For several years, the football schedule for the Michigan Wolverines always seemed to be unfavorable. In two of Harbaugh’s best years — 2016 and 2018 — the Wolverines had to go to Columbus each year and in 2018, Michigan had to begin the season at Notre Dame.
Michigan couldn’t catch a break, until one day, a crazy idea hit happened, “What’s the point of risking a loss and playing a hard non-conference schedule?” The conference schedule is what it is, but is it that important to appease the masses and stop people from being mean online by playing a harder non-conference schedule? Hellllllllll no.
Besides, no Power Five team has ever gone undefeated and missed the four-team College Football Playoff. Winning for a Power Five team — no matter if it’s against USC or UNLV in the non-conference — is all that matters.
This upcoming season, Michigan is continuing to abide by that mantra by playing the equivalent of an intramural schedule in the opening non-conference portion before playing an easier conference schedule than last season. The Big Ten is going to be bad and the Wolverines have the talent and experience to take advantage of that en route to another conference title.
Here is Michigan’s 2023 schedule ranked in terms of difficulty. Spoiler: difficulty is being used loosely for most of this list.
UNLV is ushering in a new era under head coach Barry Odom, but the turnaround is expected to take some time. The Rebels have only had one winning season this century (2013) and despite the perceived progress of a 5-7 season in 2022, UNLV benefitted from a light schedule, but could still not topple the Rainbow Warriors from Hawaii.
Last meeting: 2015, Michigan won 28-7
11) Bowling Green
The Falcons made headlines last year as the first team to beat Marshall; a feat Notre Dame failed to accomplish the week prior. A year before that, the Falcons went into Minneapolis and knocked off Minnesota. Slowly but surely head coach Scott Loeffler is turning Bowling Green into a consistently competent program. However, the Falcons’ No. 92 run defense will be exploited (again, and again, and again, and again) by the Wolverines.
Last meeting: 2010, Michigan won 65-21
East Carolina is coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2013-14. Last season, the Pirates were one of the country’s most potent offenses, averaging more than 460 yards per game.
Unfortunately, ECU must replace a 3,700-yard quarterback, a 1,400-yard running back and pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Furthermore, if the Pirates want to cover the current 36.5-point spread, they will need to revamp their No. 130 pass defense.
Last meeting: The two teams have never played each other
Indiana is the only team Michigan will face coming off a bye week, but of all the teams in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers feel like they are the most hopeless.
They have won only two conference games since 2020 and are coming off consecutive sub-five-win seasons for the first time since 2011-12. There appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel — only head coach Tom Allen celebrating first-half moral victories.
Last meeting: 2022, Michigan won 31-10
Ryan Walters’s first season as a head coach is going to be painful. With a roster experiencing some of the most turnover of any team in the Big Ten and an unforgiving schedule, fans in West Lafayette just want to fast forward to 2024. Purdue travels to Ann Arbor in early November on the second leg of a back-to-back road stretch, while the Wolverines will be well-rested coming off a bye.
Last meeting: 2022, Big Ten Championship, Michigan won 43-22
Mid Ten Road Games
7) At Michigan State
Back to East Lansing; back to the land of
two one tunnel. The Spartans lost two-year starting quarterback Payton Thorne and All-American hopeful wide receiver Keon Coleman to the transfer portal, but managed to retain the much-maligned Scottie Hazelton as defensive coordinator. Despite this game being on the road, Michigan State has too many question marks surrounding the program to be ranked higher.
Last meeting: 2022, Michigan won 29-7
6) At Minnesota
Despite having to replace several key positions, head coach PJ Fleck will get the most out of this roster, and by Week 6, he will have this team at least rowing the boat in the same direction.
However, Harbaugh has consistently had Fleck’s number at Michigan and has outscored him on average 41-17 in two meetings. Furthermore, if a Joe Milton-led attack can carve up a Fleck defense, I fully expect a McCarthy-Corum-Edwards attack to boat race this team in Minneapolis.
Last meeting: 2020, Michigan won 49-24
5) At Nebraska
Will Matt Rhule be the savior of Nebraska football? Only time will tell, but that time is going to require more than one season. The Cornhuskers are only placed this high because of their home field advantage, and whatever unfamiliar tricks Rhule might have up his sleeve to spring an upset on Harbaugh and the Wolverines.
Last meeting: 2022, Michigan won 34-3
Hear me out, I expect Rutgers to be bad next season. But over the last two seasons, Michigan has struggled in each of its Big Ten conference openers. Against Rutgers in 2021 as a 20.5-point favorite, the Wolverines struggled to preserve a 20-13 victory. Last season, Michigan found itself in a 34-27 battle against Maryland as a 17-point favorite.
If recent history has taught us anything, it is to expect a too-close-for-comfort conference opener when the schedule shifts from intramural play to the Big Ten slate.
3) At Maryland
Aside from the Big Ten opener, Michigan has struggled mightily in at least one other conference game the last two seasons. In 2021, Jake Moody kicked the Wolverines out of trouble in Lincoln, and last season, Moody again kicked Michigan to safety against Illinois. While I think Maryland will actually be worse next season compared to 2022 due to key positional losses, this game inconveniently falls on Michigan’s schedule.
Sandwiched between Penn State and Ohio State and serving as the second consecutive road game (identical to 2021), this game reeks of trap potential. Also considering this will be Senior Day for the Terrapins, expect Michigan to be in a tight one for a few quarters, and might even need James Turner to kick them to safety.
2) Ohio State
“The Game” will always be near the top of any list, but this matchup is second in terms of difficulty for the first time in over a decade.
If the Buckeyes were hosting in Columbus or had a proven quarterback, they would be at the top. But until the book is out on Kyle McCord, the reworked offensive line proves itself and the secondary shows improvement, Ohio State will have to accept being the bridesmaid of the 2023 schedule.
1) At Penn State
Happy Valley is never an easy place to win. Even in 2021 when Michigan finished 11-1 and the Nittany Lions limped to 7-5, it took an Erick All late-game touchdown for the Wolverines to come back and steal victory.
This season, Michigan and Penn State are widely considered the two of the favorites in the conference and after an embarrassing loss last season in Ann Arbor, the Nittany Lions will be thirsting for revenge.