Naming Superlatives For Michigan's 2020 Football Schedule

Eric Rutter

Now that the Big Ten has officially announced Michigan's 2020 football schedule, which will be an eight-game regular season with one bonus game afterwards, it is clear that Michigan has a difficult slate of games. The Wolverines start out with a road game at Minnesota, have a cross-division game against Wisconsin not long after before closing out the season with Penn State at home and Ohio State on the road. 

On the surface, each of those games could provide difficulty for Jim Harbaugh's Michigan squad, but which games specifically should U-M fans watch out for? 

Most important game: As is usually the case, Michigan's most important contest this year will be its season-ending meeting with Ohio State. Though Harbaugh does not appear to be on the hot seat yet, a sixth consecutive loss to Ohio State would go a long ways in putting the Michigan head coach in that position. Ohio State has had a couple players opt out and declare for the NFL Draft, and it is uncertain if they will return by the time the season rolls around. Without a couple key Buckeyes in the lineup, Harbaugh would have one of his better years to beat Ohio State, especially given the unique nature of the 2020 season. 

On top of the importance of the OSU game for Harbaugh's job status, any team that wins the Big Ten title is likely going to have to go through the Buckeyes to do so. This year is no different in that respect, and if Michigan fans want to look back on 2020 as a success, stealing a victory on the road against OSU will be the most surefire way to accomplish that.

Trap game: Though Michigan will be hosting Penn State at home this year, the Wolverines will be doing so without 110,000 fans in attendance, so whatever home field advantage U-M would claim is gone except for the travel aspect. Penn State fields one of the more difficult front seven units in the Big Ten, and Micah Parsons sounds as if he would like to return for the 2020 season. If that comes to fruition, Penn State will match up very well with a Michigan offensive line unit that lost four starters to the NFL Draft over the offseason.

When those two position groups battle it out, PSU will likely have a clear advantage. It is difficult for any team to form an effective offense without establishing the line of scrimmage, and that will be a crucial aspect for Michigan this year as well. So while it may seem like a potential victory for Michigan at home, the Penn State contest screams trap game in my opinion.

Statement game: After what seems like a very long offseason, Michigan has the opportunity to begin the year on the road against No. 22 Minnesota (according to USA Today). Head coach P.J. Fleck has the Golden Gophers on a clear upward trajectory, and many pegged 2020 as the year his team truly breaks out on the national stage. With Tanner Morgan at quarterback and wide receiver Rashod Bateman looking to return, Minnesota is a tough matchup because, like up front on the OL, Michigan is replacing at least two starters from the secondary a year ago. If Ambry Thomas does not in fact return to school, make that three starters. 

Picking up a win in Week 1 over Minnesota would show the nation that Michigan has worked hard over the offseason to be a prepared squad. The fact that Minnesota is a road game only amplifies the difficult for the Wolverines, but leaving that rivalry game with a victory would speak volumes about what Michigan can accomplish this year. 

Must-win contest: This category was tough to parse through because both Wisconsin and Michigan State can be considered must-win games, albeit for different reasons. When considering the Badgers, that game marks another ranked opponent for Michigan an done that U-M will likely need to defeat for a chance at the Big Ten title. That immediately shows the importance of Michigan's Nov. 14 home game against Wisconsin. 

On the other hand, Michigan State is a team that Michigan should dominate on paper, but the matchup is so early on the season that a couple surprise performances could tilt the game in a different direction. But given how much Michigan will likely be favored by, a loss to MSU would look worse on Harbaugh than a loss to Wisconsin would, so each game is a must-win for different reasons. 

What are your initial thoughts on Michigan's 2020 schedule? Which games do you already have circled on your calendar? Let us know!

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