As you may have gleaned from the title, this is the second in a two-part series on the opponents facing Michigan this season. This is the part that has most of the good teams, as well as the worst of all the terrible teams. I'm not sure which of those sounds more interesting.
So… how’s things?
Last year: 11-3 (8-1 B1G), B1G Champion, Lost Rose Bowl to USC 52-49
Recap: We did not see that coming. Penn State won their last 8 conference games, beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, and had a 14-point lead in the second half over USC before falling in a wildly entertaining Rose Bowl.
The reason we didn’t see that coming is because Penn State opened 2-2 with a loss to Not-Good-Enough-To-Be-Our-Rival Pitt, a 7-point win over Temple, and a total defenestration at the hands of Michigan. They then squeeked by Minnesota by three points. They then beat Ohio State in a game that Ohio State really, really should have won; Ohio State outplayed them in most respects, but Penn State blocked two kicks, one of which it returned to the house for the winning score. None of this screamed BEST TEAM IN THE BIG TEN, either then or in hindsight.
So where does that leave us for this year? Man, that’s hard to say. Preseason polls have Penn State as somewhere between a top-5 and top-10 team. Michigan fans remember them as the team that put up slightly less resistance than UCF.
When last we saw them: Ah yes, the defenestration.
Michigan outgained Penn State 6.13 yards per play (Penn State’s worst defensive performance prior to the Rose Bowl) to 3.47 yards per play (Penn State’s worst offensive performance of the year by more than a yard per play, and more than 3 yards per play below their season average). The Wolverines didn’t punt in the first half, and they forced a field goal so sad it made Jim Harbaugh want to apologize to the game of football itself.
This team is as frightening as: Don Flamenco from Punch-Out, but when you face him in a rematch in the World Circuit. Everyone’s like ‘oooooh he’s so good now’ and you’re like ‘but this is the same dude I knocked the eff out like five bouts ago how much better could he be?’ Fear Level = 8
Michigan should worry about: Mike Gesicki, guy who catches things. Trace McSorley, guy who does Rex Grossman things. Penn State’s offensive line when pass blocking. Penn State vs. Not Michigan. Saquon Barkley.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Mike Gesicki, guy who blocks things. Trace McSorley, guy who has to manage games. Penn State’s offensive line when run blocking. Penn State vs. Not Not Michigan.
As for Barkley… nessun dorma, man.
When they play Michigan: Penn State is likely to be 6-0. Can anyone think of the last time Michigan faced a 6-0 Penn State team? Anyone? What if I gave you two extra seconds to think about it? Mario, any thoughts on the subject?
First game: vs. Akron, noon, ABC
[AFTER THE JUMP: Yep, we've reached that point.]
Last year: 2-10 (0-9 B1G), emphatically no bowl
Rutgers reached rock bottom, and burrowed into rock bottom like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff. Rock bottom is now deeper because of Rutgers.
Rutgers was outscored in four conference games (against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State(?!)) by a combined score of 224-0. What would they have had to do to in their other five conference game to not be considered an abject embarrassment? I’d put the over/under at “singlehandedly defeat the German army on the Great War’s western front.” And while getting pounded in the trenches and launching offensives that gain no ground was certainly something Rutgers was well equipped to do, the Scarlet Knights did not in fact accomplish this. Instead, they lost their other five conference games by a combined 50 points.
If you’re looking for a bright side, they beat New Mexico, scored points against Washington, and somehow kept three conference games within one score: Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa. So keep chasing that roadrunner, guys. He seems to have run into that tunnel on the side of the mountain. Go get 'em.
When last we saw them: Some subject matter is so striking, it is literally impossible to find an unimpressive way to break it down. Think of a photographer at the Grand Canyon: some pictures are better than others, but it’s hard to find a shot or an angle that doesn’t make the viewer say “wow, that is majestic.”
You cannot look at the box score of Michigan/Rutgers, or any breakdown of said box score, without uttering some variation of “holy balls” while making this face:
Such a breakdown does not require any special skills on the part of yours truly to make you laugh audibly at your desk. Ready? Here goes.
- Michigan outgained Rutgers 600-39 despite throwing exactly three passes in the entire second half, two of which were to the fullback.
- Rutgers completed two passes for 5 yards.
- Rutgers didn’t pick up a first down until the score was 71-0.
