ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The second half of Michigan’s schedule is among the toughest in college football, but it begins Saturday with a less heralded matchup against Northwestern.
Coming off a bye week, the Wolverines return to Michigan Stadium as the No. 6 team in the nation. And yet, it feels like this team still has more to prove.
Michigan owns four wins over Power Five opponents, but those teams have a combined record of 11-16. A 6-0 start should be celebrated, however, the toughest tests lie ahead for Jim Harbaugh’s team.
But first, Northwestern.
Pat Fitzgerald’s team vanished from the national radar after three early losses, including one by 49 points at Nebraska. It’s not the start the defending Big Ten West champs wanted, but last week appeared to be a step in the right direction.
Northwestern dominated Rutgers to get back to 3-3 on the season, out-gaining the Scarlet Knights 402-222 in total yardage. That same Rutgers squad took Michigan to the brink the last time fans packed the Big House.
Ryan Hilinski threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns in Northwestern’s victory over Rutgers, bringing his season totals up to 645 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s built a strong connection with Stephon Robinson Jr., who’s gone over 100 receiving yards the last two games.
Evan Hull and Andrew Clair give Hilinski some support in the running game, each averaging about six yards per carry.
Defensively, the Wildcats have had some struggles, from allowing Duke to put up 558 yards of offense to Nebraska dropping 56 points. We’ll see if last week’s adjustments hold.
History of weird games
Michigan dominates the all-time series with Northwestern, but recent meetings have been much closer than anticipated.
In their last matchup (2018), Michigan went into Evanston heavily favored, fell behind 17-0 and scored 20 unanswered points to avoid a devastating loss.
In 2014, neither team scored until more than midway through the third quarter, and Michigan won 10-9 when a Northwestern two-point conversation in the final moments went disastrously awry.
The 2013 game was defined by an odd last-second field goal that helped Michigan send the game into overtime. Both teams mustered just nine points on three field goals in regulation. It took three overtimes for the Wolverines to pull out a win.
Michigan looked dead in the water at home against Northwestern in 2012, until Roy Roundtree caught a Hail Mary pass to set up a game-tying field goal in the waning moments. The Wolverines got a fourth-down stop in overtime to survive.
Tough schedule ahead
Michigan can’t afford to overlook Northwestern this weekend, but everyone knows what’s looming.
Three of Michigan’s final five games will come against top-10 teams: No. 9 Michigan State, No. 7 Penn State and No. 5 Ohio State. Both the Michigan State and Penn State games are on the road.
Harbaugh’s best Michigan teams have been susceptible to late-season struggles, and the schedule certainly sets up that same narrative again this year. Soon, we’ll know if this version of the Wolverines is different.