2017 Michigan schedule shakes out.
12. Oct. 28 vs. Rutgers
78-0. Enough said.
11. Sept. 9 vs. Cincinnati
The Week 2 matchup between Michigan and Cincinnati will be the first, as the two schools have surprisingly never played despite being just four hours apart. It is a new era for the Bearcats who hired former Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell as head coach. The Bearcats have some nice pieces on their roster, but nowhere near the talent (yet) to compete in the Big House.
10. Sept. 23 at Purdue
In a few years, a matchup against Purdue will rank much higher, but this will be a transition year under new head coach Jeff Brohm. That does not mean the Boilermakers won’t put a scare into a few opponents this season – Brohm’s teams at Western Kentucky averaged 40 points or more per game in each of his three seasons. That said, Michigan should roll in this one.
9. Sept. 16 vs. Air Force
This will be the third matchup all-time between Air Force and Michigan, with the last coming back in 2012, 31-25 Wolverines win. Air Force provides a tough matchup regardless of the opponent given its style of offense, and bring back many pieces from last year’s squad that averaged 35.2 points per game. It should not surprise anyone to see a tightly contested game heading into the second half.
8. Nov. 4 vs. Minnesota
I, for one, will be tuning into this game just to see the sideline antics and postgame handshake between Jim Harbaugh and P.J. Fleck. As for the actual game, Minnesota has major questions at quarterback with Mitch Leidner departing, whether you deem that a good or bad thing. Expect the Gophers to lean heavily on the ground game with their two talented running backs in Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. However, Minnesota doesn’t appear to have enough firepower to pull off an upset in Ann Arbor just yet.
7. Nov. 11 at Maryland
Round 2 of disciple vs. previous boss as former Jim Harbaugh assistant DJ Durkin gets another crack at defeating his old employer. Last season did not work out to well for Durkin and his Terrapins as they were overwhelmed in Ann Arbor 59-3. Maryland could be a force in the Big Ten in a few years, but aren’t quite ready to compete with the big boys just yet.
6. Oct. 7 vs. Michigan State
The Wolverines snapped a three-game losing streak against their in-state rivals last season with a 32-23 victory in East Lansing. Expect the Wolverines to start a streak of their own with another win against a Michigan State team that is trending in the wrong direction.
5. Oct. 14 at Indiana
You would not think that Indiana would be ranked this high on the list considering the Hoosiers have not beaten the Wolverines in their last 21 meetings. But even though IU should once again be a middle-of-the-road team in the Big Ten in 2017, the potential for a potent passing attack could pose problems for Michigan’s young secondary. If the Wolverines cannot contain potential all-Big Ten wide receivers Nick Westbrook and Simmie Cobbs, this one could be much closer than many believe.
4. Sept. 2 vs. Florida (Arlington, Texas)
The last time Michigan and Florida met was two years ago in the Citrus Bowl where the Wolverines dominated in every facet of the game, leading to a 41-7 blowout win in Jim Harbaugh’s first season. Both teams will look very different this time around with the Wolverines returning just four starters, while Florida added a graduate transfer this summer in former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire. A loss in Week 1 will not ruin the season for either school, but a win here against a ranked opponent will look awfully good on the resume come November.
3. Nov. 18 at Wisconsin
It was a defensive struggle last year and I would expect much of the same in 2017 despite significant personnel losses for both teams. Michigan has lost in each of its last three trips to Madison. It will be no easy task for the Wolverines to end their Camp Randall losing streak in late November.
2. Oct. 21 at Penn State
One could easily make the argument that this will be the toughest matchup for the Wolverines in 2017. Penn State returns two potential Heisman Trophy candidates in running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley. The receiving corps is littered with up-and-coming talent and the defense features senior leadership at every level. And did I mention that this game is in Happy Valley, likely at night in primetime? Anything other than a standout performance from the Wolverines will result in an L.
1. Nov. 25 vs. Ohio State
Regardless of who is the coach, what the personnel looks like, or where the matchup takes place, The Game will be the most difficult matchup of the season. Ohio State looks to be the superior team heading into this year, but it is tough to predict how both will look once November rolls around.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. For College Fantasy Football insight, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.