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Michigan football’s five most important games in 2023

These games have the potential to make or break Michigan’s season in 2023.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Michigan at Ohio State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Another college football season is nearly upon us, and with that, 12 chances for every team in America to prove themselves and build a resume over the next few months.

A glance at Michigan’s 2023 schedule, and even a casual fan could see the Wolverines don’t exactly face a murderer’s row. Despite not facing the toughest slate, we will have the chance to learn about this team each week, and a few games stand out as important checkpoints to see if Michigan has what it takes to make a return trip to the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff.

Here are Michigan’s five most important games for 2023.

5. Sept. 30 @ Nebraska

While we shouldn’t expect the Cornhuskers to make a huge improvement in the win column this season, this game is still an important benchmark for Michigan in 2023. It will represent Michigan’s first road game of the season, and Lincoln is never an easy environment to play in.

This should give fans a good look at how the Wolverines can stack up playing on the road. If you’ll remember, the last time Michigan made a trip to Nebraska, it was fortunate to leave with a win, ousting the Huskers, 32-29, thanks to Jake Moody.

Despite a close game against an inferior opponent, that win seemed to galvanize the team and helped pave the way for their success down the stretch. Hopefully, an early season win in front of a hostile crowd will have a similar effect in 2023.

4. Nov. 18 @ Maryland

If there was ever a game to be labeled as the “trap game” on Michigan’s schedule, this would be it. As we saw last year, Michigan struggled against Maryland for much of the game at home and was taken down to the wire by Illinois the week before playing Ohio State. Now, the Wolverines face the Terps on the road the week before playing Buckeyes.

This should once again be a test for Michigan, as it will face an offense that can really score thanks to quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and running back Roman Hemby. Maryland was able to move the ball via the run and the pass in last year’s game, so this will be a good test for Michigan’s defense. It will be important to see if Michigan can take things one week at a time and not get tripped up against an opponent it outmatches on paper.

3. Oct. 21 @ Michigan State

It feels strange to rank a rivalry game against the green and white as Michigan’s third-most important game of the season, but here we are. Michigan got its revenge last year, defeating Michigan State at home, 29-7. However, it was the post-game events that defined the game and will be where the conversation likely lies ahead of the rematch this year.

While the Spartans aren’t expected to be very competitive this year, they always give Michigan a good fight, and the game being played in East Lansing with a hostile crowd at their back surely helps them. I don’t foresee this game coming down to the wire, but in-state bragging rights are always important and Michigan needs to continue to reclaim its hold on the rivalry.

2. Nov. 11 @ Penn State

Hot take incoming: while this might not be Michigan’s most important game of 2023, I believe this could be the toughest. Michigan is fortunate to avoid the dreaded “White Out” game, but trips to Beaver Stadium are almost always tough. Penn State returns plenty of production on both sides of the ball, and the offense in particular should take a step forward under the command of talented sophomore quarterback Drew Allar.

While their offense should improve considerably, the Nittany Lions’ defense is the real strength. While Michigan may have run for seemingly half a mile (418 yards to be exact) in last year’s game, a unit led by the likes of defensive lineman Chop Robinson and cornerback Kalen King will be tough to move the ball against. This unit matches up well against Michigan’s offense, further cementing this game as a solid late-season test that could determine the Big Ten East race.

1. Nov. 25 vs Ohio State

I don’t need to explain this one. Fine, I’ll do it anyway. The Game makes or breaks the season for both of these teams every year, and it will be no different in 2023.

There’s some more mystery around the Ohio State team in 2023, as it is replacing quarterback C.J. Stroud. However, they do have two talented options to replace him in junior Kyle McCord and sophomore Devin Brown. They also have a bevy of skilled players to distribute the ball to, led by superstar receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.

The Buckeyes also return a star-studded defense led by the likes of edge J.T. Tuimoloau and linebacker Tommy Eichenberg. Another year with these players in Jim Knowles’ system could mean the Wolverines have a tougher time moving the ball on the ground, however, a more balanced attack could mean a questionable secondary could be exploited. This game being played in Ann Arbor also plays in Michigan’s favor.