ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football survived the first half of its season without a loss. Now, after a well-placed bye week, the Wolverines face a much tougher second half.
The first priority: Get healthy.
Michigan stayed relatively healthy in the weeks following Ronnie Bell’s season-ending injury. This week, a few minor issues crept up.
Roman Wilson missed the Nebraska game after an excellent performance at Wisconsin. The sophomore led Michigan with six catches for 81 yards in that game, but didn’t make the trip to Lincoln.
Star offensive lineman Zak Zinter came out of the Nebraska game due to injury and, even though he appeared to be testing out his leg during halftime warmups, didn’t return. His counterpart, Trevor Keegan, also got dinged up, forcing Michigan to use Karsen Barnhart and Reece Atteberry at the two guard spots late in the game.
Jim Harbaugh hinted that the bye week might be enough time for all three to recover, but no specific details about their injuries have been released.
Wilson is a key weapon for the Michigan offense, especially with Bell sidelined. He has elite speed, but his ability to get open on third down and make contested catches stands out above Michigan’s other receivers.
Zinter and Keegan are critical pieces of an offensive line that’s been the strength of the offense so far. Michigan has run the ball well and surrendered only two sacks all season -- thanks in large part to a strong interior line.
Michigan hosts Northwestern after the bye week, but then, the schedule turns into a gauntlet.
Three of Michigan’s final five regular-season games will come against top-10 teams, including two on the road.
A trip to Michigan State kicks off that stretch. The two in-state rivals seem to be on a collision course for an undefeated showdown, as Mel Tucker has the Spartans at 6-0 with five wins by at least 17 points and three true road victories.
Kenneth Walker III might be the midseason Heisman Trophy favorite, with 912 rushing yards, 10 total touchdowns and an average of 7.1 yards per carry.
Two weeks later, Michigan travels to Penn State, which has exactly one month from Wednesday to get quarterback Sean Clifford back healthy before the matchup.
With Clifford, Penn State knocked off Wisconsin on the road, beat Auburn at home and held a big lead at No. 3 Iowa. The Nittany Lions are back to their old formidable selves after a down 2020.
Then, as always, the Ohio State game looms at the end of the season. The Buckeyes dropped another early-season game this year, but once again, they’re fully operational and have their sights set on the College Football Playoff.
In between those top-10 opponents, Michigan will battle Indiana at home and Maryland on the road. While neither of those teams are ranked, they won’t be pushovers, either, especially if Michigan overlooks them ahead of more high-profile matchups.
The Wolverines might be ranked in the top 10, but looking ahead to the second-half schedule, they haven’t earned anything yet.