The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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126 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Ranking Each Game On Michigan's Schedule From Least To Most Difficult 1. Northern Illinois — The Huskies went winless in a six-game 2020 slate, and appear to be stuck at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference. While they return 19 starters, they don't have the firepower to hang with Michigan, which will be attempting to fine-tune its play heading into the Big Ten schedule. 2. Western Michigan — At the very least, the Bron- cos, who ranked 16th in total offense a year ago, should test Michigan's new-look defense in the season opener. WMU will come in confident and aggressive, but Mich- igan is going to be eager to show that 2020 was a fluke. This won't be a cakewalk, but Michigan should still win by multiple possessions. 3. Rutgers — The Scarlet Knights missed a 45-yard game-winning field goal in overtime that would've sent Michigan home with a fourth straight loss last season. Instead, the Wolverines celebrated a thrilling triple- overtime victory. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano has injected some life into the program, but he still has a long way to go before they're expected to win a game of this magnitude on the road. 4. Maryland — Michigan travels to College Park Nov. 20 one week before hosting Ohio State, with this one hav- ing all the makings of a classic "trap game." The Wolver- ines can't overlook the Terrapins, who have a gunslinger at quarterback in sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa, who threw for 1,077 yards with seven touchdowns in four games last season. 5. Northwestern — It may surprise some that the Wildcats are listed as being on the "easy" side of things — no game is easy in the Big Ten — but this isn't the same team head coach Pat Fitzgerald and Co. fielded a year ago. Northwestern lost its quarterback, Peyton Ramsey, and top two tacklers, linebackers Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher, from a team that won the West division. Don't forget, the Wildcats posted a 3-9 record in 2019 after topping the division in '18, and it's not inconceivable to think they may have a significant drop off this year considering what they've lost. 6. Michigan State — The Spartans finished at the bottom of the Big Ten East a year ago and are amidst a major rebuild under second-year head coach Mel Tucker. Yes, the MSU came into The Big House and notched a three-point win last fall, and the game this season is in East Lansing, but Michigan has more talent and is looking for revenge. On top of that, the Wolverines haven't lost at Spartan Stadium since 2014, and are 2-0 at the venue under Jim Harbaugh. This will likely be a close game, but U-M has the edge. 7. Nebraska — Michigan hasn't beaten Nebraska in Lincoln since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011, though the two teams haven't squared off there since 2013, when neither head coach was at their respective program. Nebraska has yet to post a winning record under Scott Frost, and the clock is ticking. This will be a challenge for the Wolverines, with the Huskers possessing a fourth-year starting quarterback in Adrian Martinez, several key returning pieces and a raucous atmosphere at Memorial Stadium. 8. Washington — The week-two matchup between Michigan and Washington will set the tone for each team's season. The Wolverines will be playing in front their home crowd at night for the 10th time in history — they are 7-2 in such contests. Washington was 3-1 last season — albeit against fairly easy competition — and returns 16 starters, creating a stiff early challenge for the Wolverines, especially when going up against a Husky defense that allowed just 25 points per game in 2020 (39th nationally). 9. Indiana — The Hoosiers beat Michigan last season for the first time since 1987. Indiana passed for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the 38-21 triumph. Redshirt sophomore Michael Penix Jr., a preseason first-team All-Big Ten quarterback according to Athlon Sports, is back from a late-season injury and has a 25-8 career touchdown-to-in- terception ratio. As of now, the Hoosiers are slated to be road favorites. 10. Penn State — The Wolverines have struggled in State College in their last two trips, falling in both 2017 (42-13) and 2019 (28-21). Both games were the Nittany Lions' annual "white out," which is typically a rowdy environment. It's safe to bet the fans will be gearing up for this one, as well, not to mention that PSU is expected to bounce back from a rough 4-5 season. Ryan Day is 23-2 in two-plus years as the head coach at Ohio State and boasts one of the most talented rosters in the country this fall. PHOTO COURTESY OHIO STATE ATHLETICS Opponent Overview

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