In less than a week, Michigan will have an opportunity to pick up a season-opening road victory against a ranked opponent for the first time of the Jim Harbaugh era (neutral site victory over Florida in 2017 not withstanding). On the surface, doing so would be a tall task for the Wolverines to accomplish but not an impossible one.
Entering Week 1's game against Minnesota, the AP has ranked Michigan at No. 18 in the country without playing a single snap. The Golden Gophers have also benefited from the Big Ten's late start to the season, and Minnesota stands at No. 21 in the nation as well.
Starting out in prime time
Facing ranked opponents on the road has long been a thorn in Coach Harbaugh's side, but U-M's head coach has an opportunity to rewrite that narrative on the national stage.
With College Gameday hosting Saturday' matchup, Michigan will be featured as part of the show for the ninth time in Harbaugh's time at Michigan and the seventh time U-M has appeared on Gameday as the road team.
This will be the first time a Big Ten school has appeared on Gameday for the 2020 season (obviously), and it will also decide who will keep the Little Brown Jug as part of the Michigan-Minnesota rivalry.
Heading into the matchup, Michigan is the current owner of the rivalry trophy, and the Wolverines are on a two-game winning streak against Minnesota. In fact, Michigan has achieved victory in eight of the last 10 games, 18 of the last 20 games and 27 of the last 30 games against the Golden Gophers.
Those stats paint a story of dominance against U-M's Big Ten West foe, but the actual game this year is expected to be a much closer affair. In fact, the opening betting line for the conference battle pitted Michigan as a 2.5 point underdog.
However, Minnesota is a team on the upswing thanks to head coach P.J. Fleck, an individual who seems to inject spirit and success wherever he goes. As the leader of the Gophers' program, Fleck led Minnesota to a 11-2 record a year ago, and the squad finished ranked at No. 10 by the AP by season's end.
Many of the players who helped propel Minnesota to that lofty position are still with the program as well. Tanner Morgan, who originally committed to Western Michigan under Fleck, and the junior threw for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns a season ago. Morgan has been targeting Chris Autman-Bell for a long time, and that duo has another opportunity to make an impact this fall when many eyes in the secondary will be fixed on Rashod Bateman. Together, that dynamic trio will be important to control for what will be a young, inexperienced defensive backfield for the Wolverines.
How all of this will come together is still yet to be determined, but Michigan has a chance to make a statement with its Week 1 performance. If the Wolverines can log a big win right away, the statement will be that U-M has a chance to challenge for a Big Ten crown this year. If Minnesota ends up on top, it will be another chapter in a growing book of big games that Harbaugh has not capitalized on while at Michigan.
How do you see this game playing out? What is your prediction for Week 1? Let us know!