Michigan will enter the 2021 season with a lot of question marks at several key positions and an almost entirely new coaching staff. While most are uncertain of what Michigan will ultimately become this upcoming fall season, the expectations in Ann Arbor are the same as they always are - beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten championship.
In order to do that, the Wolverines will need to navigate through a tough schedule that includes an early season PAC 12 opponent and three straight games against Big Ten opponents that the Wolverines lost to in 2020...and all of that happens before they meet Ohio State.
If Michigan can rise to the challenge and put the oddity of the 2020 season firmly in the rearview mirror, the Wolverines will likely take the national spotlight on two occassions in their quest for a conference title.
Week 11: Michigan at Penn State
I believe Michigan heads into this game with an 8-1 record, having only lost to Wisconsin on the road in week five. Penn State, on the other hand, is fighting to keep their Big Ten championship hopes alive with a 6-3 record - having lost in week one to Wisconsin, week six to Iowa and week eight to Ohio State. It’s anyone’s guess what the crowd attendance will look like in 2021, but it’s likely that Penn State will attempt to pull off a white-out game at some point. Looking at the Nittany Lions schedule, the Michigan game certainly makes the most sense.
With Michigan heading toward a potential divisional title showdown with Ohio State and Penn State fighting to stay alive, expect College Gameday to set up in Happy Valley in week 11.
Week 13: Ohio State at Michigan
After taking a year off for the first time in rivalry history, The Game will resume in 2021 as Michigan welcomes Ohio State to the Big House. Though the return of The Game itself would be enough of a big deal, it's entirely likely that the Wolverines and Buckeyes could arrive to the final week of the regular season with just one combined loss and a trip to Indy on the line. With Jim Harbaugh looking to avoid an historic 0-6 start against Michigan’s most hated rival, Ryan Day will be looking to prove that the narrative won't be changing anytime soon under his watch.
All of that makes for great TV, but there’s certainly more juicy layers to this story that would only add to the intrigue.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the two rival coaches had a tense exchange during a coaches conference call - with Harbaugh accusing Day of breaking the rules and Day suggesting he (Harbaugh) should worry about his own team. The dust-up between the two coaches led to reports that Day had told his players that the Buckeyes were going to “hang 100” on the Wolverines. When the game was cancelled due to COVID issues within the Michigan football program, Day never got the opportunity to prove it on the field.
Speaking of those COVID issues within the Michigan football program, most of the Buckeye faithful (and many of the Buckeye players) believe that Michigan essentially faked the COVID issues in order to avoid what would have likely been another embarrassing loss to Ohio State. In fact, former Buckeye - and College Gameday commentator - Kirk Herbstreit went as far as to suggest that would be the case. With the Wolverines having already canceled the game against Maryland a week earlier due to COVID protocols, Herbstreit predicted that Michigan would “wave the white flag” and avoid playing Ohio State.”
Though he later apologized for those comments, the suggestion that Michigan would fake a covid issue didn’t sit well with the folks in Ann Arbor - particularly with Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel. "I think it's ridiculous," Manuel said. "I have to pause because of my words. I was angered, infuriated by the insinuation that Michigan would do anything other than play a football game. We've been playing this game since 1879. 1879. We're the winningest program for a reason because we play whoever is in front of us. The only way we want to keep anybody from moving on is to beat them on the fields of play. To insinuate that, to say something other than that is a statement by a fool.”
With Herbstreit in the booth, Harbaugh and Day on the sidelines and the Wolverines locking horns with the Buckeyes for a trip to Indy, it's hard to imagine College Gameday being anywhere other than Ann Arbor for the final week of the regular season.