Michigan boosts schedule without Irish

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
10:55
AM ET
Michigan didn't want the annual Notre Dame series to end. Whether the Irish chickened out or not is a matter of opinion.

What's not is that Michigan has responded by adding some beef to its non-league schedule.

The school on Thursday announced it will play Florida in the 2017 season opener at the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas. Michigan will make its second appearance in the game after facing Alabama in the 2012 opener. The teams will play Sept. 2, 2017, at AT&T Stadium.

Michigan twice has played Florida in bowl games, most recently in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, Lloyd Carr's final game as Wolverines coach. Florida will venture out of the Sunshine State to play a non-conference game for the first time since 1991 (!).

"This is a great way to reach our fan base in the South and to continue to expand our recruiting efforts in the state of Texas," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said in a prepared statement. "Our goal is to have as many Michigan fans at the game as possible. Florida has been one of college football's best programs over the past 20 years, and we are excited to face the Gators in a regular season football game for the first time ever."

All good points from Hoke, especially the one about recruiting in the fertile state of Texas. Florida was a mess this past season but should once again be among the nation's elite by 2017. There are too many resources in Gainesville for the program not to be great again.

This is the type of game that can help Michigan in its quest to make the College Football Playoff, which is the program's ultimate goal, Brandon told me this spring. Then ask yourself: How often have recent wins against Notre Dame really helped Michigan? Games against Notre Dame typically have a lose-lose feel for Big Ten teams. Beat the Irish, and the national spin is that Notre Dame is down. Lose to the Irish, and you might be out of the playoff picture.

Wins against SEC teams matter more, perception wise. That's just the way it is. Michigan has given itself a chance for a big one to open the 2017 campaign.

The Wolverines' 2017 schedule is now complete, with home games against both Cincinnati and Air Force, as well as nine Big Ten contests, including home games against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, and road tests against both Wisconsin and Penn State.

That's the type of schedule that should impress the Playoff selection committee.

Some Michigan fans undoubtedly would prefer a home-and-home against Florida, but looking at the Gators' reluctance to go anywhere for non-league games, that possibility seemed slim. Although Michigan's last trip to Jerry World didn't go well, the opportunity to play on the national stage against a marquee team is extremely valuable.

"We have a lot of work to do to regain our footing in terms of playing competition that's going to be attractive to our fans, help us build our programs and help us compete at the national level," Brandon told me in May. "I'm a big believer that we should be strengthening our schedule and working hard to go out and fill those nonconference positions with the kinds of programs that are going to excite our fans, bring a lot of attention to us as we are broadcast on television and ultimately put in a position where we're going to have better football programs."

From a local/regional perspective, the end of the Michigan-Notre Dame series is a bummer. But it opened up different doors for Michigan, and the Wolverines walked through one Thursday.

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