ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Anything can happen, right?
That's what Chris Ash is probably telling his team as Rutgers gets set to host Michigan this weekend in Piscataway, New Jersey.
It's an unenviable position for the Scarlet Knights, who have lost eight straight games -- most in blowout fashion -- since a season-opening victory over Texas State. Conversely, Michigan comes into the matchup on an eight-game winning streak and No. 4 in the College Football Playoff poll.
There's also the stark memory of what happened the last time Michigan visited HighPoint.com Stadium: a 78-0 massacre in favor of the Wolverines.
With everything seemingly pointing in Michigan's favor, does it have anything to worry about this weekend?
There's certainly no reason to believe Rutgers is any better than its 1-8 record. Ash's group has lost seven games by double digits and failed to score more than 17 points in eight straight contests.
Rutgers got smashed 55-14 by Kansas, which has since lost five of six games and announced David Beaty will not return after the season. The following week, Rutgers lost to Buffalo by 29 at home. Central Michigan, a 1-9 team, stayed within 10 points of Buffalo.
Rutgers is a bad football team. There's no other way to put it.
These two teams are trending in polar opposite directions, so how could there be any concern for the Wolverines?
Let's take a look at what Rutgers is actually good at and whether Michigan might be susceptible to those strengths.
Offensive, defensive struggles
Rutgers has the worst scoring offense in the country, the 128th total offense, 113th rushing offense and 119th passing offense. But the offensive line is good at protecting the quarterback, allowing the 27th fewest sacks in the country.
Maybe the Wolverines won't be able to pressure Artur Sitkowski? That seems unlikely, since Michigan ranks eighth in the country with 29 sacks in nine games. With Rashan Gary back in the mix with Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Kwity Paye, Rutgers' sack totals seem likely to take a hit this weekend.
Rugers is a little better on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 99th in the country in scoring defense, 83rd in total defense, 120th in rushing defense and 21st in passing defense.
That success against the pass is a definite strength, although it helps that Rutgers is usually down by several scores and the opposing team abandons the passing game. Only 20 teams have seen fewer passing attempts by opponents than Rutgers.
Michigan's passing attack isn't elite, but that's more a product of style than inability. The Wolverines are actually 28th in the country with 8.3 yards per pass attempt.
OK, so Rutgers isn't exactly a juggernaut on the offensive or defensive ends. But what about special teams?
According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Rutgers has the 49th-most efficient special teams unit in the nation, which is nine spots ahead of Michigan.
Punting has been a strength, which is critical because the Scarlet Knights have punted so often. Rutgers has already punted 59 times this season, eighth-most in the country, for an average of 43.12 yards.
Sure, Michigan has Donovan Peoples-Jones to return punts and averages nearly 50 yards per punt thanks to Will Hart, but it's still progress.
The reality is that when Michigan and Rutgers take the field Saturday, the Wolverines will have an edge in almost every facet of the game.
Jim Harbaugh has better players and better coaches, and his team has a lot more to play for than Rutgers, which is already out of bowl contention.
Rutgers does some things well, and the last two weeks have been much more encouraging, as the Scarlet Knights nearly upset Northwestern and stayed within 14 points of Wisconsin.
Still, Michigan has no business losing this game, and if it even stays close, it will only have itself to blame.
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