Ranking every game on the Michigan football schedule from easiest to most difficult

Michigan’s season will be defined by 4 games

Michigan wide receiver A.J. Henning (3) pulls away from Ohio State linebacker Steele Chambers (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Carlos Osorio, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The college football world can’t mock Michigan for its Big Ten title drought anymore, so this offseason, the attention has turned to the Wolverines’ soft non-conference schedule.

After years of scheduling Power 5 opponents such as Washington and Florida, and countless battles with Notre Dame, Michigan took a different approach in 2022. The Wolverines will be heavily favored in all three games before Big Ten play.

And that’s exactly what Michigan should do, if the goal is to return to the College Football Playoff.

In the CFP era, there’s not much benefit in having a difficult schedule. What matters is reaching the end of the regular season with fewer than two losses, and that will give any Power 5 team a chance to make the top four.

Michigan already has some tough Big Ten matchups on the schedule, so there’s really no reason to stack the early weeks with more potential losses, other than to silence rival fans (who would just find something else to gripe about, anyway).

At the end of the day, the perception of Michigan’s schedule is irrelevant -- all that matters is what happens on the field. This year, it looks like Michigan’s season will be defined by four games.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the other eight.

Here’s a ranking of all 12 games on the 2022 Michigan football schedule, from the easiest win to the toughest test.

🧁 Tier 1: Cupcakes 🧁

These are the games Michigan should win easily.

12. Connecticut

Game details: Noon Sept. 17 (Week 3) in Ann Arbor

This is, by far, the least appealing game on the Michigan football schedule.

The Huskies are coming off a 1-11 season, and their only win came by six points against Yale. UConn’s last win against an FBS team came on Oct. 26, 2019, when it defeated Massachusetts during a 2-10 campaign (the other win came against FCS Wagner).

Michigan has had some sluggish performances against bad non-conference opponents, but losing to this Connecticut team would be a disaster. Jim Mora should be able to get the program moving in the right direction, and he hit the transfer portal hard in the offseason, but beating Michigan in Year 1 would be a miracle.

11. Hawaii

Game details: 8 p.m. Sept. 10 (Week 2) in Ann Arbor

Hawaii always fields a pretty solid team, but the Warriors will be forced to flip the script this season after Todd Graham’s tenure came to a rocky end.

Hawaii was a much better team than Colorado State a year ago, but I’m ranking this as the easier game because it’s at night in the Big House, and Michigan is much less likely to have a letdown in that atmosphere.

10. Colorado State

Game details: Noon Sept. 3 (Week 1) in Ann Arbor

Another team with a first-year head coach, Colorado State dumped Steve Addazio after a 3-9 season and hired Jay Norvell away from conference rival Nevada.

Normally one of the more consistent programs in the Mountain West, the Rams have suddenly posted losing records in four straight seasons. Norvell brought quarterback Clay Millen with him from Nevada to try to turn the tide right away.

Colorado State should be much better this season thanks to a slew of transfers and an upgraded coaching staff, but all those moving parts probably won’t be clicking by Week 1.

🥱 Tier 2: Big Ten yawners 🥱

Big Ten teams are Big Ten teams -- they can pull an upset, if overlooked. But Michigan has no business losing the games in this tier.

9. Illinois

Game details: Nov. 19 (Week 12) in Ann Arbor

The only concern for this game is that it comes a week before the Ohio State game. Michigan has had a few scares against lesser opponents in this spot.

Bret Bielema is a proven Big Ten coach, and he found a way to squeeze five wins out of his first Illinois team. But it’s been 11 years since the program’s last winning season, and most of its players weren’t even born the last time Illinois won double-digit games.

Every college football season is different, but Illinois being bad stays the same, and that probably won’t change this year.

8. Maryland

Game details: Noon Sept. 24 (Week 4) in Ann Arbor

Maryland wasn’t terrible last season. The Terps actually finished with a winning record after dismantling Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Taulia Tagovailoa completed over 69% of his passes while throwing for 26 touchdowns and 11 picks. He’s also a threat to run. As long as he’s on the field, Maryland has a chance.

But it’s hard to forget what Michigan did to this team nine months ago. Can Mike Locksley come back from that 41-point drubbing to finally defeat Jim Harbaugh? It’s hard to imagine that.

🪤 Tier 3: Trap games 🪤

Michigan will be comfortably favored in these games, but they’re tricky enough to make fans a little uneasy.

7. Indiana

Game details: Noon Oct. 8 (Week 6) in Bloomington

If you weren’t paying attention to the COVID-shortened 2020 season, you might have missed how good Tom Allen’s Indiana team was. Last year, it looked a lot more like the Indiana we’ve grown accustomed to over the past several decades.

The offense was the worst in the Big Ten, so maybe it’s not a bad thing to lose most of those key contributors (other than Ty Fryfogle -- losing him is bad). Allen has typically fielded strong defenses at IU, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a bounce back in that regard.

As bad as Indiana was last season, Michigan always seems to have a fight on its hands during those trips to Bloomington, and I refuse to call a Big Ten road game a “yawner.”

