Nearly two months after their originally scheduled season-opener, No. 18 Michigan is set to begin their 2020 campaign with a primetime showdown with No. 21 Minnesota.
All eyes will be on the Wolverines and Golden Gophers on Saturday night, as the “Battle for the Little Brown Jug” highlights the opening weekend of Big Ten play.
Season-openers are always a big deal. Every program wants to start their year off on the right foot, but this one carries a little extra significance for Michigan. The Wolverines’ struggles against ranked opponents on the road has been well-documented and over-discussed. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is 1-7 in such games during his tenure at Michigan.
That trend can’t be halted with one victory, but another loss in this type of game signals immediately that 2020 won’t be much different for the Wolverines. A win wouldn’t silent the critics, but it would allow Harbaugh and Michigan to set a new trend, contrary to the belief that the Wolverines don’t show up for big games.
In addition to bucking the national narratives, a road victory in a ranked-on-ranked matchup could bring a massive confidence boost to a young football team.
Michigan is replacing several starters on both sides of the ball including the starting quarterback, four offensive linemen, two out of the Wolverines’ top three pass-catchers, and their top two cornerbacks.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown has a track record of being able to replace departed talent on that side of the ball. Just look at what he did in 2017 at Michigan, when the Wolverines replaced 10 defensive starters off of what was the Big Ten’s best defense in 2016.
On the other side of the ball, coordinator Josh Gattis has something to prove. Michigan’s offense took about half to the season before we saw Gattis’ vision of “Speed in Space” really take off. The Wolverines need to get off to a much better start offensively in 2020.
New quarterback Joe Milton has 11 career pass attempts. He has all the physical tools to be special at the position, and the hype-train has been full-speed ahead since rumors surfaced that Milton had won the starting job. Here’s his chance to show what he can bring for a program thirsty for a difference-maker at the game’s most important position.
Finally, this game will set the tone for the division races in the Big Ten. Michigan can’t win the East with a victory on Saturday night, but a loss eliminates any margin for error the rest of the way. That would be tough to overcome with remaining matchups against the likes of Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The stakes don’t get much higher than that for a season-opener.
This is the first in four games on Michigan’s schedule against teams ranked in the preseason. A win here could allow the Wolverines to build some momentum in the coming weeks against Michigan State and Indiana, ahead of another big matchup against Wisconsin.
The offseason speculation and hype are over. It’s time to find out what this Michigan team is made of.