Penn State is getting some dark horse playoff hype. [Bryan Fuller]
While we've entered the darkest days of the offseason, there's a beacon of hope: programs not named Michigan State now have a good idea of how their roster and depth chart will look this fall. Since I penned the opponent previews (save Ohio State, which was put in the ever-capable hands of Ross Fulton) for HTTV 2017, which you can preorder right here (or grab the digital version here), I figured I'd run down the 2017 schedule by expected difficulty.
This takes into account opponent quality, location of the game, time of the season (i.e. it's better to catch Florida early while Malik Zaire is still getting the offense down), and whatnot.
TIER I: THE EAST ELITES
1. Ohio State (home, Nov. 25)
While serious consideration was given to Penn State, The Game is The Game, and Ohio State's talent level remains ridiculous even after considerable turnover from last year's squad. The JT Barrett-Mike Weber backfield will be among the best in the country, and the offense will feature new wrinkles with former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson combining his light-speed approach with Urban Meyer's power spread.
Ohio State's defensive strength also happens to coincide with Michigan's greatest offensive concern. The Buckeyes boast four defensive ends who'd start—and star—on just about any team in the country: Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, and Jalyn Holmes. Hopefully, Michigan has figured out their right tackle situation by Thanksgiving.
2. Penn State (road, Oct. 21)
I understand the inclination to dismiss Penn State based on last year's 49-10 win. I really do. That said, PSU's offense took off last year under first-year coordinator Joe Moorhead, and I'd probably have them first on this list if top wideout Chris Godwin didn't move on to the NFL. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley may be as good, if not better, than the Barrett-Weber duo.
There are still reasons to doubt this team, chief among them an offensive line that remained awful at run-blocking last year and a defensive front seven that lacks star power. Also: James Franklin is still in charge of game management decisions. This offense is going to be tough to stop, though, and Michigan will have to do it in a road night game at Happy Valley.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the schedule.]