- Michigan’s fullbacks had more total yards than Rutgers. Their four touchdowns were as many as Rutgers had against Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State, and Maryland combined.
- Garrett Moores outscored Rutgers.
- Michigan scored 11 touchdowns. Michigan surrendered 12 touchdowns in its entire nine-game conference slate.
This team is as frightening as: #FenceTheGarden. Fear Level = 1.7
Michigan should worry about: [NOTE TO SELF: Find some of that hilarious stuff from NJ.com about Rutgers being a tiger poised to take down the biggest dolphin in the herd because of the way Chris Ash eats his breakfast cereal or something. But make it sound plausible.]
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Go re-read the bullet points above.
When they play Michigan: Oh my god we have to do this again?
First game: vs. Washington, 8:00 Friday, FS1
Last year: 9-4 (5-4 B1G), beat Washington State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, 17-12
Recap: Can Gophers row boats? I mean, Broncos could apparently row boats, which seems unlikely from a dexterity standpoint, but at least they had limbs capable of that kind of motion. Gophers weigh between 0.5 and 2 pounds. A standard oar, even made of lightweight modern materials, is going to outweigh a gopher by between 2 and 10 times its bodyweight. That just seems implausible.
Google Image Search: still undefeated
Anyway, Minnesota played some uninteresting football last year, but they weren’t altogether bad. In fact, they won nine games for the first time since 2003... and promptly fired head coach Tracy Claeys. Of course, the firing had more to do with a player boycott over sexual assault investigation-related player suspensions, and the way Claeys handled the whole situation.
Enter: PJ Fleck.
Fleck is coming off a Cotton Bowl appearance with Western Michigan which, was WMU’s… /shuffles through papers… first ever Cotton Bowl. Under Fleck, WMU also won their first MAC title of the century, went to three straight bowl games (they had never even made back-to-back bowl games before Fleck arrived) and won 29 games in 3 years, surpassing the previous WMU record of 23 wins.
The only question is whether PJ Fleck can replicate this kind of success with a less talented squad than he had in Kalamazoo.
When last we saw them: Low. Man. Wins.
This team is as frightening as: Noooooooooo clue. Take a team that wasn’t that great but won 9 games but fired their coach but hired a coach everyone thinks is pretty good but that coach may tear the thing down to the studs before rebuilding it… your guess is as good as mine. Fear Level = Maritime Gopher.
Michigan should worry about: Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for over 1800 yards, albeit at under 4.8 yards per carry. Both are really good backs who, if Minnesota’s passing game can back the defense off, could both have really solid seasons.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: The odds of that passing game busting out are, to put it mildly, low. Mitch Leidner is gone, and Minnesota’s quarterback situation is a mess. Someone from the pile of walk-on Conor Rhoda, sophomore Demry Croft, or freshmen Seth Green (NTSG), Neil McLaurin, or Tanner Morgan will start. This bodes ill.
When they play Michigan: PJ Fleck and Jim Harbaugh shake hands before the game. Their eyes meet. Each refuses to let go. The handshake intensifies. A breakdance fight breaks out.
First game: vs. Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. Thursday, BTN
Last year: 6-7 (3-6 B1G), lost St. Petersburg Bowl to Boston College, 36-30
Recap: Maryland made a bowl game despite without beating a single top-50 team. Their best win was over 3-9 Michigan State. They were the lowest-rated Power 5 team to make a bowl game (as measured by S&P+), edging out Boston College… to whom Maryland lost in their bowl game.
But still, they made a bowl, which was a significant accomplishment for first-year head coach DJ Durkin. The problem is that Maryland’s schedule in 2017 probably won’t allow them to return to the Yes This Is A Real Bowl Bowl with a similar level of play. They open at Texas, and they have cross-division games with Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Minnesota. Bill Connelly has them at between 4 and 5 wins, which feels right.
When last we saw them: It wasn’t quite a Rutgers-level throttling, but Michigan pulled away to a reasonably comfortable 59-3 win. Wilton Speight put up the best statistical passing first half in Michigan history, going 13 of 16 for 292 yards (18.25 YPA) and 2 TDs. Michigan averaged 7.0 yards per carry on the day. It was comprehensive. It was ho-hum. It featured just enough Jabrill Peppers. It was, all in all, a pleasant November afternoon.
