Jim Harbaugh has won 20 games in two seasons at Michigan, and there’s really only one truly unexpected blemish on the résumé.
The Wolverines were 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation last season when they went to Iowa City. They left with a 14-13 loss (and an injured starting quarterback). The loss eventually cost them a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
Year 3 kicks off for Harbaugh and Michigan with a major showdown against Florida at JerryWorld in Texas. There are three other huge games on the schedule — trips to Penn State (Oct. 21) and Wisconsin (Nov. 18) before the regular-season finale at the Big House against Ohio State.
Let’s set those four games aside. All four could be incredible battles, especially if this young Wolverines team can turn inexperienced talent into great results.
Which of the other eight games could give Michigan the most trouble? That Iowa game showed that any team, even one as experienced and deep as the 2016 Wolverines, can stumble during a weird night on the road in the Big Ten.
Regardless of what happens against Florida on Opening Day, and even a trip to Beaver Stadium for a “White Out” night against Penn State, the Wolverines could still have a chance to win the Big Ten East if they reach the final two games of the regular season (at Wisconsin, vs. Ohio State) with no more than one loss in conference play.
The other game most likely to trip up the Wolverines, besides the one in Happy Valley? It is the one right before those games against the Badgers and Buckeyes.
Upset alert in College Park?
Michigan will go to Maryland on Nov. 11. Former Harbaugh assistant DJ Durkin didn’t have much of a chance against his former boss last season in his first year with the Terps. They were woefully thin both at quarterback and across the defense, and an injury to senior starting QB Perry Hills early in the game didn’t help. Michigan trounced Maryland 59-3, the last win of a 9-0 start.
Durkin has had a year to add more talent. His rebuilding job is far from complete, but North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson could give Maryland competent quarterback play. There are some exciting skill players. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell has a track record of lighting up defenses in Year 2 and beyond at previous stops.
This Michigan team is going to be loaded with talent, but bouts of inconsistency seem like a near certainty. Regardless of how great of a coaching job Harbaugh and his staff does, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be a game where Michigan turns the ball over a few times, makes a couple of mistakes on defense and suddenly finds itself locked in a tight game in the second half against an inferior opponent.
A trip to Maryland just before a potentially season-defining two-week stretch against Wisconsin and Ohio State looks like it might be that type of tilt. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Harbaugh gets the Wolverines to 7-2 or 8-1. Then, with everything still to play for, a rough first half leaves them on upset alert at in College Park.