Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Schedule analysis: Michigan

By Brian Bennett

The first games involving Big Ten teams kick off five weeks from Thursday. (Hello, Minnesota and Rutgers). We can't wait, which is why we're peeking ahead and breaking down every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule in this new series.

Next up: The Michigan Wolverines.

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Appalachian State (4-8)
Sept. 6: at Notre Dame (9-4)
Sept. 13: Miami (Ohio) (0-12)
Sept. 20: Utah (5-7)

East Division games

Oct. 4: at Rutgers
Oct. 11: Penn State
Oct. 25: at Michigan State
Nov. 1: Indiana
Nov. 22: Maryland
Nov. 29: at Ohio State

Crossover games

Sept. 27: Minnesota
Nov. 8: at Northwestern

No plays

Illinois
Iowa
Nebraska
Purdue
Wisconsin

Gut-check game: at Michigan State. Maize and Blue fans are not happy about having to travel to East Lansing two straight years, but it's a quirk of the new division setup and expansion. The Spartans have won by a combined 37 points the last two times they've hosted Michigan (last year and in 2011) and have claimed five of the past six Paul Bunyan Trophies. The Wolverines haven't scored more than 20 points against their instate rivals since 2008, as the Spartan Dawg defense has given them all kinds of trouble. The Ohio State game will always demand more of Michigan's attention, but the program has been getting its butt kicked in the "other" rivalry of late.

Trap game: It's tempting to say Appalachian State, given the massive trap the Wolverines fell into in 2007. We appreciate Dave Brandon's sense of humor in scheduling this as an opener. But the history means Michigan will be well aware of the danger in this one, and the Mountaineers aren't quite as good as they were last time. So we'll say the trap game here is at Rutgers. By reputation, maybe, it doesn't seem all that dangerous. But it will be the Wolverines' first Big Ten road game, and it's a night game in unfamiliar territory. Conditions were similar last year when UConn almost pulled the upset, and the Scarlet Knights are much more capable of notching a big win than the Huskies. Their defense could give Michigan problems, especially if the offensive line and running game aren't much improved.

Snoozer: Miami went 0-12 last year. 'Nuff said.

Non-con challenge: Week 2 brings the last scheduled meeting with Notre Dame, and with Brady Hoke calling the Irish "chicken" last year -- along with the "Chicken Dance" being played over the Big House speakers after Michigan's win -- expect the home crowd to be ready to rumble. Four of the past five games in this series have been decided by seven points or fewer, and even last year's 41-30 Wolverines victory was closer than the final score indicated.

Analysis: Michigan's schedule is challenging but not overwhelming. Missing Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin from the West is an advantage, especially given the historical dominance over Minnesota and Northwestern. The nonconference schedule does contain some hurdles -- keep an eye on Utah, a team which beat Stanford last year and shouldn't be intimidated in the Big House. The East Division games are likely where the Wolverines' season will be decided, and having to travel to both Michigan State and Ohio State is not easy. To have any chance of reaching Hoke's goal of a Big Ten title, Michigan will have to protect home field and hope to steal a win or two on the road.