This week at Maize n Brew, our staff members were asked about how they see the first half of the Michigan Wolverines’ schedule playing out. Below is our band of hooligans sharing their thoughts in this week’s staff roundtable.
Minnesota: Close Loss
MSU: Blowout Win
Indiana: Close Win
Wisconsin: Comfortable Win
Minnesota returns a fair amount from a very solid 2019 team. I think this is a Michigan team that has a high ceiling, but will take towards the end of the season to get there. Just too many question marks for me to predict a win right away on the road against a solid Gophers squad.
MSU is second-toughest rebuild in the country, barely ahead of Rutgers in that regard, so Mel Tucker is in for a rude awakening, early. IU scares me a ton, so anything could happen on a team that could make some noise this year. Wisconsin would have been close to a 50/50 game, but losing Jack Coan to injury is huge and propels Minnesota to the front of the Big Ten West race.
Michigan will go 3-1 to start the year and will lose on the road to Minnesota. It’s no mystery the Wolverines haven’t played well on the road against top 25 teams under Jim Harbaugh, only beating MSU in 2018. With Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman back at Minnesota, and Michigan breaking in some new defensive backs, I could see the Minnesota duo going off in this game.
For the other games, my explanation will be short and sweet — MSU is awful, Michigan hasn’t lost to Indiana since my old man was in high school, and games against Wisconsin recently have went to the home team.
4-0. I am bullish on this Michigan team’s cohesiveness and confidence in Joe Milton. Minnesota is the toughest early test in my opinion, but if the secondary can hold its own against Tanner Morgan, Rashod Bateman, and the Fighting Flecks, an undefeated first half becomes the expectation.
Minnesota in Week 1 is a real challenge, as they bring back a ton of talent from an 11-win team that set program records. PJ Fleck somehow convinced likely first round pick and Big Ten receiver of the year Rashod Bateman to come back for one more year, and he and Tanner Morgan are set to put up big numbers. Keep an eye on the edges of their offensive line though, where returning tackles Daniel Faalele and Sam Schlueter will be going up against Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson all evening, so sign me up for that. These teams are very evenly matched, but I give the offensive edge to Minnesota with their experience. Plus the prodigy Joe Milton will need time to settle into this offense. Minnesota 31, Michigan 21.
Michigan State is completely bereft of talent on both sides of the ball, and that edge that Dantonio had them playing with 10 years ago has long since dulled. This one could get ugly. Michigan 42, MSU 10.
The Indiana game is somehow considered a coin flip game despite the fact Indiana has not beaten Michigan since Ronald Reagan was president and Michigan had no trouble with Indiana last year. Indiana running back Stevie Scott is a concern, keep him locked up and we should be just fine. Michigan 28, Indiana 20
Wisconsin is essentially the same team every year (minus the one Russell Wilson season), and I don’t expect anything different this season. Their offensive line and running back situation is not nearly as strong as it has been in past years, and we have been trading with Wisco under Harbaugh. Joe Milton breakout game happens here. Michigan 34, Wisconsin 18
4-0 for a few reasons. In an irregular year, I predict teams who have coaches with a lot of experience will fare well earlier in the season. Jim Harbaugh went through the NFL lockout of 2011 and led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game during his first year on the job. Fast-forward to present day, Harbaugh made it a point of emphasis to keep preparing for a fall season even when its once cancellation was deemed to be final and a decision not to be revisited. The fact is Michigan is more prepared physically and mentally than some teams in the conference. Further, Michigan didn’t have stoppages to their practice schedule due to the team being nearly covid free since being back on campus. That means something.
Sure, there’s a new quarterback, new offensive linemen, new leaders on defense, but the talent and veteran coaching is there. I don’t see any of Michigan’s first four games resulting in losses. Even now, none of Minnesota, MSU, Indiana, and Wisconsin are better or significantly better on paper. And the preparedness of Harbaugh early on will be key, for better or worse. In my mind, they should be 4-0 here. No excuses.
3-1 with the loss coming in the season opener to Minnesota. Folks around here have already accused me of sipping the Gopher kool-aid, but knowing what we do about how this team has performed on the road, I’m skeptical for the opener. From there, they will start to cruise with wins over Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin. Something I am curious about is how no fans and a sterilized game atmosphere is going to affect all of these teams. Has Michigan struggled on the road because of hostile environments or is it simply being away from home? Conversely, will no fans at the Big House be a challenge when someone needs to dig deep and feed off of the home crowd to make a play? I am fascinated to see how it all works out.