The Wolverine

September 2018*

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 72 of 75

SEPTEMBER 2018 THE WOLVERINE 73 M ichigan's schedule may sabo- tage what should be an excel- lent Wolverine team in 2018. S&P+ (Football Outsiders' op- ponent-adjusted ratings system of the five factors in college football: efficiency, explosiveness, field posi- tion, finishing drives and turnovers) projects that the Wolverines will be the nation's No. 10 team. This pre- diction is buoyed by U-M's defense, which is guided by one of the best coordinators in the business in Don Brown, was 10th in defensive S&P+ in 2017 and returns nine starters, including maybe the best pair of defensive ends and corners in the country. This defense should be a special unit, if not tops in the nation. There is less certainty about the offense. However, with the incoming transfer of former five-star QB Shea Patterson, the talent that floods the skill positions and the addition of offensive line guru Ed Warinner, it's reasonable to expect that U-M will rebound substantially on offense. Yet despite projecting Michigan will be top-10 caliber, S&P+ also projects U-M's record will be 8-4. Why? It's no secret that Michigan has one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2018. Most of it is thanks to the Big Ten offices. Some of it is their own doing. The Wolverines face four Big Ten foes ranked in the top 15 of the preseason coaches poll: No. 3 Ohio State, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State and No. 12 Michigan State. Three of these schools are in Michi- gan's division, so unless the Big Ten decides to shake up the conference alignment for the second time, the Wolverines will continue to play them annually. No ifs, ands or buts. The Badgers are the one team not in Michigan's division, and they have been one of the most consistent Power Five programs this decade. Since the inception of Big Ten divisions in 2011, Wisconsin has finished first in its division five times and no worse than second in any year. This season, the Badgers are the only Big Ten West program in the top 25, and Michigan has the pleasure of having them as one of its three divisional crossover games for the third straight year. Michigan then put the cherry on top by substituting Arkansas with Notre Dame as its headlining non- conference opponent. The Fighting Irish are No. 11. The Razorbacks? Nowhere to be found. So that's five preseason top-15 opponents for the Wolverines. No other school in the country is slated to play as many. And Michigan gets to challenge three of them — Notre Dame, MSU, OSU — on the road. This can be exciting for Michigan fans that cherish and value the tradi- tion and pageantry of college foot- ball, when premier rivals clash at the peak of their prowess, knowing that the next Saturday will more likely feature an electric, hyped-up show- down than a 35-point drubbing. This, however, is not as exciting for Michigan fans that want to see the Wolverines take the next step under Jim Harbaugh, capturing the conference title and making the Col- lege Football Playoff. The Wolverines were excellent in their first two seasons with Har- baugh as the head man, finishing fifth in S&P+ in 2015 and third in 2016. However, close losses, bobbled snaps and controversial spots, among other things, saw those teams close with a 10-3 record and fall short of a divisional title, let alone a berth in the CFP. After last season's step back, which was somewhat anticipated due to the recruiting regression that occurred during the coaching transi- tion, there has been more conversa- tion regarding if, not when, Michi- gan will be back. This team should be just as good as those 2015 and 2016 squads — maybe even better — but because U-M's schedule is so difficult, it is more likely to stumble along the way. Unfortunately for Michigan, strength of schedule is not valued nearly as much as it should be in col- lege football. As much as the CFP committee likes to blow hot air about how it considers various criteria in se- lecting the four teams that will vie for the national championship, the hard truth is that there are only two factors that really matter: (1) being a Power Five team and (2) number of losses. The committee made that clear when they picked Ohio State (11-1) over Penn State (11-2, B1G champ) in 2016 and Alabama (11-1) over Ohio State (11-2, B1G champ) in 2017. So the reward for beating a quality opponent does not outweigh the risk of a quality loss. Therefore, this U-M team, which should be good enough to contend for a national title, likely needs to beat at least four top-15 teams in the regular season and then win the Big Ten title in order to clinch a spot in the CFP. That is asking for luck, good bounces and a magical season. This, though, is not the first time that Michigan will face five top-15 teams in the regular season. U-M once faced a similarly gruesome schedule when, at the time of the game, they played No. 2 Penn State, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 8 Colorado, No. 15 Michi- gan State and No. 15 Iowa. That year? 1997. Michigan beat all five, and every other team on its schedule, en route to a national title. A schedule this difficult, this top- heavy, could derail a very talented U-M team. Or, as history has shown before, it can lay the path that leads Michigan to the ultimate glory. ❏ Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT The Schedule Of Sabotage Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines are projected to be the nation's No. 10 team this fall accord- ing to S&P+. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

view archives of The Wolverine - September 2018*