The Wolverine

September 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE SEPTEMBER 2019 BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan's football sched- ule isn't for the timid or the under-equipped. Many ranked it the tough- est in the Big Ten and one of the most difficult in the nation. The estimation of did just that, making the Wolverines No. 1 in the conference in a category that brings no reward — unless you survive. It goes through the huge challenges of the slate, from early tests to Notre Dame getting wedged into the middle of the Big Ten war. The site may have summed it up best, even when trying to look at the bright side. It noted: "The good news is that while Penn State's on the road, Army, Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State all have to come to Ann Arbor. The bad news is Michi- gan still has to play all of them." The Wolverines retain the take-all- comers attitude, while their biggest threat in the Big Ten — Ohio State — should ease through its non-con- ference schedule. Among the victims — Cincinnati, Florida Atlantic and Miami (Ohio). That's not to say a supposed no- body can't come up and bite a team (hello, Appalachian State) or that Michigan can't rise above even in a slate full of land mines. It just means it's tougher, at least on paper. The Wolverines will wad up the paper and hit the field Aug. 31. Here's one take on what awaits them, and how they'll need to navigate a tough slate. ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) national ranking — a measure of team strength meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward, as of Aug. 8 — is in- cluded for every team; U-M opens the season at No. 5 per the metric. AUGUST/SEPTEMBER Opponent: Middle Tennessee State (8-6 in 2018) Date: Aug. 31 Venue: Michigan Stadium ESPN FPI Rank: 101st DEFCON Level: 4 Middle Tennessee State enjoyed a respectable year in 2018, going 8-6 overall and 7-1 in Conference USA. They lost 27-25 to UAB in a Con- ference USA championship game cliffhanger, and got smoked by the aforementioned Mountaineers 45-13 in the New Orleans Bowl. But they lost something along the way. Quarterback Brent Stockstill, son of the head coach, wrapped up his sterling career. In four years with the Blue Raiders, Stockstill threw for more than 12,000 yards with 106 touchdown passes. That means a brand new starter will be taking the field against Michi- gan's defense, under the lights, in a season in which the Wolverines are expected to rise up and fully assert themselves. That's not good news for the Blue Raiders. In a season almost devoid of games that provide a breather, MTSU sits in the crosshairs of Michigan's first impression with a new offensive co- ordinator. Beyond that, the Wolver- ines are still stinging from the end of last year. This one won't end well for the Raiders, sure to suffer some Blue-on- Blue damage. Opponent: Army (11-2) Date: Sept. 7 Venue: Michigan Stadium ESPN FPI Rank: 67th DEFCON Level: 3 Let's face it, Army is a pain to play. It runs the triple-option offense, it is disciplined and it is confident follow- ing an 11-2 season last year. It is also armed with a tough quarterback in Kelvin Hopkins. Hopkins rushed for 1,017 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago, while throwing for 1,026 yards and six scores. Michigan, meanwhile, will be in only its second game with a rear- ranged cast of characters on defense, including no Devin Bush Jr. in the middle of it. The Wolverines must not let Army control the clock, and make sure their own no-huddle offense isn't just strik- ing quickly but scoring touchdowns. Oh, and for those waving this off as just another second-half pull-away over an overmatched non-conference foe, look closer. Army pushed Col- lege Football Playoff participant Okla- homa to overtime a year ago, in Nor- man. It says here Michigan comes out of its initial fortnight of football 2-0, but not without challenges. Opponent: Wisconsin (8-5) Date: Sept. 21 Venue: Camp Randall Stadium ESPN FPI Rank: 38th DEFCON Level: 2 ELEVATED READINESS Michigan's Schedule Calls For All Hands On Deck Wisconsin junior running back Jonathan Taylor has rushed for 4,171 yards in just 27 games so far in his career. He and the Badgers will host U-M in both squads' Big Ten opener Sept. 21. PHOTO BY DAVID STLUKA/ WISCONSIN ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

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