The crazy summertime hype for Michigan football has reached Denard-Robinson-in-September levels – that’s an old Heisman Trophy joke – with a number of media pundits ranking the Wolverines in the top five and/or installing U-M as Big Ten favorites.
From a personnel standpoint, I can accept this rationale. There are many great reasons why.
Michigan went 10-3 last year and likely has the conference’s best pass-catching trio in tight end Jake Butt and receivers Jeehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. It also has the premier 1-2 punch in the secondary with safety/corner/linebacker Jabrill Peppers and cornerback Jourdain Lewis), the most experienced offensive line (four returning starters), an NFL-quality behemoth at left tackle (sophomore Grant Newsome), the nation’s most heralded true freshman (defensive tackle Rashan Gary) and the most accomplished defensive coordinator from 2015 (Don Brown, who orchestrated Boston College’s top-ranked unit).
Oh, and don’t forget about the relentless presence of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, college football’s undisputed lightning-rod-king of media attention, even ahead of Alabama’s Nick Saban as an attention-getter.
That’s a lot of positive factors working in the Wolverines’ favor; but does the schedule allow for all these sky-high expectations?
Big Ten teams will play a nine-game conference schedule this fall, and as luck would have it, the East division gets first crack at hosting five league games. (West teams get five home games in 2017.)
However, it still begs the buy-or-sell question: Will Michigan be the conference’s last undefeated squad in 2016?
Here’s a quick breakdown of Michigan’s schedule, presented in three classifications:
Hawaii (Sept. 3), UCF (Sept. 10), Colorado (Sept. 17), at Rutgers (Oct. 8), Illinois (Oct. 22), Maryland (Nov. 5), Indiana (Nov. 19)
REASONABLY CONFIDENT WINS
Penn State (Sept. 24), Wisconsin (Oct. 1)
at Michigan State (Oct. 29), at Iowa (Nov. 12), at Ohio State (Nov. 26)
VERDICT: I’ll buy Michigan as the Big Ten East’s last unbeaten for the season – thanks to Oklahoma over Ohio State in mid-September – but I’ll sell the Wolverines as the conference’s final holdout. That honor, as listed below, shall go to the veteran-laced, championship-ready Iowa Hawkeyes.
PROJECTED FIRST DEFEATS
Rutgers – at Washington (Sept. 3)
Penn State — at Pittsburgh (Sept. 10)
Ohio State — at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)
Indiana — vs. Michigan State (Oct. 1)
Maryland — at Penn State (Oct. 8)
Michigan State — vs. Northwestern (Oct. 15 — surprise gut feeling)
Michigan — at Michigan State (Oct. 29)
Wisconsin — vs. LSU (Sept. 3 at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field)
Minnesota — vs. Colorado State (Sept. 24)
Nebraska — at Northwestern (Sept. 24)
Northwestern — at Iowa (Oct. 1)
Illinois — at Nebraska (Oct. 1)
Purdue — at Maryland (Oct. 1)
Iowa — at Penn State (Nov. 5)
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.