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Roundtable: Breaking down the 2017 schedule

Maryland v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ed: Hey, guys. Okay, the last few weeks we’ve looked at offense, defense, young guys — a little bit of everything in terms of putting players in place to win games. So now let’s talk about the actual games.

Let’s jump right in with the non-conference. How do you see the Wolverines handling it? Will it be dominance, like last year, or will there be plenty of learning opportunities for the young squad?

Colman: Florida is obviously a tough one, but one I think we’ll win. The other two should be gravy. Air Force is an interesting game because of the offense they play but we will be stout up front and stopping the triple option shouldn’t be an issue.

Jared: This is not the same Florida team that we waxed in the bowl game two years ago, and it is certainly not the same Michigan team, but I think the end result will be about the same. We may not beat them 41-7 again, but I think we get the W regardless. I just have more faith in Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown than I do in Jim McElwain at this point, not to mention that the never sexy, but usually steady, Wilton Speight is a better quarterback option than anyone on the Gators right now.

The rest of the non-conference games will be a cake walk. Air Force does have the unique offense as Colman mentioned, but they are replacing a lot of talent as well, and they have to come to the Big House. So they might hang with us for a quarter, but we win that one easily.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl - Michigan v Florida Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Dan: There shouldn’t be any problems non-conference. Malik Zaire getting a hold of the playbook over the next couple weeks and Doug Nussmeier (remember the guy who got shut out by Notre Dame?) adapting his offense to a running QB (remember he refused to do that with Devin Gardner?) would be the only wrinkle (Florida) that could trip the Wolverines up.

The rest of the slate is pretty unimpressive and Harbaugh’s teams have been absolutely dominant in the non-conference since the opening loss to Utah in 2015.

David: The anticipation builds as each day passes and we get closer to September 2. This is also one of the most intriguing Michigan teams for a long time because of their youth and raw talent. I think Florida is a great indicator and see them winning by 10-14 points. The first half is close within a field goal, but the defense gets comfortable and causes several three-and-outs, and then we get the run game going to pull away.

Cincinnati is a game other non-starteing players get some playing time in the second half to win easy, 42-10.

Air Force hangs around more than Cincinnati and gets the team to half down by 7, but Michigan is too strong on defense with some adjustments made in the second half to win by 17.

LBiddle: I agree with Jared's thoughts on the opener. I know we have a lot of young players starting in key positions and Florida is the trendy pick to be a dark horse contender to make the SEC championship game, but historically we just own the Gators. I know that means nothing for the current season but I just can't shake the feeling that we win the opener somewhat comfortably, I’ll say by 14. I have no rhyme or reason for this confidence outside of my extreme faith in coach Harbaugh and lack of faith in what they have going on in Gainesville.

Outside of the Florida game I think the rest of the non-conference schedule will be a romp providing the young players with some much needed learning experience, momentum, and most importantly confidence when the real season begins.

Drew: Michigan will get through the first three weeks unscathed, but this is not the preferred non-conference slate for a team this inexperienced. Last year’s set-up -- three straight home games against opponents *projected* to be no better than a lowly Power 5 team (Colorado: “SURPRISE!!”) -- would be ideal because it would allow the young Wolverines to dip their toes in the water, get comfortable, and work out the kinks in easy wins before the heavy-hitters arrive.

Instead, Michigan is cannonballing right into the pool with its opener against #17 Florida in Jerry World. Even with potential depth issues, particularly in the back with safety Marcell Harris tearing his Achilles, the Gators should present a strong defensive challenge for a Michigan offense breaking in receivers and tight ends across the board and praying that its right tackle isn’t a turnstile. And, if that goes awry, Michigan is then hoping to stay afloat against an Air Force squadron whose triple-option offense can be annoying, if not befuddling (reminder: NEVER SCHEDULE THE SERVICE ACADEMIES). However, more faith should be placed in Wilton Speight and the Hammering Panda than a meh Florida offense that will be without star receiver Antonio Callaway (suspension) and is playing eeny-meeny-miny-moe at quarterback, and Don Brown is devilish enough to shoot down the triple-option with impunity.

So expect Michigan to open 3-0, and to maybe hold your breath along the way.

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

Ed: Alright, on to the conference slate. The Big Ten East is one of the best divisions in college football, and the schedule will be no cakewalk. There are two very tough road games: Penn State and Wisconsin. How does Michigan fare in these two?

