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Ranking every game on Michigan’s 2020 football schedule from easiest to most difficult

Michigan's 10-game Big Ten schedule released

Giles Jackson #15 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a first down as David Dowell #6 of the Michigan State Spartans attempts to make the stop during the first quarter of the game at Michigan Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Giles Jackson #15 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a first down as David Dowell #6 of the Michigan State Spartans attempts to make the stop during the first quarter of the game at Michigan Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) (2019 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The shortened, Big Ten-only Michigan football schedule was released Wednesday, with an extra conference game and some notable changes to the matchups we already expected.

Here’s a look at the full schedule:

  • Sept. 5: vs. Purdue
  • Sept. 12: at Minnesota
  • Sept. 19: vs. Penn State
  • Sept. 26: at Rutgers
  • Oct. 3: vs. Michigan State
  • Oct. 17: at Indiana
  • Oct. 24: at Ohio State
  • Oct. 31: vs. Wisconsin
  • Nov. 7: vs. Maryland
  • Nov. 21: at Northwestern

If the season actually happens -- there are major concerns nationwide due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic -- the Wolverines will have to break in a new starting quarterback and replace several key players who graduated or left for the draft.

Jim Harbaugh has his work cut out for him this season, as Michigan got one of the toughest schedules in the conference. Here’s a ranking of all 10 games, from easiest to most difficult.

10. Rutgers

Greg Schiano is back with the Scarlet Knights, and that has the fan base buzzing for the first time in half a decade.

Rutgers has long been the Big Ten’s punching bag, and even more so Michigan’s punching bag ever since Harbaugh arrived.

In their last five meetings, Michigan is 5-0 against Rutgers with a combined score of 256-37. None of those games were close, and even though Schiano will get the program moving in the right direction eventually, this probably won’t be the year he upsets Michigan.

9. Purdue

Remember when Purdue gave Jeff Brohm a seven-year, $36.8 contract extension in 2019? Well, that didn’t reap many benefits last season, as the Boilermakers finished 4-8.

Any team with Rondale Moore is dangerous, so Don Brown will have to make sure his aggressive secondary is ready from the jump.

This will be Purdue’s first trip in Ann Arbor in almost a decade (Oct. 29, 2011).

8. Maryland

Will Alabama transfer quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa be eligible to play? Either way, Maryland could be a sneaky test for Michigan near the end of the season.

The Terps got off to a hot start in 2019 before completely falling apart and losing nine of their last 10 games. Michigan contributed a 31-point shellacking during that stretch, likely fueled by the spat between offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and Maryland head coach Mike Locksley over their time at Alabama.

Michigan's Giles Jackson returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Michigan's Giles Jackson returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Maryland, though not quite to the extent of Rutgers, has had no football success since joining the Big Ten, and other than the blowout of a Syracuse team that ended up being overrated, there haven’t been many signs of a turnaround.

Locksley did lure Tagovailoa to College Park, though, and he currently has a top 20 recruiting class. So the future could be bright. But Michigan should still win this year, especially in Ann Arbor (however much home field matters without fans).

7. Northwestern

It doesn’t matter who the players are or what the stats say. Northwestern vs. Michigan will be ugly and it will be close.

From the infamous 10-9 “M00N” game in 2014, to the Drew Dileo sliding field goal hold, to the Roy Roundtree Hail Mary, to Michigan’s 17-point comeback in 2018, these two teams are always providing instant classes (or, at least, close games).

No matter the stakes, Northwestern always seems to jump out to a lead and always finds a way to blow it. This is tradition.

Playing in Evanston on the final day of the season is about as drastic a change as possible for Michigan, but it’s more winnable than going to Columbus.

This is the matchup the Big Ten added for the Wolverines as the 10th conference game.

6. Indiana

The Big Ten wasn’t afraid to make schedule changes this year. Teams will play 10 games instead of nine. Michigan had road games become home games and home games become road games. The sacred rivalry vs. Ohio State was moved to October.

But one thing that can never change: Michigan playing Indiana the week before the Ohio State game.

Maybe that’s why the Hoosiers are always right there with Michigan, or maybe Tom Allen just has the program heading in the right direction.

With Michael Penix back and poised for a breakout season, this will be another tough battle for the Wolverines, especially with the game moved to Bloomington for the second year in a row.

Last season, Michigan blew out a very good Indiana team, 39-14, on their own field. It was the 24th straight win for Michigan in the series and the 39th win out of 40 games since 1967.

Indiana is tired of hearing those stats, and someday the Hoosiers will break through. With so much chaos surrounding college football and questions about the Wolverines, maybe 2020 will be that year.

5. Michigan State

It feels strange to have Michigan State so low on this list, but the reality is Mel Tucker inherited a bit of a mess.

Mark Dantonio stocked the East Lansing trophy cases during his time as the head football coach, but the late years were far less fruitful. The Spartans went just 27-24 in Dantonio’s last four years -- well below the championship standards he set from 2010-2015.

