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How Michigan stacks up with the best teams on the schedule after Week 1

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are already conscious of how their rivals and tough matchups played in the first week of the season.

Dustin Johnston / Maize n Brew

Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference this week that this team is putting an emphasis this season on viewing the results of each game they play from a standpoint of if the effort they put on the field was good enough to beat the best teams on their schedule.

On the flip side, he asks his team if the mistakes that his team made are ones that can be overcome against the best teams on the schedule.

If we are judging them on this based off of Saturday’s performance over Middle Tennessee, the answer to both of those questions is probably a hard no. The Wolverines play a loaded slate of games this season and Harbaugh still preaches a “one day at a time” mentality, but this is one of the first times off the top of my head I can remember them looking ahead at least a little bit and being mindful of what the other teams on their schedule have been up to.

So with that in mind, we are going to start taking a look each week at that, as well. Here’s how these matchups appear

Up next

Army

Army has long been circled as a potential slip-up game for the Wolverines early in the season, and they will provide a unique challenge for Michigan on Saturday, but the home team still enters as a 23.5-point favorite. The triple option offense will be stress-inducing all week, but Don Brown has been taking extra time both in the spring and through fall camp to prepare for this, so the defense should be as ready as they can be.

Army is a fringe Top-25 team and a lot of the thinking that goes into Michigan possibly being in trouble has to do with the fact that the Black Knights gave Oklahoma a scare and took them to overtime on the road last season. Keep in mind that for as explosive as the Sooners are, their defense in recent seasons has left a lot to be desired. The good news for Michigan is that it looks like they may be able to get most of what they went offensively on Saturday, but the biggest question is how often they will have the ball. The way Army plays and wins hinges on them winning the time of possession, often times in somewhat lopsided fashion. If that becomes the case for Michigan this weekend, it will be even more critical to capitalize when they have the football and finish off their drives with touchdowns.

We’ll have more on the Black Knights throughout the week, but this should be a good pop quiz for the Wolverines coming off of what my pal here Andy Bailey called “syllabus week” in the opener.

The measuring sticks

Wisconsin

Wisconsin came out and completely thrashed what appears to be a bad South Florida team in the opener by a score of 49-0 on the road. Jonathan Taylor was who is is and had four touchdowns in the contest, while starting quarterback Jack Coan turned in an efficient performance. What stood out was that the defense was much improved over last season and a bit of a return to form for the Badgers, allowing only 157 yards of total offense.

Seeing how Wisconsin performed coupled with Michigan struggling a bit in the opener makes the trip to Madison in Week 4 following the bye week look a little more daunting that it may have coming into the season, but that was always going to be a tough game to play. It still feels like what the Badgers do well plays right into what Michigan does a nice job stopping under Don Brown, but a big-time road test looms toward the end of September and the Wolverines have a lot of work to do.

Penn State

For at least a game, questions about Penn State’s offense were put off for a bit after they ran up a total of 65 points in a blowout win over Idaho. Sean Clifford was terrific for them on the day and their defense is every bit as advertised with some of the athletes back there.

It still feels like they are a team that probably competes for second or third in the Big Ten East, but where things stand today, the team that Michigan put onto the field on Saturday night probably is not ready for a road trip to Penn State, especially if it winds up being one of those White Out night games. The jury is still kind of out on what the Nittany Lions and James Franklin are (as is really the case with all of these teams after a week of football), but Michigan cannot make the mistakes it did on Saturday and get out of Happy Valley with a victory. Heck, that probably applies to all of these games, but we’re just answering Harbaugh’s posed questions here.

Michigan still feels like the better football team and the expectation is that they should be when this matchup comes around. If we get into mid-October with some of these same concerns, some of our biggest questions may be answered already.

Notre Dame

The Irish and the Louisville Cardinals went at it on Monday evening in a bout of Labor Day football and the game was a bit unexpected in that Scott Satterfield’s debut at head coach went much better than anticipated. Louisville competed with the Irish all night and were tied 14-14 at the end of the first quarter, but Ian Book, Chase Claypool and the passing game, along with a defense led by Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes made enough plays to pull ahead and stay ahead in the second half, winning by a score of 35-17. Book and the offense were far from perfect, but a lot of their issues seem correctable, much like we think Michigan’s were from the opener.

ND’s a very good football team and the game in Ann Arbor on Oct. 26 should pit two very evenly matched squads up against each other. Both Michigan and Notre Dame had similar problems in their first games of the year. There’s nothing that we saw from either team that would suggest that their meetup this year is not a potential College Football Playoff elimination game.

Michigan State

MSU, who notoriously struggles in their Friday night openers, did much of the same in Week 1 in a 28-7 win over Tulsa. Their defense is incredible and might wind up being one of the best — if not the best — that Mark Dantonio has ever had. The problem with them is that the offense looks like the same old Spartans. They claimed changes were coming, and there was a little more up-tempo to their game, but it was largely an attack that reflected what they have been the last four or five years. The offensive line for them is going to be a big problem and a healthy Brian Lewerke still was not all that accurate. They also lack the ability to make explosive plays on offense, so there is not much here to suggest that the re-arranging of the deck chairs on the offensive staff is going to mean much of anything for them.

As far as how they stack up with Michigan, a low-scoring game like last year’s feels like it could be in the cards again, and by the time that game rolls around maybe Dantonio and OC Brad Salem can scheme up some ways to throw Michigan’s defense off guard, but it feels like there should be no excuses as to why Michigan cannot win this game at home unless a major unforeseen step comes out of the Spartan offense.

PS - Much like Michigan and the two QB shenanigans, the Rocky Lombardi package probably needs to be thrown out, as well.

Ohio State

As silly as it sounds, Ohio State looks like Ohio State. Shocking, right?

They have an athlete at quarterback and playmakers all over the field on the offensive side of the ball. They got off to an insanely quick start against Florida Atlantic, even if they did wind up trailing off at the end of the game. Still, we saw what we needed to see in terms of if the Justin Fields-Ryan Day pairing will lead to any sort of dropoff for the Buckeyes.

We did not learn any more or any less about what they bring to the table. However, regardless of if The Game is in Ann Arbor or not, the Wolverines have a ton of work to do. And they know that. The Buckeyes have a much tougher test this week in Cincinnati, which might be a more accurate gauge of where they are at right now.

The others

  • Rutgers allowed UMass to get out to a 21-7 lead, but rattled off 31-straight points to get their first (and potentially only) win of the season. This team might be improved and not completely helpless, but there’s not a whole lot to be afraid of here still.
  • Iowa should be a good football team and compete for the West title with Wisconsin. Michigan gets the fortune of hosting them for homecoming. While Nate Stanley played well, this is another game that Michigan could certainly be challenged in, but nothing I saw this weekend suggests they shouldn’t win it.
  • Illinois received a very nice debut from Michigan transfer QB Brandon Peters in a 42-3 win over Akron, but the gap in talent on both sides of the ball and in all three phases of the game is still extremely wide.
  • Maryland did what you should do to an FCS school like Howard and racked up over 600 total yards of offense in a 79-0 win. We won’t know what they are until they play Syracuse this weekend.
  • Indiana is always going to be scary whether it is the game that precedes the Ohio State matchup or not. This year, it does, and it is a game on the road. The Hoosiers sort of struggled at times to separate from Ball State over the weekend, but QB Michael Penix threw for 326 yards, which was still impressive despite a pair of picks. Michigan should win again, because Indiana is always the bridesmaid and never the bride. This one is always a wild card.