Every 2018 Michigan football game ranked from easiest to most difficult

Michigan plays 6 games against teams coming off double-digit win seasons

Michigan football has an exceptionally difficult schedule this season. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Michigan football team is hoping for a bounce-back season after losing five games last year. But it's not going to be easy.

Michigan has one of the toughest schedules in the country this season, including five games against top-12 teams and four road games against teams that won double-digit games in 2017.

There isn't much room for error in the Big Ten East Division, so the Wolverines will have to be almost perfect to win a conference title.

Here's a look at every game on Michigan's 2018 schedule, ranked from easiest to most difficult.

12. Maryland

Game details: Oct. 6 at Michigan Stadium

After a 4-8 season, Maryland's offseason has been shrouded in controversy involving head coach D.J. Durkin. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Maryland appeared to be trending upward in D.J. Durkin's first season as head coach, but the last 12 months have been brutal for Terrapins fans.

First, Maryland fell victim to a slew of quarterback injuries and went 4-8 last season -- the second-worst record of any Big Ten team. Then, Durkin was named in an offseason scandal involving the program's culture and the death of one of his players.

He has been placed on administrative leave, and with the season just weeks away, it feels like 2018 could be a rough year for the Terrapins. Michigan shouldn't have much of a problem against Maryland at home this year.

11. SMU

Game details: Sept. 15 at Michigan Stadium

SMU running back Xavier Jones is back this season after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in 2017. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Michigan is known to get a bit of a scare in early season nonconference home games -- such as the Cincinnati game last year or the Colorado game in 2016. If SMU hangs with Michigan next month, it will be just as surprising as the Cincinnati scare.

SMU had a decent 2017 season, going 7-5 before losing by 41 points to Louisiana Tech in the DXL Frisco Bowl. The Mustangs have a 1,000-yard rusher in Xavier Jones, but they lost two 1,000-yard receivers to the NFL in Trey Quinn and Courtland Sutton.

Even though the SMU program seems to be on the rise, Sonny Dykes will have a hard time beating Michigan in his first full season at the helm.

10. Western Michigan

Game details: Sept. 8 at Michigan Stadium

Western Michigan went 6-6 last season after losing head coach P.J. Fleck. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Western Michigan has become one of the most consistent mid-major teams in the country since a disastrous 1-11 season in 2013. The Broncos haven't had a losing record in four years, won at least eight games three times in a row and came within a score of a 14-0 season in 2016.

WMU took a step back last season after the departure of head coach P.J. Fleck. After starting 6-4, the Broncos lost their final two games -- including a 37-10 loss at Toledo -- to finish the season.

Western Michigan is a strong MAC program, but this isn't one of the tougher games on Michigan's schedule.

9. Rutgers

Game details: Nov. 10 at HighPoint Solutions Stadium

Rutgers head coach Chris Ash has not had success against Michigan. (Getty Images)

If Michigan's game against Rutgers was at home, it would be right up at the top of this list with the Maryland game. Still, the Wolverines shouldn't have much to worry about on this road trip.

Rutgers has been the conference punching bag since joining the Big Ten, and last season was no different. The Scarlett Knights won four games -- one against FCS school Morgan State, two against conference bottom-dwellers and a surprising upset of Purdue.

In its last three games of 2017, Rutgers was outscored 116-13. Add that to its recent track record against Michigan, and Nov. 10 should be manageable for Jim Harbaugh's crew.

8. Indiana

Game details: Nov. 17 at Michigan Stadium

Indiana head coach Tom Allen (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Indiana is one of those teams that plays Michigan tough regardless of the records. Last season, it took overtime for the Wolverines to escape Bloomington with a win. In 2016, Michigan trailed late in the third quarter. It took a fourth-down conversion in 2015 to keep Michigan alive in an eventual double-overtime win.

The 2017 season was a disappointment for Indiana. The Hoosiers lost five games to top-20 teams, but falling to Maryland and Purdue in close road games left Tom Allen's team without a bowl game.

Playing at Indiana has been tricky for Big Ten teams the last several years, but Michigan shouldn't have much of a problem in a November home game, even with a trip to Ohio State the following week.

7. Nebraska

Game details: Sept. 22 at Michigan Stadium

In Scott Frost's last trip to Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines crushed Central Florida, 51-14, on Sept. 10, 2016 (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

It's amazing how far Nebraska has fallen. What was once among the best football programs in the nation hit rock bottom last year, going 4-8 with uninspiring wins and blowout losses.

But Nebraska won't be a pushover this year after bringing in one of the best young coaches in the country. Scott Frost is coming off an incredible season at Central Florida, which went 13-0 and beat Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

There's enough talent on the Nebraska roster for Frost to win eight games this year, but a win at Michigan is unlikely. It will be his first road game and his first Big Ten game as Nebraska's head coach.

6. Northwestern

Game details: Sept. 29 at Ryan Field

Northwestern star QB Clayton Thorson looks poised for a big senior season. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

This is the part of Michigan's schedule that separates it from others in the Big Ten. Half of Michigan's games this season will come against teams that won at least 10 games last year, and four will be on the road.