Click here to view Michigan State’s full 2020 football schedule.

Michigan state introduces Colorado’s Mel Tucker as head football coach
Michigan state introduces Colorado’s Mel Tucker as head football coach

Even more worrisome: Michigan State has ranked 36th, 31st, 33rd and 43rd in national recruiting the last four years, and currently sits at No. 65 for Tucker’s first class. None of those ranked in the top five among Big Ten teams, and the last two are near the bottom of the league.

Tucker took over at a difficult time in terms of the recruiting cycle. Michigan State believes he’s the guy to get the program back on track, but it would be a surprise to see it happen this year.

Realistically, Indiana might be a better overall team than Michigan State, but the Spartans will still bring their best game to the Big House, where they will be forced to play for the second straight year.

Michigan won last year’s meeting by 34 points, and the talent gap hasn’t shrunk since.

4. Minnesota

The Little Brown Jug currently resides in Ann Arbor, but going into Minneapolis to keep it that way won’t be an easy task.

P.J. Fleck led the Golden Gophers to 10 regular season wins, a Big Ten title game appearance and a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl last season. The first eight games were a cakewalk, but by beating No. 4 Penn State, hanging with No. 20 Iowa on the road and ultimately upsetting No. 12 Auburn, Minnesota validated its 11-2 record.

The biggest difference between Michigan and Minnesota will be at quarterback. The Wolverines will go into Minneapolis with a quarterback who has started one game in his career. The Golden Gophers already have an established star in Tanner Morgan.

Morgan completed 66% of his passes last season for average of 10.2 yards per attempt. He completed 30 touchdown passes while throwing just seven interceptions. His season would have been one of the best ever for a Michigan quarterback.

Michigan has completely dominated the series since the 1940s, but this was the first Minnesota team to finish top 10 in the AP poll in 58 years.

3. Wisconsin

No. 2 is basically a tossup between Wisconsin and Penn State. Both have been excellent for years and return their starting quarterbacks. Both have regularly handled Michigan at home and gotten handled at the Big House.

Wisconsin drops to No. 3 solely because it has to replace a generational talent in Jonathan Taylor. He ran for more than 5,700 yards in three seasons and scored a total of 54 touchdowns. That production won’t be replaced.

But the Badgers will still have an elite offensive line, a strong defense and Jack Coan, who took over as the starter in 2019 and was a typical Wisconsin game manager.

Coan completed 69.6% of his passes for an average of 8 yards per attempt and finished with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also scored four times on the ground.

Michigan got destroyed in Madison last season after dismantling the Badgers in 2018. This series has been won by the home team all four times since Harbaugh arrived, but home field advantage has never mattered less than it will this season.

It will be the fifth straight season Michigan plays Wisconsin in a division crossover game. Next year will be the sixth.

2. Penn State

Michigan’s 2019 season would be looked at a lot differently if Ronnie Bell had caught the touchdown pass to complete a comeback win over Penn State in Happy Valley, but instead, the Wolverines have to try to take back the series at home.

Last year was the first close game between Michigan and Penn State in five years. The Nittany Lions won a blowout in 2017 and Michigan smashed James Franklin’s teams in 2016 and 2018.

Michigan’s 2015 road win over Penn State wasn’t particularly close, either, though the scoring margin wasn’t as drastic as the others.

Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines carries the ball for a first down during the second quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions on October 19, 2019 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines carries the ball for a first down during the second quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions on October 19, 2019 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Sean Clifford is certainly no Trace McSorley, but he had a solid first season as the starting quarterback, completing 59.2% of his pass attempts for an average of 8.3 yards and finishing with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Penn State took a huge hit over the weekend, though, when reports emerged that star linebacker Micah Parsons will opt out of the 2020 season. Franklin’s defense will be solid, but that was perhaps the best player on his entire roster.

Right now, Penn State and Michigan are the two teams consistently vying to be second best in the East Division, and to stay in that conversation, Michigan has to hold serve at home.

1. Ohio State

There’s really no discussion here. Not only has Ohio State thoroughly dominated Michigan for the better part of two decades, but it also has the clear-cut best roster in the conference, and perhaps the country.

It’s hard to see a recipe for Michigan to win this game. Upsets happen all the time in college football, but that’s usually because the better team either isn’t locked in or suffers some bad luck. Well, Ohio State is always at the absolute top of its game against Michigan, and the Buckeyes haven’t seemed to have any bad luck in 15 years.

Michigan has typically been the inferior team when it faces Ohio State under Harbaugh, but even when the Wolverines looked to be better (2016 and 2018, specifically) heading into the matchup, they couldn’t pull it off.

Justin Fields is a Heisman candidate, Ryan Day is one of the brightest young coaches in the game and the Ohio State roster is loaded two or three deep at every position. There’s really no justification to picking Michigan to win this game, especially in Columbus.


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