Power Ranking Michigan's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest
This past week at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit, Michigan, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said that 2013 was in the past and that the Wolverines were only focusing on improving during 2014.
With that being said, forget 7-6 if you can. And for good measure, put aside the losses to Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State just to be thorough. This year, Team 135 has the potential to be very different. Yet again, it could be very similar.
It all depends on...well, you know this part, so feel free to join: "The O-line's development." There, that's out of the way. If Darrell Funk's men can't get it together and complete a comfortable transition, well, there's not much hope of bettering 7-6. However, if the line lives up to its billing and the wind blows in Brady Hoke's favor, 10 wins seem almost doable.
With this post, the lightest of duty to the most challenging opponents will be ranked in a trusty slideshow format. Feel free to suggest your rankings in the comments section.
12.) Game 6: Rutgers
Despite recent nine-win seasons in the Big East, Rutgers should be the easiest opponent for the Wolverines this season. They've never met on the field, and the Scarlet Knights are at home...but that won't matter.
Chalk this one up as a win, folks.
11.) Game 11: Maryland
Michigan and Maryland haven't played since 1990, so its 3-0 record versus the Terps doesn't mean a whole lot. However, by facing a league newcomer at home, the Wolverines, at least in terms of perception, seem to hold a huge advantage.
This one shouldn't be too difficult. Like Rutgers, Maryland will need some time before becoming a true threat on the Big Ten gridiron.
10.) Game 1: Appalachian State
The Wolverines' loss to Appalachian State in 2007 has been a running joke in the Big Ten since, well, 2007. In all likelihood, Hoke will have guys so prepared that they reach a new level of preparedness and make the Moutaineers wish that they never won seven years ago.
Team 135 absolutely has its back against the wall. It absolutely has something to prove. Anything less than a pummeling at The Big House would be unacceptable. However, there's always that chance of past ghosts returning to haunt. That could play a factor during the early goings, but the Wolverines should be in cruise control by midway through the third quarter.
These aren't the defending national championship Mountaineers led by quarterback Armanti Edwards. Appalachian State is rebuilding, and its foundation will be tested Aug. 31 in Ann Arbor.
9.) Game 3: Miami (Ohio)
Michigan's never lost to Miami (Ohio), but it's 5-0 record could motivate first-year Redhawks coach Chuck Martin, who comes by way of Notre Dame.
There's also a little history going on here: Miami served as the proving grounds for Bo Schembechler, the state of Ohio and Michigan have a natural rivalry that goes beyond sports and Martin's Irish heritage probably encourages a healthy dislike for all things maize and blue.
The story lines on the sidelines should be more interesting than this meeting in Ann Arbor.
8.) Game 4: Utah
The Utes know what it's like to win in Ann Arbor, as they pulled off a 25-23 thriller on Michigan's home turf in 2008.
But again, these are different times and different teams. Sure, Utah knocked off No. 5 Stanford in 2013, but every team gets lucky every now and then, right? This one may not be a catastrophic blowout, but it probably won't be pretty.
From this point on, though, the competition becomes more difficult to manage.
7.) Game 9: Indiana
Last year's basketball-paced exchange was fun, but that probably won't be the case this year. Michigan's secondary, although uncharacteristically lethargic versus the Hoosiers in 2013, is growing stronger with each passing moment. Recruiting is paying off, and the set of defensive backs is loaded, loaded, loaded.
It's a Big Ten game, so there's that. But the Wolverines are 53-9 against Indiana and haven't lost since 1987. This one should be a win, but it could also get interesting. Depending on how Team 135 handles Michigan State during the week prior, the Indiana game could be a must-win due to loss or a must-win due to victory (sake of momentum!). Sounds good, right?
6.) Game 10: Northwestern
The Wildcats won 21-14 in 2008 but haven't had much to talk about in terms of beating Michigan since the 1990s, back into the Pat Fitzgerald and Darnell Autry days.
Anyhow, the Wolverines hold a 55-15-2 historical edge. Due to Northwestern's ability to emerge from thin air, this series has been interesting, especially lately. High-scoring OT thrillers? Yup. Blowouts? Yup. How about those 20-something-point nail-biters? Those too.
This game could end in a 56-50 classic or a 42-10 shelling. Excluding a broad "win for Michigan" call, even Nostradamus would have trouble predicting this year's affair in Evanston. They're unpredictable by nature.
5.) Game 5: Minnesota
The Gophers haven't downed Michigan since 2005, and truthfully, the following stretch hasn't been too kind. In 2013, Devin Gardner led the Wolverines to a 42-13 triumph. Michigan moved to 5-0. Life was good for Hoke.
And then everything fell apart...
It's probably better that Michigan gets Minnesota early in the season in its own yard. Think back to late 2013, and you should remember an incredibly motivated Gophers squad that was a few bounces away from nine or 10 wins.
4.) Game 7: Penn State
This one still stings for Michigan fans, so vasts amount of time will be saved by saying this: Allen Robinson is gone. He won't catch another Hail Mary. That's good.
But Christian Hackenberg is now a sophomore with more confidence and a developed sense of quarterbacking at the collegiate level. Translation: The super frosh is growing up, and that could be a problem. This one could be a signature win in the waiting for Hackenberg, who is worth every bit of the hype.
3.) Game 2: Notre Dame
It's the last shebang. Final shebang? Whatever it is, it's the series closer between college football royalty. Michigan leads the thing 24-16-1. Getting win No. 25 in South Bend wouldn't be a bad way for Hoke to leave Brian Kelly, now would it?
2.) Game 8: Michigan State
The Spartans have five of the past six in their pockets. Paul Bunyan is getting comfortable in East Lansing—so comfortable that he's rumored to be interested in a quaint place near Spartan Stadium.
Last year's 29-6, six-sacked blunder was possibly the ugliest game of Hoke's tenure. It was a nightmare that can't be repeated.
The pressure is on, Michigan. Beat Mark Dantonio's guys in East Lansing or face the wrath of inebriated fans on Twitter.
You've been warned.
1.) Game 12: The Ohio State
Three wins since 2000. An "almost" in 2013.
Eventually, Michigan will regain its position within one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. But until then, it'll be a rough ride. Urban Meyer is recruiting every kid everywhere, so beating him on the trail is kind of like beating him on the field: difficult.
This is "The Game" that defines the Midwest. It hasn't been very competitive lately, but rest assured that this year's Border War could be wildly entertaining.
To the winner goes the spoils...and Toledo, the winners get that too.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81