Key stretch: Michigan

Second in a series that examines a stretch that could make or break the season for a Big Ten team.

Next up, the Michigan Wolverines.

Key stretch: at Northwestern (Oct. 8), at Michigan State (Oct. 15), Purdue (Oct. 29), at Iowa (Nov. 5)

Breakdown: Michigan opens with five consecutive home games and has a chance to build some confidence under new coach Brady Hoke. But as the past two seasons have shown, fast starts by the Wolverines don't mean much if the team flounders in October. Michigan plays three Legends division road games in a four-game span beginning Oct. 8 against Northwestern and All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa, who will test the Wolverines' defense. Hoke's first countdown clock expires the next week as Michigan visits East Lansing and tries to end a three-game slide against rival Michigan State. After an open week, Michigan faces a key home game against Purdue before visiting Iowa, which will aim for its first-ever three-game win streak against the Maize and Blue. Michigan's ability to win on the road will determine whether it sinks or swims in division play this fall.

Prediction: This stretch should provide a barometer on Michigan's defense, which will face standout quarterbacks Persa and Kirk Cousins on the road, as well as an improved Purdue offense and an Iowa squad always tough to beat at Kinnick Stadium. A sweep seems unlikely, but Michigan should find a way to avoid another October collapse as well. The Northwestern game could swing things in either direction, but 2-2 is a decent bet.

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