Kickoff of the 2022 Michigan Wolverines football season is coming up on Sept. 3 against Colorado State. That game will jumpstart a season where expectations come in high for the Wolverines, who ranked No. 8 in the AP Poll on Monday.
To maintain that top-10 status, Michigan will have to win almost all its games, but there are certainly some positions throughout the season it could slip up. Here are the Wolverines’ five most important games of the year, so they can have a chance to earn an appearance to the College Football Playoffs again.
No. 5: Nov. 5 @ Rutgers
It feels so weird putting Rutgers here, but this has the potential to be a trap game. Last season, the Scarlet Knights completely shut down the Michigan offense in the second half and nearly pulled off an upset in the Big House.
They will be fighting for a bowl game all season long and have an extremely tough schedule. They are going to have to win at least two of their home games against Iowa, Michigan, Penn State or Nebraska to get there. Quarterback Noah Vedral returns with a slew of weapons in the receiving corps, and Greg Schiano would love for the rebuild to take a huge jump in 2022.
For Michigan, this game comes the week after playing Michigan State at home, making it a possible hangover contest and one that could easily be overlooked. Expect Rutgers to bring everything it’s got against Michigan in Piscataway.
No. 4: Oct. 15 vs Penn State
It’s this game, a bye week and then Michigan State to wrap up the month of October for Michigan. Penn State has a good football team, and I was very surprised to see them unranked to open the year. Michigan cannot be looking to the bye week and preparation for the Spartans, or they could get got here.
The Nittany Lions play at Purdue, at Auburn and at Michigan in the first half of their season. If they start 5-0, they’re going to have a ton of momentum coming with them heading to Ann Arbor.
The key for Penn State will be rebuilding the running game that has been lacking the last few seasons. Five-star true freshman running back Nick Singleton hopes to be the answer to that and all of James Franklin’s problems.
No. 3: Oct. 1 @ Iowa
Michigan stomped Iowa in Indy, but this one is heading deeper into enemy waters. Something about Kinnick Stadium is incredibly daunting. Iowa fans bring it to all of their home games and make every snap difficult for opposing offenses.
To make matters worse, Iowa’s defense returns a bunch of starters that pushed them to Indy last season. The question is if that side of the ball will be enough to keep up with the Wolverines’ offense, which proved to be the difference in the Big Ten Championship.
Iowa’s offense is in rough shape. The quarterback battle is between two guys who continuously lost the starting job to each other a season ago. The offensive line lost one of the best centers to ever play at the program in Tyler Linderbaum, and its leading rusher from 2021, Tyler Goodson, is off to the NFL. The amount of holes on this offense are alarming.
Nonetheless, Iowa City is a tricky place to leave with a win, and Michigan will have to do just that to keep the early season on track.
No. 2: Oct. 29 vs No. 15 Michigan State
For the third season in a row, Michigan should be the better football team in this rivalry. But we all know that hasn’t meant wins since Mel Tucker took over in East Lansing. Somehow, he became the first coach in Michigan State history to start 2-0 against the Wolverines.
What the Spartans continue to do well is fill their needs through the transfer portal. Running backs Jalen Burger and Jarek Broussard will likely share the task of taking over for Kenneth Walker III. They also bolstered the secondary with a few portal additions as well.
Losing to Tucker twice to this point may be as embarrassing as any blowout loss to Ohio State. Harbaugh has to figure out a way to get past the Spartans in what should be a sweet Halloween weekend matchup.
No. 1: Nov. 26 @ No. 2 Ohio State
It happened once, now it needs to starting turning into a trend.
Michigan finally got the job done in the Big House last year, but everyone is already questioning if Harbaugh can do it again. Everyone wants that feeling back of beating their archrivals, and it certainly won’t be easy in 2022.
Ohio State returns their starting QB-WR-RB trio of CJ. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson to form one of the most explosive offenses in the country. But they were just as good on that side of the ball last season, too.
So what about their defense? Jim Knowles has taken over as defensive coordinator and hopes to solve that issue along with the eight top-200 defensive players signed in the 2022 class. This team looks to be revamped on that side of the ball, which situates them in the preseason top-2.
Michigan isn’t as flashy as the Buckeyes, but will have a chance to beat them again in 2022. The Wolverines will need the defense to step up and make plays, specifically from the edge. Aidan Hutchinson DOMINATED last season in this game and was a massive reason they won. Stroud had almost no time to throw the ball because of his and David Ojabo’s constant pressure.
Where does that come from in 2022? And can the offense keep up if it doesn’t? That’s going to be what it comes down to, especially in the hostile territory of The Shoe. The Wolverines have not won in Columbus since 2000. The odds are going to be stacked heavily against them yet again, but that didn’t stop them in 2021. The Game has as high of stakes as ever.