Michigan football: How dangerous are this season's five road games?

Wolverines play five Big Ten road games this season

Jim Harbaugh the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines watches the action during the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football home schedule is stacked this season -- with four top 20 teams and all three rivals visiting Ann Arbor -- but the team's fate has been decided on the road throughout Jim Harbaugh's tenure.

There's no doubt the eyes of the college football world will be on Ann Arbor this season as Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame visit with possible Big Ten title and College Football Playoff aspirations on the line. Even the Iowa and Army games could end up being ranked matchups.

But since Harbaugh got Michigan into serious title contention in 2016, road games have been make or break for the Wolverines. Their playoff dreams died at Iowa and Ohio State in 2016. A 10-game winning streak was bookended by losses at Notre Dame and Ohio State last regular season.

While the most high-profile games will be played in the Big House this season, Michigan will have to take care of business away from home to accomplish its goal of winning a Big Ten title and reaching the playoff.

Here's a look at the five road games on this season's schedule.

Sept. 21: Wisconsin

We went more in-depth on the Wisconsin game earlier this week, but here's the gist of the breakdown: Never sleep on the Badgers.

Wisconsin is being undervalued because of a five-loss 2018 season and a new starter at quarterback. But is having a new quarterback really a negative for Paul Chryst?

Alex Hornibrook wasn't a dynamic playmaker for Wisconsin the last several years, and with Jonathan Taylor back after a 2,000-yard season, the offense seems likely to take a step forward.

Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers tries to outrun the tackle of Devin Bush #10 of the Michigan Wolverines during the second half on October 13, 2018 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 38-13. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Michigan hasn't won in Madison since 2001, going 0-4 at Camp Randall since, including three losses by at least two touchdowns.

Wisconsin has a solid defense, an elite offensive line and plenty of weapons for whoever wins the starting quarterback battle between Jack Coan and Graham Mertz.

This game comes after two games and a bye week for both teams, so it's a bit of a strange spot in the schedule.

No matter who wins the starting quarterback spot, Wisconsin will be an extremely difficult first road test for Michigan.

Level of difficulty: Very high

Oct. 12: Illinois

This game took on quite a bit more intrigue when former Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters transferred to Illinois. Quarterback has been a weakness for Lovie Smith since he took over in Champaign.

Peters is stepping into a difficult situation, though. Illinois won just four games last season, and three came against Kent State, Western Illinois and Rutgers.

The Fighting Illini should be better this season, but there's a wide gap between being better than 2018 Illinois and being a good team. Last year's group lost by 39 points to both Penn State and Purdue, 29 points to Wisconsin, 30 points to Maryland and 63 points to Iowa.

Jim Harbaugh talks with QB Brandon Peters during the Rutgers game at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 28, 2017. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Smith has led Illinois to one sixth-place finish and two last-place finishes, going a combined 4-23 in Big Ten play. If Michigan goes to Champaign and loses, it would be a disaster.

Peters makes Illinois better at the most important position, but this roster still hasn't caught up to the rest of the league (except Rutgers).

Level of difficulty: Low

Oct. 19: Penn State

Perhaps Michigan's toughest road game of the season comes on the second week of back-to-back road contests.

Penn State might have the best home field advantage in the conference during Whiteout games, and this will be Michigan's third straight Whiteout in trips to Happy Valley.

The Wolverines embarrassed Penn State last season and have won three of four meetings since Harbaugh arrived. But the last trip to Happy Valley in 2017 was a beatdown, as the Nittany Lions crushed Michigan by 29 points.

Saquon Barkley celebrates with Trace McSorley after catching a 42-yard touchdown pass in the second half against Michigan on Oct. 21, 2017 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Sean Clifford has big shoes to fill at quarterback this season after Trace McSorley graduated. The former four-star recruit was the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class and looks like a good candidate to keep Penn State near the top of the Big Ten East standings.

All four games between Michigan and Penn State during the Harbaugh era have been blowouts, but this seems like the year that streak could end.

Level of difficulty: Very high

Nov. 2: Maryland

Michigan has survived a couple of ugly games in College Park the last four years, but the Terrapins seem to be moving in the right direction.

There's also a little extra spice to this year's matchup, as new Maryland head coach Mike Locksley and new Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis -- who worked together last season at Alabama -- exchanged public jabs over who was responsible for the Crimson Tide's offensive success and struggles.

Maryland dealt with constant turmoil throughout the 2018 season -- the death of Jordan McNair, the controversy surrounding coach D.J. Durkin and the lingering questions about the future of the coaching staff.

Anthony McFarland #5 of the Maryland Terrapins runs against the Michigan State Spartans during the first half at Capital One Field on November 3, 2018 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Now that the situation is more stable, the Terrapins figure to take another step forward.

This team is led by one of the best under-the-radar players in the country, Anthony McFarland, who rushed for 1,034 yards on just 131 carries last season, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt.

Josh Jackson figures to be an upgrade at quarterback after transferring to Maryland from Virginia Tech. With Jackson and McFarland on offense, the Terps are already more dangerous than the team that missed out on a bowl game last season.

Michigan hasn't had any trouble with Maryland during the Harbaugh era, but this could be a tricky road test sandwiched between the Notre Dame game and a bye week ahead of the Michigan State showdown.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Nov. 23: Indiana

An Indiana game right before Ohio State week? Michigan fans know that means trouble.

Last year, Indiana gave Michigan all it could handle in the Big House. In 2016, the Wolverines trailed for most of the game before surviving with a 20-10 win.

Both of Harbaugh's trips to Indiana have been even more agonizing.

In 2015, Michigan faced a fourth down play that would have ended the game. The Wolverines converted and eventually won in double overtime.

The last time these teams met in Bloomington, Michigan blew a 10-point lead with under 3:30 to play and needed overtime to hold on.

Kwity Paye #19 of the Michigan Wolverines tries to sack Peyton Ramsey #12 of the Indiana Hoosiers at Michigan Stadium on November 17, 2018 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 31-20. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Peyton Ramsey is the type of quarterback who gives Michigan fits because he can make plays with his legs. He's a strong passer, too, completing 65.4% of his throws for 2,875 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season.

Incredibly, Michigan has won 23 straight games against Indiana, dating back to 1987. The Wolverines have won 38 of the 39 meetings since 1967.

But Indiana has been extremely close the last four meetings, and this year, it gets Michigan in Bloomington the week before the Ohio State game.

If Michigan has one or no losses going into the final two weeks, this will be an extremely dangerous road trip..

Level of difficulty: High


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