The wrong team flooded the field, and as quickly as Michigan’s season had begun, it ended. Another loss. Three in the last four games. A season once so promising now seemed appropriately over.
The waiting game began. First fans distracted themselves with National Signing Day, and then a magical little basketball run, then spring practices (and a trip to Rome), and then finally summer (there’s life outside of Michigan sports?). But that game is now over, as well, and all the offseason speculation and trash talking and analysis is coming to an end. It’s about time.
Let’s play some games, shall we? Let’s put a new Michigan squad on the field and quit talking about its inexperience and big games and actually lace ‘em up.
Pretty soon all the talking won’t matter anymore. The previews will be thrown out the window and the fans will flock to Texas to start it all over again.
But before that happens, let’s take our final stab at it. (Spoiler Alert: What you are about to read is a game-by-game, definitively accurate account of what will take place during the upcoming Michigan football season. Read at your own risk.)
Week 1: Michigan vs. Florida (Dallas, TX) - Sept. 2
Just like in 2012, Michigan heads to Dallas to play a neutral site season opener against a tough SEC opponent. Unlike 2012, though, that opponent is not Alabama, so Michigan fans can breathe. It’s just Florida this time — that team the Wolverines beat 41-7 to end Jim Harbaugh’s first season as head coach. Now, give the Gators credit, they toughed out an 8-3 record last year en route to the conference title game, before the Crimson Tide edged out a 38-point victory.
This game will be no cakewalk for the Maize and Blue. Much like Michigan, Florida endured a rough close to its 2016 season before losing some key pieces on defense. These teams should produce an interesting matchup, with a young Michigan defense facing a largely unproven Florida offense, and a talented Michigan offense testing a continuously tough Gators defense.
Both offenses will get off to a slow start, but Michigan’s, with proven leader Wilton Speight at the helm, settles in much quicker and puts up two touchdowns in the second quarter. Florida bounces back early in the third, thanks in large part to a blown coverage in the Wolverine secondary, but Michigan rebounds with a quick score of its own to regain a two-score advantage.
Late in the fourth, the Wolverines add a field goal. Then rowdy Michigan fans, just thankful they serve beer in Jerry World, start dancing to the Blues Brothers. This angers Florida, who vowed not to be embarrassed again, and they add a touchdown with seconds remaining.
After the game, a reporter asks Jim McElwain about his preseason comment that Florida would “beat the heck out of Michigan.” McElwain takes a moment to clarify his earlier remark: “I don’t recall saying that.”
W: Michigan 24, Florida 14
Week 2: Michigan vs. Cincinnati - Sept. 9
Back in the Big House at last. The sun is shining, the band is marching down the field and 110,000 blue-blooded Wolverine fans fit awfully snug on the hard metal bleachers.
The Bearcats are in town for the first time ever, and Luke Fickell is standing on the opponent’s sideline as head coach for the first time since his Buckeyes were defeated by Brady Hoke’s squad in 2011.
A roster of young Wolverines will be ready for this one. Fresh off a big victory in the season opener, Michigan steps onto the field and scores the first four times with the ball — three touchdowns and a field goal. Cincinnati adds a field goal before the half, but it’s futile. The Maize and Blue open the second half with two more quick scores and by the fourth quarter there are 12 freshmen in the game.
It’s a route to kick-off the home slate.
W: Michigan 45, Cincinnati 10
Week 3: Michigan vs. Air Force - Sept. 16
Air Force will face the Virginia Military Institute in its first game and then will have a bye week before traveling to Ann Arbor. In other words, they will be fresh and ready to play the underdog role.
That said, Air Force will have a completely depleted defense heading into the season, losing virtually all of its starting production from a year ago (sound like anyone?). The difference here is that Michigan…well, do I really need to explain why the Air Force defense replacing a bunch of starters isn’t the same as the Michigan defense losing a bunch of starters? Pair that with Michigan’s offense, which will be strong again in 2017, and the Falcons are in trouble.
On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan should be able to handle the mostly one-dimensional Air Force offense — though stopping that triple option is tougher than it looks on paper.
The still relatively young Wolverine defense will have its hands full in the early minutes, surrendering a couple touchdowns and making Michigan fans worry, even if ever so slightly. The Michigan offense will keep pace, though, and by halftime the Wolverines will hold a slight edge. The second half will be fairly mundane. Chris Evans breaks a long run early to widen the lead, and then younger players start to rotate in and the team remains healthy leaving the non-conference schedule.
W: Michigan 38, Air Force 17
Week 4: Michigan at Purdue - Sept. 23
Time for Michigan’s first true road “test”. It’s “never” easy going on the road in the Big Ten, and so this game “won’t” be easy either. The biggest question mark is whether this young Michigan team can handle the bright lights of Ross-Ade Stadium.
