2011 schedule analysis: Michigan

My team-by-team breakdown of each Big Ten schedule continues with the Michigan Wolverines.

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3: Western Michigan (6-6)

Sept. 10: Notre Dame (8-5)

Sept. 17: Eastern Michigan (2-10)

Sept. 24: San Diego State (9-4)

Legends division games

Oct. 1: Minnesota

Oct. 8: at Northwestern

Oct. 15: at Michigan State

Nov. 5: at Iowa

Nov. 19: Nebraska

Crossover games

Oct. 29: Purdue

Nov. 12: at Illinois

Nov. 26: Ohio State (protected)

No plays


Penn State


Gut-check game: At Michigan State. Michigan's trip to Northwestern a week before also could qualify, but we'll learn a lot about the Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. New coach Brady Hoke has played up Michigan's top two rivalries -- Michigan State and Ohio State -- placing countdown clocks to both games around Schembechler Hall. Hoke can gain some goodwill among Michigan fans if he leads the Wolverines to a victory in East Lansing, ending Michigan State's three-game win streak in the series. Michigan State has no intention of relinquishing the Paul Bunyan Trophy and still feels disrespected by Michigan, so this will be a test.

Trap game: Purdue. This non-division game falls between the Michigan State trip and another Legends division road game at Iowa. Michigan won an ugly game last year in West Lafayette, but Purdue ended its losing streak at the Big House in 2009 and should be a much improved offensive team. This is Michigan's only home game in a stretch of four out of five on the road, the Wolverines must handle their business against the Boilers.

Snoozer: Eastern Michigan. Other than the two schools being only a few miles apart, there isn't much upside to this game. The Ron English-Brady Hoke story is nice and will be rehashed leading up to kickoff, but Eastern Michigan still is building its program to a respectable level. Expect a big day for Denard Robinson and the Wolverines offense.

Non-con challenge: Notre Dame. The first night game at Michigan Stadium should be electric, and Notre Dame will bring in a squad likely ranked in the top 20. Unlike Michigan, the Irish ended 2010 on a good note and could take a significant step in Brian Kelly's second season as coach. Robinson went nuts against Notre Dame last year in South Bend. It'll be interesting to see how he fares in Michigan's new offense as the Wolverines get their first test. Michigan also shouldn't forget about San Diego State in Week 4. Obviously, there's a lot of familiarity between the two coaching staffs.

Key stretch: The home games against Nebraska and Ohio State in late November stand out, but Michigan's season likely hinges on how the team performs on the road. Michigan plays four out of five games away from Ann Arbor between Oct. 8-Nov. 12, including three Legends division road games (Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa). The Wolverines could gain a lot of confidence from the stretch or stumble and be fighting to make a bowl game.

Analysis: Here's a case where the cross-division schedule isn't nearly as daunting as the division slate. Michigan misses both Wisconsin and Penn State and hosts rival Ohio State at a time when the Buckeyes could be reeling. On the flip side, the Wolverines play three of their five division games on the road before a tough finish against Nebraska and Ohio State. Michigan once again has a chance to start off strong as it plays five home games to open the season. The big key will be performing better against mid- to upper-tier Big Ten competition.

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