Every Michigan Wolverines fan likely has the following clashes circled on their mental calendars: Sept. 7 vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 2 at Michigan State and, of course, Nov. 30 vs. Ohio State.
Those three contests will certainly be the measuring stick games for the Wolverines, but there are two less-celebrated games that could derail a run at a BCS bowl game.
At Penn State on Oct. 12
Bill O'Brien's bunch surprised most experts with an 8-4 record in 2012. Wide receiver Allen Robinson led the conference in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He's back, but his quarterback from last season isn't.
Matt McGloin graduated, but the Nittany Lions have two promising players to take his place. Junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson has experience in a fast-paced offense like O'Brien's and is said to have an edge over freshman Christian Hackenberg in the QB race, per ESPN.
Hackenberg has the look of a kid who could see some early success in his collegiate career. No matter who starts, they will benefit greatly from an explosive weapon like Robinson on the outside.
This game is set for the seventh week of the season and by this time, the chosen QB and Robinson should have the opportunity to establish some chemistry.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions lost some strength upfront with the departure of Jordan Hill, but DE Deion Barnes, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Mike Hull and DB Adrian Amos are all returning.
You can bet this team will be tough at home. Though circumstances were obviously different, the last time the Wolverines went into State College, they lost 41-31 in 2010.
At Northwestern on Nov. 16
Last season, the Wolverines narrowly defeated Pat Fitzgerald's team 38-31 in the Big House. This year's contest will take place in Evanston, Ill., and Big Blue better beware.
If there is one thing you can count on from a Fitzgerald football team, it's preparedness. After a 10-win season in 2012, the Wildcats will be looking to build on that success.
They have a few major tests before they tangle with the Wolverines in mid-November, but don't be shocked if this is a battle for supremacy in the Legends division.
Quarterback Kain Colter is the type of player who can take over a game with his versatility. In last year's game against Michigan he ran for 82 yards and threw for 96 with a touchdown. He'll be the main focus of the Wolverines' defensive scouting report.
The Wildcats also welcome back other key performers on both sides of the ball like RB Venric Mark, TE Dan Vitale, DE Tyler Scott, CB Nick Van Hoose and LB Chi Chi Ariguzo.
Fitzgerald has this program on the rise, and a win over Michigan this late in the season could be era-defining for the Cats.
Follow me and witness my passion for sports and video games.