Colman: I think Penn State will be a much closer game than last year but one we still win handily. Wisconsin scares me a bit. It’s away the week before The Game and last year’s contest was a low-scoring defensive battle. We could lose this one, but still have our chance at winning the division and maybe having a re-match with the same Wisconsin team in the B1G championship.

Jared: I’m going to go the other way and say Penn State might be the game we drop. It is in Happy Valley, at night, and I am sure they want some revenge after we absolutely throttled them last season.

Trace McSorely may have the name of a fragile gunfighter, but the kid can spin it, and that might be a problem for our incredibly inexperienced secondary. Mike Zordich’s comments and Keith Washington’s transfer do nothing to appease my concerns in the secondary either. If we are going to get burned through the air, it will happen in this game. I’m nervous already.

David: The trap game is at Indiana but they get a win before taking on Penn State. This young team will not be the same team against Florida and hoping no major injuries for either team to make it for a huge showdown. Michigan wins in a close one and pulls out the biggest road win in years. They stumble at Wisconsin and make the final game for the division since Penn State loses in Columbus.

Wisconsin v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Dan: I’m more nervous about Wisconsin, but that could just be the hater in me still not believing in the Nittany Lions. While history has not always favored youth in Happy Valley, Michigan will come in as an underdog coming off of two games that should prepare them well for Penn State, in Indiana and Little Brother. My unpopular opinion is that Penn State will be a repeat of ‘08 Georgia: High pre-season expectations, stud running back and quarterback, only to get embarrassed in their two biggest games. While I don’t expect a blowout obviously, I think UM prevails.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is a road game before what could possibly be an undefeated showdown with Ohio State. It’s got a lot of the markings of the Iowa game last year. Being during the day worries me even more.

Drew: Michigan will go 1-1 or 0-2 in its two crucial road tests at Penn State and Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions are slightly overrated and not a top-10 team, but nothing prior will prepare the young Wolverines for the White Out that awaits them in Happy Valley. It will be an atmosphere where the electricity supercharges Penn State at kickoff and Michigan will need every volt of resilience it has to withstand that. Camp Randall Stadium will also present a hostile atmosphere. However, it won’t seem as menacing to Michigan after encountering the White Out, and by Week 12, those Wolverines will no longer be inexperienced with almost a full season under their belts. Michigan may not emerge from either site with a victory, but if it does, its odds are much better against Wisconsin in what should be another defensive duel.

And David is correct. Michigan’s trap game is at Indiana the week before heading to Penn State. We now live in a warped world where IU is good defensively and spotty-at-best offensively. Although the idea that Mike DeBord could out-scheme Don Brown is laughable, the Hoosiers’ defense could put a scare into Michigan if U-M is caught peeking ahead.

Ed: There are a couple big home games as well, though, as rivals MSU and OSU both come to the Big House this year. Let’s get your analyses and predictions.

Colman: If Sparty is good this year I will be pretty surprised. Stranger things have happened, of course, but after 3-9 and their offseason turmoil I can’t see them doing much better. This should be a game that we dominate.

Ohio, on the other hand, is and will always be the toughest test of the year. They return a lot from last year’s squad that got by with a little help from their friends, the refs. This year, at home, will be a different story. Harbaugh gets over the hump and into the B1G Championship game.

Jared: As much as it would overjoy me to watch the Spartans sputter to another losing season, I don’t see that happening. Dantonio is a sad, grumpy old man, but the dude can coach. They even played us tough last year when they had essentially the same roster as the Little Giants, without the Icebox. Now, that is not saying we will lose to them — we won’t — but they will return to respectability this season.

As for those other guys; that is a different story altogether. I may never get over last year’s win that was somehow a loss. We beat them up and down the field last year, and it gives me confidence that we can beat them on the scoreboard, we just need to put it all together. I pick us to upset the inedible nuts every season, that will not change this season at home.

Michigan 31, Inedible Nuts 27

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Eric: MSU game turns into a little brother beat down, but sadly Harbaugh isn’t able to get off the 0-fer vs. Meyer (that team is loaded).

Davd: The potential night game against Michigan State is a great indicator who is the best in the mitten. Speight has a career game and takes the game with big numbers. Our defense forces several three and outs causing their offense to struggle and Michigan wins big. The memory from the last time they played in Ann Arbor is partially wiped away with a team effort for the Paul Bunyan trophy.

