We’re seven games into the regular season and at the bye week as the Michigan Wolverines trampled the No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions in the Big House this past weekend. Just five opponents remain in the way of the Wolverines booking another trip to Indy for a chance to repeat as the Big Ten champions.
During the bye week, we have the chance to look forward and rank the remaining games on the schedule. We did a similar story to start the year ranking the top-five games of the 2022 season. From that list, three games remain. Now, let's see how things have changed with seven weeks in the books for the Wolverines.
No. 5: Week 10 vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska is completely in shambles. Scott Frost’s departure was far overdue after losing to lowly Georgia Southern in Week 3. Despite the slow start, Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson was playing really well at the start of the year. He’s slowed down in the past few weeks with five interceptions in the last three weeks. In total, he has eight on the year in part to an offensive line that has allowed him to be sacked 19 times in seven contests. The Michigan defensive front should absolutely feast in this game.
Then, the Cornhuskers are allowing 471 yards per game and 190 rushing yards per game. That’s 123rd and 117th in the country, respectively. This game should not be close.
Even if Michigan is “looking past” Nebraska to contests against Illinois and Ohio State to wrap up the season, the Wolverines still have more than enough talent to pull away in this one. I would label it similar to how things went a few weeks ago against Indiana, a team this Huskers squad just beat. But if the Wolverines are sharp, it could be the most lopsided game of the season.
No. 4: Week 9 @ Rutgers
I got some flack for calling this game one of the toughest of the season before the year started. Honestly, I’m still pretty concerned about it even after an 0-3 start for the Scarlet Knights in conference play.
The two games of the season where Michigan’s offense struggled the most were on the road. At Iowa, it didn’t finish drives early in the game resulting in just a 13-0 lead at the half. In the second half, it looked like the Hawkeyes might have had a chance to get back into it before the offense woke up late in the game.
Then against Indiana, it was more of the same. The Wolverines let the Hoosiers hang around for far too long before J.J. McCarthy put them away late. There were too many points being left on the field for the Wolverines in both games.
Another reason for my worries is the Scarlet Knights season could be on the line. They are 3-3 and fighting for a bowl game. I expect them to come with some heat into every game down the stretch, especially those at home. The Michigan game will be their second-to-last chance to pull off a win in Piscataway.
No. 3: Week 8 vs. Michigan State
Some may say Rutgers is a bigger threat on the road, but I am never comfortable against the Spartans. They may be having a down year, but all bets are off when these two teams face off.
Mel Tucker is justifiably receiving a bunch of crap about his performance this season. The fact of the matter is he brought in a lot of talent in the transfer portal, and they just have not found success like they did last season. The offensive identity is severely lacking without Kenneth Walker III.
However, they are back in the win column after a 2OT win against the Wisconsin Badgers. They are riding that high into the bye week in preparation for this game against the Wolverines. This will be their National Championship and I expect Tucker and his staff to throw everything they’ve got at the Wolverines next week.
Don’t get me wrong, Michigan is the far superior team. But let’s not pretend like this game shouldn’t be competitive. The Spartans haven’t lost to Michigan in the Mel Tucker era and they love playing the underdog. That will certainly be the case when these two face off next weekend.
No. 2: Week 11 vs. Illinois
How about the Fighting Illini?
Bret Bielema has brought Illinois from the depths to the top rank in the Big Ten West in just over a season with the program. They’re a goal line stop away from being undefeated, as their only loss came late on the road against Indiana in Week 2.
They boast the No. 1 defense in college football through seven weeks allowing just 221 yards per game. An extremely favorable schedule could mean a strong finish to the end of the season, too. Michigan is the only ranked team on their schedule, and it comes in the penultimate week of the season. There is definitely a possibility this group could be top-10 heading into Ann Arbor in a few weeks, with a lot to prove.
Running back Chase Brown is already a 1,000-yard rusher and is the focal point of this offense. This will not be the cakewalk we all thought it was when the season started. The fact it comes right before The Game is also concerning.
Michigan will have to be sharp to avoid an upset. However, it should still be favored by a decent amount with this game being at home.
No. 1: Week 12 @ Ohio State
Just like before the season, this is by far the toughest game left for the Wolverines. There has been a strong push over the past few weeks for the Buckeyes to take over the No. 1 spot because they have been nothing short of dominant. Their last five games have been won by 29 or more points.
What will be really fun to watch is how things shape up in the SEC. Georgia and Tennessee still have the toughest parts of their schedule ahead of them, and they play each other. There is a world where The Game is No. 1 vs. No. 2 if both those southern teams slip up along the way. The only other time that happened was in 2006. That game was also in Columbus and it arguably changed the trajectory of both programs. OSU went to the National Championship and then won each of the next five games in this rivalry.
The gravity of this game either way cannot be denied. The Wolverines won last season but if they do it again it starts a trend, one that has not been seen since 1999-2000. The Game will define each team’s 2022 season, but it may also change the narrative of this series moving forward.