6. Rutgers

Game details: Nov. 5 (Week 10) in Piscataway

Yes, I’m saying Michigan’s sixth-toughest game is Rutgers. We’ve established that the schedule is top heavy (a nice way to put it), right?

The Scarlet Knights were actually worse than expected in Year 2 under Greg Schiano, but they still gave Michigan a major scare at the Big House. The Wolverines needed a missed field goal and a clutch sack from David Ojabo late in the second half to survive.

The Wolverines will head to Rutgers following an emotional rivalry game against Michigan State, so they’ll need to refocus and make sure last year’s performance doesn’t repeat itself.

5. Nebraska

Game details: Nov. 12 (Week 11) in Ann Arbor

Even though this game is at home, I think Nebraska will be a tougher challenge for Michigan than either Indiana or Rutgers.

The Scott Frost era has been a disaster for Nebraska fans, not only because he continues to post losing record after losing record, but also because the team shows just enough potential to justify keeping him around.

Last year, Nebraska was one of the best 3-9 teams anyone’s ever seen. The Cornhuskers almost beat Oklahoma, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, but lost to all of them. Then they turned around and lost to middling Big Ten teams like Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota.

There’s enough talent on the roster for Nebraska to upset anyone in the Big Ten. The problem is it rarely actually happens.

😤 Tier 4: Make or break 😤

These are the games that will determine if the 2022 Michigan football season is a success or a letdown.

4. Penn State

Game details: Oct. 15 (Week 7) in Ann Arbor

James Franklin’s team finished with a losing record in the Big Ten for the second-straight season in 2021, despite being ranked in the top 10 early in the season both years. The Nittany Lions are hoping this is the year Sean Clifford gets them back near the top of the Big Ten East.

Michigan went into Happy Valley and picked up a hard-fought win a year ago. It was one of the defining moments that helped the Wolverines earn a spot in the playoff.

Penn State’s last non-COVID-season win in Ann Arbor came during the Rich Rodriguez era, and the last two such meetings resulted in Michigan wins by 35 and 39 points. This is the final test before the bye for Michigan, and it’ll be one of the most important games of the season.

3. Michigan State

Game details: Oct. 29 (Week 9) in Ann Arbor

This game could easily be ranked second, but the fact that it’s in Ann Arbor ended up being the tiebreaker.

Through all the success Harbaugh has had in Ann Arbor, Michigan State continues to foil him. From the dropped punt snap in 2015 to the team’s total collapse last October, it seems like Michigan can never get the best of its in-state rival.

Last season, Harbaugh put together a perfect game plan for Michigan State, and his team responded by building a commanding 16-point cushion. But that lead evaporated thanks to an unforced turnover and a healthy dose of Kenneth Walker III, and the Wolverines were forced to drive home without the Paul Bunyan Trophy once again.

Is this the year Harbaugh finally defeats Mel Tucker? He’ll certainly be motivated to do so.

2. Iowa

Game details: Oct. 1 (Week 5) in Iowa City

I can already see how this whole situation is going to play out.

Michigan, 4-0, ranked among the top five teams in the country, goes into Kinnick Stadium at night as a slim favorite over an Iowa team it rocked by 39 points in the 2021 Big Ten Championship Game.

Even though Iowa is also (hypothetically) off to a 4-0 start and ranked inside the top 20, fans are confident that what they saw in Indianapolis last December will be enough to lift Michigan over the Hawkeyes again.

Don’t fall for it! Have you never heard of that dark Kinnick magic? Did you watch almost that exact same scenario play out in 2016, when an undefeated Michigan team could have essentially locked up a playoff spot?

It hasn’t officially been announced, but it sure feels like this will be a vintage Kinnick Stadium night game, and the atmosphere will be electric. Michigan will come into this game untested, both in terms of quality competition and playing on the road.

Sure, many of these players overcame road games against Nebraska and Penn State last season, but each year is different, and it’s hard to pick against Iowa in these situations -- especially since it will have one of the strongest defenses in the nation.

By the way, Michigan’s last win in Iowa City came in 2005.

🌨❄️ Tier 5: The Game ❄️🌨

After what happened last season, this game deserves its own tier.

1. Ohio State

Game details: Nov. 26 (Week 13) in Columbus

This is always the toughest game on Michigan’s schedule, but that’s especially the case when the Wolverines have to travel down to Columbus.

It’s been awhile since Ohio State could play the revenge card against Michigan, but that’s exactly what Ryan Day will do. Michigan didn’t just win The Game last November -- it dominated. The 15-point final margin didn’t even fully capture how physically overwhelming the Wolverines were in the trenches.

But other than Michigan overcoming that mental hurdle, nothing else has changed. Ohio State is still by far the more talented team, and now it has a little extra motivation.

Michigan won’t be able to follow the same script as last season. Not only will the Buckeyes make adjustments, but Hassan Haskins isn’t around to put the team on his shoulders.

Still, the Wolverines aren’t scared anymore, and they should go into Columbus feeling like they have a chance. And hey, a little snow wouldn’t hurt.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.