Looking ahead to Michigan's Big Ten slate

Next weekend the Wolverines begin their hunt for the Big Ten title. Here’s a quick look ahead at what Michigan will face through the rest of the season:

Minnesota | Oct. 5

Big Ten rank:

Total offense: No. 10

Total defense: No. 7

Michigan will open its Big Ten season at home with the Gophers and although Minnesota has started its season 4-1, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Gophers are two wins away from being bowl eligible despite the fact that QB Philip Nelsonhas thrown just two touchdowns. What Nelson has thrown is interceptions (four of them) and the run game hasn’t really been established yet, but the defensive line has been relatively effective (with the exception of the Iowa game) and could wreak havoc on Michigan if it doesn’t figure out its interior offensive line problems.

Penn State | Oct. 12

Big Ten rank:

Total offense: No. 7

Total defense: No. 4

Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg has already thrown for more than 1,000 yards this season. He has been helped out in the air by junior wide receiver Allen Robinson, who’s arguably the best receiver in the Big Ten. In fact, 12 different Nittany Lions have caught passes this season so the Michigan secondary will have its hands full, especially if caught playing soft coverage like it has early this season.

Indiana | Oct. 19

Big Ten rank:

Total offense: No. 1

Total defense: No. 11

Facing Indiana and Michigan State will be two interesting games for the Wolverines to have back to back, because the IU offense should test the Michigan defense far more than its defense will test the Michigan offense. Then, the exact opposite will be true when Michigan travels to East Lansing. Like Penn State, the Hoosiers will look to really attack the Wolverines downfield, taking their shots when they can. Indiana is eighth in the nation in passing yards per game (348.5), which has resulted in scoring 44.5 points per game. Now, their defense will be another subject all together, but this could be a very high scoring game depending on how the Wolverine defense responds.

Michigan State | Nov. 2

Big Ten rank:

Total offense: No. 11

Total defense: No. 1

Who knows whether Michigan State will still have a quarterback controversy when November rolls around, but one thing is for sure: its defense will be stout. The Spartans are giving up just 13.3 points per game, good enough for 10th in the country. Their defense -- barring injuries -- should continue to progress through the next month, and if their offense picks up and gains steam, this could be a really tough game for the Wolverines, especially because it’s on the road.

Nebraska | Nov. 9

Big Ten rank:

Total offense: No. 4

Total defense: No. 12

Nebraska’s defense is kind of a mess right now. Any team that allows 38 uncontested points to anyone is in a bad place defensively (and offensively, too). Taylor Martinez’s turf toe will likely be cleared up at this point, so we’ll see if he comes back with a reinvigorated sense of urgency that spills over to the rest of his offense. This game was a big turning point in last year’s season (lost Denard Robinson, saw and said good-bye to Russell Bellomy), this year it could be the same since it’s in a string of Legends Division matchups.

Northwestern | Nov. 16

Big Ten rank:

Total offense: No. 5

Total defense: No. 9

Hello, Pat Fitzgerald. We’ll know quite a bit more about his team after this weekend’s matchup with Ohio State, but this will likely be a close game when the Wolverines come to Evanston, Illinois. The two-quarterback system works well for the Wildcats and last season Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter accounted for three touchdowns and 183 yards in the air, while Colter and running back Venric Mark picked up 186 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Their offense has looked a bit different without Mark this season but he should be back by the time this game happens so the Michigan defense will be truly tested. Defensively the Wildcats have quite a bit to shore up -- they haven’t been good on third down or in the red zone (which are places where Devin Gardner has excelled). It’s a long way off, but this could be a pivotal game in the Legends race.

Iowa | Nov. 23

Big Ten rank:

Total offense: No. 8

Total defense: No. 2

Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock has looked more and more comfortable and the Iowa defense seems to be picking up steam as well. They have three linebackers on the Butkus Award watch list and the defense has given up just 79.2 rushing yards and 186.3 passing yards per game. This could be another big game in the Legends Division as it’s a road game -- several players have said over the years that one of the most difficult Big Ten stadiums to play in is Kinnick Stadium. In the Wolverines’ last four trips there, dating to 2003, they’re 1-3. And of late, the road hasn’t really been Michigan’s friend, so this could be yet another big test.

Ohio State | Nov. 30

Big Ten rank:

Total offense: No. 3

Total defense: No. 5

This will be huge no matter what. Generally, you can put aside the statistics and records and anything else that might matter going into any other game, and just wait for the 60 minutes to play out. Last season the Buckeyes shut out Michigan in the second half and forced the Wolverines into four turnovers. Like every year, feel free to look forward to the last Saturday in November. This will be a game.