For Michigan football, the rest of the season hinges on its next 3 games

Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State up next for Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 6: Ronnie Bell #8 of the Michigan Wolverines dives for a first half touchdown while playing the Maryland Terrapins on October 6, 2018 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The newly-ranked No. 12 Michigan Wolverines are 5-1 halfway through their season, with their lone blemish a seven-point loss on the road to Notre Dame the first weekend of the season.

The Wolverines ripped off five straight wins -- home against Western Michigan, SMU and Nebraska, at Northwestern, and home last weekend against Maryland. 

Michigan hasn't had a true test since that opening loss to the Fighting Irish, so you could argue we don't really know what to make of this team. 

But we will definitely know more about them after the next three games -- home against Wisconsin this weekend, at Michigan State (Oct. 20) and home against Penn State (Nov. 3) after a bye week.

Wisconsin, like Michigan, suffered a non-conference loss early in the year -- at home to BYU in Week 3. The Badgers' No. 24 overall passing defense will keep Shea Patterson on his toes. Surprisingly, their rush defense has been the team's weak spot this year (giving up 135 rushing yards per game), so you can bet Jim Harbaugh will lean on senior running back Karan Higdon once again.

Meanwhile, Michigan State is one of the most experienced teams in the country, but have two bad losses to Arizona State and Northwestern.

The Spartans' strength is their rush defense -- ranking No. 1 in the country by giving up an astonishingly low 40.3 rushing yards per game. But their pass defense has been their downfall -- giving up 288.3 passing yards per game, No. 114 out of 129 in the country.

The numbers on paper add up for Patterson (1,187 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions in 2018) to have a monster game, but that will all depend on the play-calling from Harbaugh, who has elected for Michigan to rush 236 times this season compared to 155 passes.

Penn State lost to Ohio State by just one point and are one of the stronger teams in the conference. With the No. 14 total offense No. 48 total defense, Penn State is as balanced as they come in the Big Ten. Quarterback Trace McSorely has thrown 10 touchdowns to two interceptions this year, and running back Mile Sanders has 538 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

McSorely ran for three scores last year in the Nittany Lions' 42-13 throttling of the Wolverines last year at Penn State, and former Nittany Lions' running back Saquon Barkley ran for two more. The Wolverines will have to hone in on their rushing defense (No. 7 in the country) to prevent Penn State's lethal offense from going off for a second straight year.

There's no question this will be the Wolverines' hardest stretch of the season. After these three games, they travel to one-win Rutgers, get Indiana at home and then head to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes.

If they want to make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship, they have to win the next three.