Okay, sarcasm aside, let’s talk about the Boilermakers. Purdue has a little bit of talent on offense with guys like quarterback David Blough and running back Markell Jones. Will that be enough to put up a fight? Nope. But I was just illustrating the point that this may not be a shutout. Blough will find some weaknesses in the young Wolverine secondary and exploit them, and the Boilermakers will tally 10 points at halftime, and other than another field goal in the fourth quarter that’s where their scoring will end.
Michigan, on the other hand, should have no trouble scoring. Chalk up the record to 4-0, and bring on Sparty.
W: Michigan 42, Purdue 13
Week 5: Bye - Sept. 30
A perfect weekend for a fall getaway to enjoy the colors.
Week 6: Michigan vs. Michigan State - Oct. 7
Instead of enjoying a weekend without Michigan football by getting out of town, you took the opportunity to start your MSU trash talking a week early. (Don’t lie, I know you did.)
On the field, though, despite what many Michigan fans believe (and despite what stats seem to tell us), the Spartans will give Michigan a battle. After a humiliating fall from the top of the conference last year, MSU returns to Michigan Stadium with its signature chip on its shoulder.
Dantonio, who hasn’t cracked a smile since his eleventh birthday, says to the sideline reporter before the game, “We really want to win this one.” And he means it. (Seriously.)
The Spartans do what they’ve done the last several years and battle early. But then the game begins to shift, as it did a year ago in Spartan Stadium, and Michigan takes the momentum into the locker room — along with a 21-10 lead. The second half remains all Blue. Tarik Black hauls in a back-shoulder one-handed touchdown that has Michigan fans declaring him “the next Braylon.”
Swallowing its pride, MSU pounds ahead for a late-game touchdown to make the final score seem closer than it really was. Harbaugh is all class in the post-game presser while MSU fans intensely search the Internet for memes about the 2015 game.
W: Michigan 31, MSU 20
Week 7: Michigan at Indiana - Oct. 14
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Watch out for the Hoosiers. First they butter you up with kindness and free tailgate beer, and then they come a play away from ripping your heart right out of your damn chest.
This Indiana team won’t quite be the Kevin Wilson high-scoring squads of the last few years, but they are becoming much more well-rounded under new coach Tom Allen. The defense is coming together, and there are still plenty of weapons on offense to make an impact.
Michigan, however, knows all of this. In an effort to avoid the situation they faced in Bloomington two years ago, the Wolverines score early to keep the Hoosiers at bay. IU gets its shots, but they are fewer and further between than years past, and Michigan is able to maintain a close yet steady lead throughout.
While we all wait for the entire mood of the game to shift, it never does, and Michigan walks out of Memorial Stadium with another W.
W: Michigan 38, Indiana 20.
Week 8: Michigan at Penn State - Oct. 21
By this point in the season, everyone knows what Michigan and Penn State can put on the field. There are no secrets. There are two undefeated teams. A Top 10 matchup. Under the lights in Beaver Stadium. A cool, yet calm October night with more than 100,000 fans sporting all white.
Similar in quarterback experience with playmakers all around on the offensive side of the ball, these teams come out firing. Saquan Barkley makes a few defenders miss and strikes a Heisman pose in the endzone. Wilton Speight, on the following Michigan possession, slips a screen pass underneath to Chris Evans, who dashes 73 yards for a score.
Heading into the second half, both teams are waiting for their defenses to show up. But that never happens. The scoring continues. Trace McSorley marches the Nittany Lions down the field late in the fourth for a go-ahead touchdown. But leave it to a series of quick, efficient passes from Speight to get the Wolverines back into striking distance for Quinn Nordin to hit his third field goal of the night: this one the game-winner.
The fans in Happy Valley leave sad, and Michigan keeps its title hopes alive.
W: Michigan 44, Penn State 42
Week 9: Bye …wait, no, Michigan vs. Piscataway High - Oct. 28
Michigan takes the field. Rutgers shows up, pounds its chest a little, and then the game starts. A little while later, the Scarlet Knights get on a bus back to the airport. (What happens in between, let’s just say, isn’t pretty.)
W: Michigan 56, Rutgers 3
Week 10: Michigan vs. Minnesota - Nov. 4
Minnesota is a team that cannot be overlooked, especially with new coach P.J. Fleck leading the way. But does that mean they can come into the Big House and steal one from the home team? Not so fast.
The Gophers put up a heck of a fight in 2015 and they showed moments of being able to compete with top programs in 2016, but Jim Harbaugh has Michigan on a trajectory that the Gophers cannot eclipse — even with a relatively inexperienced team.
