ANN ARBOR, Mich. — If you’re itching for college football season to begin, you’ve probably already started counting down the days until Michigan’s season opener against Florida.
You’re probably also looking at the lineups of Michigan’s opponents — which range from in-state rival Michigan State on Oct. 7 to the SEC East champion Gators in that season opener Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas. Those lineups include All-American caliber running backs, mobile quarterbacks and potential NFL draft picks.
Land of 10 analyzed five players who could be the most challenging that the Wolverines face in 2017.
RB, Penn State
Barkley is projected as a first-round draft pick in several 2018 NFL mock drafts, some having him as a top-5 pick. In 2016, he was second in the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,496) yards and led the conference in rushing touchdowns (18).
However, his production against Michigan has been underwhelming. In a 49-10 loss at Michigan in September of 2016, Barkley had 15 carries for 59 yards and 5 catches for 77 yards; in a 28-16 loss to the Wolverines in November of 2015, he had 15 carries for 68 yards and 2 catches for 19 yards.
Michigan plays at Penn State on Oct. 21.
Callaway has been one of Florida’s most productive receivers in the last two seasons with 1,399 yards on 89 catches to go with 11 touchdowns (7 receiving) in 2016 and ’17 combined.
However, Callaway has drawn more attention for disciplinary issues; Callaway was cited for a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana on May 13. He was also suspended last spring amid sexual battery allegations. He was found not responsible during a Title IX hearing.
Florida coach Jim McElwain has not determined Callaway’s status for the Gators’ season opener against Michigan. He is scheduled to appear in court June 6.
DL, Ohio State
Lewis was the 2016 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and is projected as a first-round draft pick. He led the Buckeyes in 2016 with 8 sacks for a loss of 55 yards. Lewis also forced 3 fumbles, had 5 quarterback hurries and 10.5 of his 29 tackles were for a loss of 61 yards.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Lewis will team with Sam Hubbard — another projected first-round draft pick — on Ohio State’s deep and versatile D-line.
Michigan hosts Ohio State at noon ET on Nov. 25.
QB, Penn State
McSorley set the school’s single-season record for passing yards (3,614), passing touchdowns (29) and total offense (3,979). Yet McSorley had his least-productive game of 2016 against Michigan — he was sacked 6 times and threw for only 121 yards with an interception and a touchdown — but Penn State’s loss to Michigan became a turning point.
The Nittany Lions won their next nine games, including the Big Ten Championship Game, to reach the Rose Bowl. In that stretch, McSorley threw for 2,665 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Smith was a bright spot for the Golden Gophers in a season that ended in turmoil, with a near-boycott of the Holiday Bowl following the suspension of 10 players related to an internal investigation of an alleged sexual assault in September, followed by a coaching change that brought P.J. Fleck to Minnesota.
Smith was the Big Ten’s fourth-leading rusher in 2016, with 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns on 240 carries, and factored into Minnesota’s special teams. Smith was named Offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl, in which he had a touchdown and 132 all-purpose yards.
Michigan hosts Minnesota on Nov. 4.