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Michigan’s 2021 game-by-game difficulty ranked by ESPN’s FPI metric

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Half of the schedule could be a toss-up.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines play in the Big Ten East, so the schedule is going to be naturally difficult every season. This year’s slate of games hits a little bit different given the struggles last year and the need to turn things around in year seven of the Jim Harbaugh era.

In a lot of ways, this season feels like a toss-up for the Wolverines. It would not be surprising to see water find its level and Michigan get back to being the 9-10 win program they have typically been under Harbaugh. However, it also would not be shocking for them to struggle for the second season in a row with changes everywhere and questions all over the roster.

There is not a true predictive metric out there that too much stock can be put into ahead of this year with so many unknowns, but ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index is one that is attempting to do so.

From ESPN:

The Football Power Index (FPI) is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season. FPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 20,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule. Ratings and projections update daily. FPI data from seasons prior to 2019 may not be complete.

They have Michigan finishing with 6.4 wins through their metric, which obviously falls way short of what people are hoping to see around these parts.

Here is the ranking of Michigan’s games from toughest to easiest.

1. Nov. 27 vs. Ohio State (18.7% chance of victory)

2. Nov. 13 at Penn State (28% chance of victory)

3. Oct. 2 at Wisconsin (32.3% chance of victory)

4. Oct. 30 at Michigan State (48.2% chance of victory)

5. Oct. 9 at Nebraska (52.5% chance of victory)

6. Nov. 6 vs. Indiana (57.1% chance of victory)

7. TIED — Sept. 11 vs. Washington, Nov. 20 at Maryland (61.4% chance of victory)

8. Oct. 23 vs. Northwestern (63.4% chance of victory)

9. Sept. 25 vs. Rutgers (82.6% chance of victory)

10. Sept. 4 vs. Western Michigan (83.5% chance of victory)

11. Sept. 18 vs. Northern Illinois (92% chance of victory)

The schedule essentially breaks down Into quarters with three games Michigan will almost certainly win, three games they should win, three toss-ups and three with bleak outlooks. This is obviously a preseason metric, so these percentages will change once game data is plugged in when the year gets going.

I’m not ready to come out with an official season prediction yet, but it feels somewhat safe to say this team will not win less than six games. I expect that a return to a normal offseason and some new blood injected into the program will help them at the very least get bowl eligible.

If the ceiling is nine wins, Michigan has to find three victories in that top six somewhere. Vegas has the over/under set at 7.5 and I think I’d take the over in a scenario where I had to pick. We will see how that develops as the summer goes on.