This team is as frightening as: Raphael. Potentially dangerous, but still among the most overrated of turtles. Fear Level = 4
Michigan should worry about: Like Minnesota, Maryland has a dynamic pair of running backs in Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson; Johnson hit 1000 yards at over 9 yards per carry, and Harrison averaged 7.2 yards per carry and was more productive than Johnson against good defenses (including Michigan).
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Like Minnesota, Maryland’s quarterback situation is unsettlingly unsettled. Perry Hills is gone, and will be replaced by either Tyrrell “Piggy” Pigrome, Max “Kermit*” Bortenschlager, and UNC transfer Caleb “Harry and the*” Henderson.
When they play Michigan: Look, there’s a chance Michigan is looking past Maryland to the nasty tail end of the schedule. And Maryland, riding high off of a likely win over Rutgers, may come out swinging. So they may – MAY – keep the margin within 55 points this year.
First game: at Texas, noon, FS1
Last year: 11-3 (7-2 B1G), B1G West Champions, Beat Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, 24-16
Recap: 2016 was supposed to be the year Wisconsin finally took it on the chin. Every year they seemed to coast by with a middle-school level non-conference slate and a disproportionately Rutgersish-and-Marylandesque type of conference schedule. But not last year. Last year they opened against LSU, and then played back-to-back-to-back-to-back games at Michigan State, at Michigan, against Ohio State, and at Iowa.
Somehow, Wisconsin emerged from those games (and two body bag games against Akron and Georgia State) at 5-2, and won out to win the West. They then had a 28-7 lead over Penn State with the ball late in the first half, and somehow managed to blow it. The Universe giveth, and the Universe taketh.
When last we saw them: Jourdan Lewis decided he wanted George Rushing’s milkshake.
The game was close on the scoreboard, but Michigan dominated it statistically: 349 yards to 159 yards, 21 first downs to 8, 6.8 yards per pass to 3.5. Michigan missed three field goals (from 31 yards, 43 yards, and 40 yards) kept Wisconsin in it, but ultimately the Badgers couldn’t sustain anything on offense. They didn’t have a drive over 40 yards all game, and only 3 drives gained more than 20 yards.
This team is as frightening as: The same Wisconsin who has been Wisconsining since the dawn of Wisconsin. Fear Level = 7.5
Michigan should worry about: Wisconsin is talented and deep at every level of the defense, and returns a number of playmakers from a top-10 defense.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Wisconsin lost some key pieces from the back seven, with TJ Watt, Vince Biegel, Leo Musso, and Sojourn Shelton all departing, and Jack Cichy falling to a torn ACL in fall camp.
When they play Michigan: White guys smashing into eeeeeeeeeeeverything
First game: vs. Utah State, 9:00 p.m. Friday, ESPN
Last year: 11-2 (8-1 B1G), lost Peach Bowl/CFB Semifinal to Clemson 31-0
Recap: Ohio State gets graded on a different curve than everyone else around here, for two reasons. First, they are the nemesis. They are Hans Gruber to our John McClain. The Tonya Harding to our Nancy Kerrigan. The Spy to our Spy. The Ohio State to our Michigan. Second, they’ve been damn good since Urban Meyer arrived.
So, by those standards, Ohio State had a relatively mediocre season. They lost two games, which is a lot for them. True, one of the losses was a complete blind-ass fluke (see the Penn State section above). But at the same time, they also won two games that Bill Connelly’s numbers had as a 17% win likelihood: a 17-16 win over Michigan State (which… wait, what?) and the double-overtime Football Armageddon Redux victory over Michigan at home. And their loss to Clemson in the playoff was not competitive from the opening kick.
The good news for a program so clearly in need of good news is that they return pretty much everyone, they have been recruiting at an unbelievable pace, and they are still 61-6 with Urban Meyer at the helm.
Screw those guys.
When last we saw them: I don’t really want to talk about it yet.
This team is as frightening as: 1/Rutgers. Fear Level = 9
Michigan should worry about: Well, let’s see… Ohio State has won 12 of 13 games against Michigan, and has a better record against Michigan in that stretch than Michigan has had over any Big Ten team that isn’t Indiana.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Spot or no, Michigan outplayed Ohio State last year, and did so at Ohio Stadium.
When they play Michigan: Please don’t make me start thinking about this yet.
First game: at Indiana, 8:00 p.m. Thursday, ESPN