Ohio State is also one that has offense issues and comes to Ann Arbor with one loss. It's so hard to win all the regular season games, it's just a matter of which game they lose. Indiana and Oklahoma could surprise the country against Ohio State, so I am not going to predict that final game, not ready to do that, sorry.

Dan: Sparty shouldn’t be a problem. They may be even worse than they were last year talent-wise even if the record improves. Harbaugh and company will be looking to avenge the 2015 disaster and near-collapse of last year. I expect fireworks.

Meanwhile, it’s so hard to predict the OSU game. Again, both teams could be looking at playoff aspirations going in. Ohio State lost more talent than people realize, but Urban Meyer has shown at every stop that that doesn’t matter. JT Barrett is back, firmly supplanting Aaron Craft as the “when the hell will this guy graduate” Buckeye, and I think he’ll bounce back. There’s a lot to happen before now and then so I’m with David in sitting this one out for now.

Drew: Michigan should cream Michigan State at home, but no matter how rudderless the Spartans may seem, Mark Dantonio always has them ready for the Battle for Paul Bunyan. Just look at last season. MSU had lost five straight with its most recent by double digits at Maryland. How did they respond? By designing and executing a beautiful 12-play opening drive for a touchdown against one of the nation’s two best defenses. Dantonio will keep those tricks and wrinkles hidden for his biggest rivalry game even as the rest of the season completely deteriorates. That won’t change this year. The Wolverines will still win, but no victories against Dantonio are easy for them.

As for Ohio State, woo boy. The Buckeyes will be one of the two or three most-talented teams in the country and better than they were a year ago, while the Wolverines seek to reload after a title contender full of juniors and seniors fell just shy of a magical season. Essentially, this will be a flip of the script from 2016. However, I lean towards Ohio State winning because Jim Harbaugh has not had four full recruiting cycles, like Urban Meyer had, to ensure elite upperclassmen are waiting in the wings, and home field won’t quite be enough to make up for the talent discrepancy which still remains.

However, I leave this prediction open to be amended on November 24, 2017. Tune in then.

Ed: If you won’t give me individual score predictions then let’s talk big picture instead. Is this team going to be competing for a conference title? More? Less? Where do the Wolverines finish the season?

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Eric: Not to hedge too much, but there really is a lot of swing here. They could compete with PSU and OSU for the title, but they probably wind up 9-3 (going 2-2 against their 4 games vs. top 20 teams, and dropping one other game).

Colman: Harbaugh has had a great gameplan against everyone we’ve played since he’s been our coach. This is shown by the fact that we have only lost a single game by more than a TD (OSU, 2015). We are getting more of ‘his’ players and the Hoke players still on the roster have had two full years of their new coach.

Outside of the very inexperienced CBs, this looks like a championship team. I think we go 11-1 with the loss going to Wisconsin. We will reach our first B1G championship game and have our shot to go the playoffs.

Jared: I have to echo what Eric said in that this is a difficult year to predict. If we get a couple breaks and manage to stay healthy, we could honestly be right in the hunt for a playoff spot again this year. It is also equally possible we get beat by Florida, Penn State, Wisconsin, and OSU.

It will be an interesting year. I tend to be an optimist, so I will predict another 10-2 season for the good guys.

David: The Big Ten is not as strong in 2017 compared to 2016. Northwestern is the surprise with a huge win over Penn State and several in the west division (Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern) fight for the chance to play in the championship.

Michigan has all the opportunities to do something special that would silence the critics of Jim Harbaugh if he can get this team to Indianapolis. The staff is so experienced and will contribute to the quick development of this young squad. I think this team will not go undefeated but win at least 10 games and I’ll leave it at that for now.

Dan: I am firmly on Colman’s side here with the expectations. While there could certainly be a swing, my lower opinion on Florida and Penn State swing me into the optimistic camp. Speight is better than given credit for, the coaching staff is mostly still intact, and the freshmen could be an all-time great Michigan class. I actually think the lowered expectations could help this team, but by Penn State, they should be sky-high.

Drew: Michigan will be a Big Ten contender because it likely will be 9-1 and should be no worse than 8-2 entering the final two weeks. How U-M fares in those games (at Wisconsin, vs. Ohio State) will determine if it spends the next offseason wondering when the Big Ten championship drought will finally end or showering itself in confetti.