ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Any Michigan fan worth his or her salt circles the final Saturday in November on the calendar. The annual Michigan-Ohio State game is akin to a national holiday.
But there are a few other games on the 2017 schedule that could be just as vital as the tilt against the Buckeyes, whether it’s an early-season gauge of progress or a jockeying point for a division title.
Land of 10 analyzed three pivotal games — excluding Ohio State on Nov. 25 in Ann Arbor — for the Michigan football team in 2017.
AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will host this rematch of the 2016 Citrus Bowl, and the 2017 season opener will provide an early-season barometer for Michigan.
Not only will Michigan play in an NFL stadium, but it will face a team from the powerful Southeastern Conference. Michigan will have at least 18 new starters when it faces the Gators at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Florida has won two straight SEC East titles and has plenty of depth and experience returning. However, the Gators will be tinkering with a new-look defense, as they lost seven players from the unit in the NFL draft, including three defensive backs.
At Penn State
Penn State is arguably the most stacked team in the Big Ten East. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Championship and the Big Ten East, and return 16 starters from their Rose Bowl team, including running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley and tight end Mike Gesicki.
Penn State has big plans for the matchup against Michigan. It’s Penn State’s designated Whiteout game, where 107,000 hostile fans are mandated to wear white.
Penn State hasn’t defeated Michigan since 2013 — a 43-40, 4-overtime win in State College, Pa.
Land of 10 has also pegged this a pivotal game for Penn State. Read more from Land of 10’s Corey Masisak.
Michigan makes its first trip to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., since 2009. This will be the Wolverines’ third game against the Badgers since 2010.
Michigan proved its mettle in a 14-7 win last year against the Badgers in Ann Arbor — a game that came down to the fourth quarter when Amara Darboh’s touchdown broke a tie and Jourdan Lewis’ one-handed interception of a pass by Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook sealed the win.
With new faces in Michigan’s lineup, it’s hard to say what kind of heroics could transpire, or if it’s another grind-it-out game for both teams.
The timing of this game is significant: It’s the second-to-last game of the regular season for both teams, just before a pair of rivalry games (Michigan vs. Ohio State, Wisconsin at Minnesota). This game could be a momentum-builder for the winner.