The season Michigan football fans have been dreaming for years finally became a reality in 2021, as the Michigan Wolverines beat Ohio State for the first time in 2011 before winning a Big Ten Championship and earning a College Football Playoff appearance.
DraftKings sees Michigan (+600) as the second-most likely team to win the Big Ten title in 2022, with Ohio State listed as the favorite (-210). Wisconsin (+1,000), Penn State (+1,800) and Iowa (+2,000) round out the top five.
In order for the Wolverines to repeat their success from last season, I’d imagine they have to win at least four of the five games listed below. Here are the games that should determine how the 2022 season goes for the Wolverines.
At Iowa (Saturday, Oct. 1)
Harbaugh’s record vs Iowa: 2-1
After kicking off the season with four straight home games, this should be Michigan’s first true test for the season.
Iowa is not exactly the easiest place to play, but a lot of young pieces will likely be asked to step up for the Hawkeyes. If Michigan can hold quarterback Spencer Petras to nine completions and 137 yards like it did in the 42-3 win in the Big Ten Championship, it should be just fine taking care of business in this one.
If Michigan can handle Iowa and start the season out 5-0, don’t be surprised if the national media starts to pick Michigan as a national championship dark horse, especially if the offense goes off like JJ McCarthy thinks it will.
Penn State (Saturday, Oct. 15)
Harbaugh’s record vs Penn State: 4-3
I’m sure I’m not the only Michigan fan that remembers last year’s 21-17 win over Penn State as the Erick All game.
Penn State should be helped by Sean Clifford returning for what feels like his 15th season of college football. And while receiver Jahan Dotson is now a Washington Commander, Clifford will have a new talented target to throw to in Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley (87 catches, 1,402 yards, 14 touchdowns in 2021).
The Nittany Lions had a bit of a down year last season by their standards, but they’ve defeated Michigan three times in Harbaugh’s tenure. If the Wolverines want to consider themselves among the Big Ten’s elite, they need to win games like this.
Michigan State (Saturday, Oct. 29)
Harbaugh’s record vs Michigan State: 3-4
Jim Harbaugh wasn’t exactly loved by Michigan fans heading into 2021 but after last season’s success, it’s safe to say he’s earned a lot of goodwill from the fan base. But as great as last season was, Harbaugh and the Wolverines still couldn’t beat Michigan State.
After a respectable 11-2 season last year, Mel Tucker and the Spartans were ranked one spot ahead of the Wolverines in ESPN’s latest way-too-early top 25, with Mark Schlabach pointing out the Spartans got more than a few talented transfers coming in.
As Michigan proved last season, it can still make it to the College Football Playoff with a loss to Michigan State. But there wasn’t much room for error after that. In college football, and college sports in general, you have to beat your rivals to be considered successful. I don’t think Michigan fans can stomach another blown lead against Michigan State, and winning this game would help Michigan’s playoff resume tremendously.
Nebraska (Saturday, Nov. 12)
Harbaugh’s record vs Nebraska: 2-0
The Wolverines have three games in November where they should be heavily favored before The Game at the end of the month; they travel to Rutgers before facing Nebraska and Illinois at home.
Out of those three games, I’d expect Nebraska to be the one that would give the Wolverines a little bit of trouble. A Jake Moody field goal with 1:24 left ended up being the go-ahead score in last season’s 32-29 win against a scrappy Cornhuskers team.
In Scott Frost’s four-year tenure with Nebraska, the Cornhuskers have never won more than five games, including last season where all of Nebraska’s nine losses were by single digits.
Nebraska’s got a new offensive coordinator (Mark Whipple from Pitt) and a new quarterback (Casey Thompson). Who knows, maybe this is the year the Cornhuskers put it all together. Regardless, this may be a close game Michigan has to win heading into the matchup with Ohio State two weeks later. Which speaking of...
At Ohio State (Saturday, Nov. 26)
Harbaugh’s record vs Ohio State: 1-5
Harbaugh finally got the monkey off his back last season, beating Ohio State 42-27 in a win where national media finally started to take Michigan seriously as a title contender.
Ohio State has a lot of great pieces returning, including quarterback and Heisman favorite C.J. Stroud. While two of his top targets in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are now in the NFL, Jaxon Smith-Njigba (95 catches, 1,606 yards, nine touchdowns last season) will return and the Buckeyes have a top-five recruiting class coming in.
Columbus is a tough place to play, but I think Michigan beating Ohio State last season gave the guys a lot of confidence. If they can manage to slay the giant again, they should claim the Big Ten title and earn a second straight spot in the College Football Playoff.