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Toughest stretch: Michigan Wolverines

Every team in the Big Ten faces a crucial stretch. It might make the difference in a program’s bid to escape the division basement, to reach bowl eligibility or to contend for the College Football Playoff. But for all 14 teams, a a three- or four-game, make-or-break period exists in 2016.

So to help you map your fall, this week we’re identifying and analyzing those pivotal points around the conference.

Up next is Michigan.

Toughest stretch: Weeks 11 through 13 (at Iowa, Indiana, at Ohio State)

Why: Big Ten schedule-makers treated the Wolverines well, nicely spacing their most difficult games in 2016.

Michigan gets Penn State and Wisconsin early, but both games are to be played at Michigan Stadium and are followed by a trip to Rutgers. An Oct. 29 trip to Michigan State is bracketed by home dates against Illinois and Maryland.

That leaves us with the finishing stretch against a trio of returning bowl teams which includes Iowa, which won its first 12 games last season, and Ohio State, which needs no introduction. Michigan’s toughest stretch is basically required to include the Week 13 regular-season finale at the Horseshoe.

By Nov. 26, Ohio State’s young cast of talent figures to have matured nicely.

Don’t overlook the difficulty of the trip to Iowa City on Nov. 12, too. The Hawkeyes have won four of the past five meetings with Michigan and three straight at Kinnick Stadium. For Iowa, though, the visit from the Wolverines comes at the end of its most difficult stretch.

Then there's Indiana. Michigan has won 20 straight against the Hoosiers but had to go to double overtime to grab a 48-41 win last year. Jim Harbaugh’s team -- if the season breaks right and a Big Ten title or even bigger goals remain within reach -- might peer past Indiana to Ohio State a week down the road.

The Wolverines haven’t won in Columbus since 2000. They’ve lost four straight in the rivalry, surrendering 42 points in each of the past three years.

And let’s not forget what could await beyond the The Game. If Michigan earns it, the Big Ten title game a week later on Dec. 3 would cap a furious four weeks.