Northwestern, like Indiana, usually plays Michigan tough and finds a way to lose in the end. This year could be different, though, as Pat Fitzgerald's team rides an eight-game winning streak into 2018.

Michigan's last two trips to Ryan Field were near-disasters: a 10-9 win in 2014 and a triple-overtime victory in 2013.

Both programs have changed drastically since those meetings. Those Northwestern teams went 5-7. In Michigan's only game against the Wildcats under Harbaugh, it won 38-0.

If Northwestern can build off last season's 10-win campaign, it will be one of Michigan's tougher games, especially on the road.

5. Penn State

Game details: Nov. 3 at Michigan Stadium

Penn State QB Trace McSorley is one of the best returning players in the Big Ten. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

That's right: The game against preseasons No. 9 Penn State, which won 11 games and the Fiesta Bowl last season, could be Michigan's fifth-toughest test of the year.

Penn State came four points away from an undefeated regular season, losing at Ohio State by a point and at Michigan State by a field goal. The Nittany Lions spanked Michigan in Happy Valley, dropping 42 points on Don Brown's vaunted defense.

Penn State lost one of the best players in the country to the NFL in Saquon Barkley, but James Franklin replaces him with the former No. 1 running back recruit from the 2016 class, Miles Sanders. The five-star prospect joins returning quarterback Trace McSorley in what should be one of the deadliest offensive duos in the nation.

Michigan gets Penn State at home this season, after a buy week, but Franklin has the Nittany Lions back near the top of college football. Even without Barkley, this is a dangerous game.

4. Wisconsin

Game details: Oct. 13 at Michigan Stadium

QB Alex Hornibrook and RB Jonathan Taylor are back to lead Wisconsin to another Big Ten West Division title. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Wisconsin was one play away from a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff appearance last year after going 12-0 during the regular season. With most of their major pieces still in place, Wisconsin will again be the best team in the West Division.

The Badgers will likely be 5-0 when they travel to Ann Arbor in mid-October, and they could be a top-five team in the country. Starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook is back, as is running back Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 1,977 yards last season.

Michigan had a chance to beat Wisconsin on the road last season before the injury to Brandon Peters. This year, it will be a battle between Wisconsin's elite running game and Michigan's deep defensive line.

Wisconsin feels like a lock to win 10 games this season, but Michigan always has a chance in Ann Arbor.

3. Notre Dame

Game details: Sept. 1 at Notre Dame Stadium

Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush was great on the run, but struggled through the air in 2017. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

One of the most difficult games of Michigan's season will come in the opener: a return trip to South Bend.

Notre Dame backed out of the rivalry three years ago, and even though the final matchup came at Notre Dame Stadium, Michigan will play on the road once again.

It's hard to know what to expect from the Fighting Irish. They won 10 games last season, including victories over Michigan State, USC and LSU. Brian Kelly was on the hot seat, and he silenced the critics on the back of quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

Wimbush took over the starting job and ran with it, literally. He rushed for 803 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The passing attack was a different story, as Wimbush completed fewer than half of his attempts.

Notre Dame's offense was explosive at times last season, but the defense crumpled late in the year.

We won't know much about either team when they take the field Sept. 1, but Michigan will be an underdog against a talented roster on the road.

2. Michigan State

Game details: Oct. 20 at Spartan Stadium

Brian Lewerke and Michigan State are coming off a 10-win season. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

There's a trend as we near the toughest games on Michigan's schedule: rivals on the road.

Michigan State has found a way to beat Michigan twice in three years under Harbaugh, and 2018 will be a tougher test than the last three. The Wolverines have to go on the road against a team that won 10 games in 2017 and lost only one starter.

The loss to Michigan State derailed what once looked like a promising 2017 season, and no, Harbaugh is in danger of falling to 1-7 against his rivals, since both games are on the road.

There's a lot riding on this year's Michigan-Michigan State matchup, and the Wolverines have no recent history of success in these types of games.

Michigan hasn't has success in big games, rivalry games or games against Michigan State over the last decade, so Mark Dantonio's team has to be feeling good going into this year's matchup.

1. Ohio State

Game details: Nov. 24 at Ohio Stadium

Urban Meyer has been under fire this offseason for his handling of an assistant coach's domestic abuse case. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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There's no debate about which game is Michigan's toughest. Every year, it's the regular-season finale against Ohio State.

Michigan has one win against Ohio State in the last 14 matchups, and its last win at the Horseshoe came in 2000. Almost every game since 2011 has been close, but Michigan simply hasn't found a way to win.

By the end of November, the Urban Meyer scandal will likely be a distant memory, as the Buckeyes' roster is as loaded as any in the country. Ohio State is the No. 3 team in the country, the favorite in the Big Ten and a heavy favorite to beat Michigan once again.

Harbaugh returns an excellent defense and plenty of talent on offense, but Michigan hasn't been able to turn that combination into a win over Ohio State. Will this be the year? Michigan is good enough to pull the upset, but history suggests Ohio State has the upper hand in Columbus.

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