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Difficult schedule creates really ugly worst-case scenario for this Michigan football season

Wolverines have 7 difficult games remaining

Shea Patterson #2 of the Michigan Wolverines looks to pass during the first half against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The college football universe couldn't wait to jump all over Michigan after its ugly performance against Wisconsin, but one glance at the rest of this season's schedule shows it could get much worse.

The Wolverines were thoroughly dominated in Madison, falling behind 35-0 before scoring a pair of meaningless touchdowns in garbage time. A team that was once considered the favorite in the Big Ten by some is now teetering on the brink of a disastrous season.

Jim Harbaugh badly needs his team to put together a winning streak, but the problem is most of the remaining schedule is daunting.

Other than the upcoming matchup against Rutgers and a mid-October trip to Illinois, Michigan could conceivably lose each of the remaining seven games on its schedule. The Wolverines probably won't lose all seven of those games, but each game on its own looks like a tough test.

Toughest challenges

From what we've seen so far this season, Michigan will be a heavy underdog in three more games.

No. 5 Ohio State might be the third-best team in the country behind Alabama and Clemson. Justin Fields looks like the elite quarterback recruit the Buckeyes were hoping for, and the results so far have been absolutely overwhelming.

It wouldn't be a shock to see Ohio State win a national title this year, and an eighth straight win over Michigan looks like a foregone conclusion, even with the game in Ann Arbor.

Quarterback Justin Fields #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes eludes the tackle attempts of Bryan Wright #11 and Arquon Bush #9 of the Cincinnati Bearcats while picking up yardage in the first quarter at Ohio Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

No. 10 Notre Dame also looks like a strong team coming off a 12-0 regular season and a berth in the College Football Playoff. The Fighting Irish lost a tough battle at Georgia last weekend but proved they belong on the same field as other playoff contenders.

That's a stark contrast to how Michigan performed at Wisconsin.

No. 12 Penn State hasn't looked nearly as sharp as Ohio State or Notre Dame, but the Nittany Lions are 3-0 and host Michigan next month in what's been a matchup of home team blowouts.

Considering Michigan's performance in its first road game, there's little reason to believe that game will be much different. The Wolverines will likely be underdogs in Happy Valley, and they've never won as underdogs in the Harbaugh era.

Toss-ups

There are four games that will likely determine whether Michigan has a disappointing season or a disastrous season.

The first is in two weeks: a home game against No. 14 Iowa.

Kirk Ferentz has his team ready to compete for the Big Ten West title once again. After an excellent one-point road win over rival Iowa State two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes improved to 3-0 with an 86-31 overall edge in the first three games.

Iowa has given Michigan fits in recent years, and the quarterback battle will be heavily skewed in Iowa's favor with Nate Stanley completing 63.4% of his passes for 7.4 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and no interceptions.

Nate Stanley throws a pass against Indiana at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 13, 2018, in Bloomington, Indiana. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Michigan doesn't have an identity. Iowa's identity has been set in stone for 20 years under Ferentz. This will be a difficult test.

No. 25 Michigan State appears to have figured out some of its offensive woes, scoring 31 points in a convincing win over Northwestern.

Even in the strange loss to Arizona State, the Spartans put up more than 400 yards of offense. Brian Lewerke looks improved, Elijah Collins is a solid running back and Darrell Stewart and Cody White are good Big Ten receivers.

With an elite defense that very well could keep Michigan under 14 points at the Big House, MSU is once again a dangerous game for Michigan.

Tricky road games

How good are Maryland and Indiana? It's hard to say, but both could give Michigan a scare outside of Ann Arbor.

Maryland was one of the stories of college football after crushing then-No.21 Syracuse 63-20 in Week 2. But after a disappointing 20-17 loss at Temple, it's much more difficult to know exactly what Mike Locksley has this season.

The Terps have been much better offensively than Michigan, but the schedule hasn't been very tough. We'll learn more this weekend when Maryland hosts Penn State.

Either way, a Nov. 2 trip to College Park will be a tough test for Michigan, especially if it's coming off consecutive losses to Penn State and Notre Dame.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines watches action prior to a game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Indiana hasn't been nearly as impressive as Maryland, but it has taken care of business against three overmatched opponents outside a blowout loss to Ohio State.

Michigan has needed overtime to beat Indiana both times in Bloomington under Harbaugh. This year's game is sandwiched between Michigan State and Ohio State, which means the Wolverines simply can't afford to overlook Indiana.

Four weeks ago, Michigan had dreams of perhaps winning double-digit games and competing for a conference title. Outlooks change quickly in college football, though, and now, there's a wide range of possibilities for 2019.


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