The Wolverines run all over Minnesota in this one and show off some of their young receivers. The Gophers have a few moments of flash, but the now-more-experienced Wolverine defense limits the damage. Michigan wins this one easily. The Jug stays in Schembechler Hall.
W: Michigan 34, Minnesota 14
Week 11: Michigan at Maryland - Nov. 11
Maryland, a once-poised but now deflated team, welcomes Michigan to town. After pulling off the upset on the road against the Longhorns in Week 1, what seemed like a promising season for the Terrapins has steadily gone downhill.
Durkin tries to rally the troops for the matchup with the Wolverines, but it's for naught. Michigan comes out hot and stays hot, while the demoralized Terrapins squad lacks the size, strength, skill and motivation to battle back. For the final time of the season, backups get significant playing time in the second half and the Wolverines notch their first shutout of the season.
W: Michigan 45, Maryland 0
Week 12: Michigan at Wisconsin - Nov. 18
I said it in my preview a few weeks ago and I meant every word: Wisconsin is going to be very, very good. Even with Jack Cichy going down for the season with an injury in fall camp, the Badgers will be a force. There are both playmakers returning and a host of talented guys waiting to fill the voids. And the defense — well, they may be one of the best in the country.
From the beginning, this one feels a little different. On a cold Saturday in mid-November, the offenses struggle against stout defenses. Wisconsin scores first, finding the endzone halfway through the second quarter, but the Wolverines add a field goal before the half.
Michigan gets a big return to open the second half, but is then held to another field goal. Shortly after, Jazz Peavy catches a swing pass and takes it up the sideline for a huge gain, and then Bradrick Shaw punches it in to give Wisconsin a 14-6 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Speight puts together Michigan's first steady drive of the game and it leads to a 12-yard touchdown run by Karan Higdon. On the two-point conversion attempt, a controversial pass interference no-call leaves the Badgers with a 14-12 advantage. As the clock ticks under a minute, Wisconsin faces a 4th-and-1 on the Michigan 42. They elect to go for it, risking the chance that Michigan stuffs them and converts a couple first downs to get into game-winning field goal range.
But it pays off. Hornibrook keeps it and is awarded the first down by six inches as Michigan fans cry "not again." Time runs out, and Michigan's record is blemished for the first time all season.
L: Michigan 12, Wisconsin 14
Week 13: The Game - Nov. 25
And then there were the Buckeyes.
By the twelfth game of the season, we won't be talking about the youth or inexperience of Michigan's roster. We'll be talking about what they've done throughout the fall to put themselves in a position for a shot at the postseason. We'll be talking about the breakout players, and we'll talk about how they competed in other big games. The loss at Wisconsin will be in the rearview, though only a week removed. Complete and total focus will be put on Ohio State — the team Michigan was prepping for, whether consciously or not, the entire year.
Emotions run high to kick this one off, but Harbaugh settles his team. As each offense is run by an experienced quarterback, they exchange touchdowns early — though nothing comes easy in this one.
Michigan adds a field goal, and then so does Ohio State. Then Michigan scores a touchdown before the half after a timely interception gives them a short field, sending the Maize and Blue to the locker room with a 17-10 edge.
The Buckeyes come out of the locker room on fire and add two quick-strike touchdowns to take the lead, and Michigan fans start to wish Warde Manuel had allowed beer to be served in the stadium. They can see it all start to unravel. A quick thought passes through minds about Harbaugh losing his first three contests to OSU.
Touchdown Michigan. What? How did that happen so quickly? Ah, Mike McCray forced a fumble that led to Speight finding Donovan Peoples-Jones on a deep fade to tie it back up, 24-24.
On the ensuing Buckeye possession, after being forced into a third-and-long, J.T. Barrett scrambles for 17 yards and a crushing first down — only it's called back for a hold as Mike Weber tried to block Maurice Hurst surging up the middle. Ohio State punts, and with thirty seconds left Speight hits Ian Buting for a 35-yard gain, and then Chris Evans slips out of the backfield for a 19-yard reception.
On comes Nordin. And for the second time in as many opportunities, he knocks through the game-winner.
W: Michigan 27, Ohio State 24
So what happens next?
The 11-1 regular season record (and more importantly, the undefeated division record) is enough to send Michigan to its first Big Ten Championship Game, where they get a second shot at the Badgers. This time, in another defensive battle, the Wolverines prevail. All that's left on the list for Jim Harbaugh: win a national title. Is this the year?
What do you think? Where does Michigan finish the season?
This poll is closed
9-3 (or worse): Rebuilding is a process…
10-2: Just miss the chance at the B1G Championship Game
11-1 (This is the correct answer, if you were paying attention above)
12-0: Because why not, right?