Discussion: Breaking Down Michigan Football's New Schedule
Big Ten football teams, including the Michigan Wolverines, have their conference-only schedules, and fall camp is less than 24 hours away. Football is near, but still so far, during these uncertain times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this discussion with fellow staff writer Austin Fox, we give our takes on Michigan's schedule, the Big Ten slate as a whole and much more.
Sayfie: Well, we woke up to some good news yesterday when we heard the Big Ten was set to release its revised, conference-only football schedule.
Now, league commissioner Kevin Warren made it very clear that the schedule being put out there does not guarantee there being a season, as the conference will continue to make decisions and evaluate the ever-changing nature of sports during the pandemic, but it's a great step towards having one. And it's fun to see what the plan is as of now. We'll get to some of the details in a minute, but first ...
Just seeing a schedule and knowing we're less than a month until kickoff (again, hopefully) really fires me up. Jim Harbaugh has made this analogy in multiple speeches, but the entire day yesterday, I felt like a thoroughbred horse that just heard the call to post song, knowing race time is near.
"The heart starts pounding, the eyes bulge and the jockeys say that you can feel the muscles bulging on the horse," Harbaugh explained at a satellite camp years ago.
So, my first reaction was excitement and anticipation, the same way I feel when Big Ten Media Days roll around each July, except we're in August.
What was going through your head when the schedule came out?
Fox: My initial reaction when I heard they were releasing the schedule was ‘Pay attention to the road,’ because I was driving home from a dentist appointment (no cavities and everything was A-OK, for those who care about my dental hygiene). There weren’t really any surprises with Michigan’s schedule; we knew the Ohio State game would be pushed up (and it was), and that one extra league opponent would be added, which wound up being Northwestern.
Heck, the biggest takeaway surrounding the revised schedule was that Michigan will be hosting MSU for a second year in a row, though the location of the game likely wouldn’t have impacted the outcome whatsoever in 2020.The release of the conference slates is a step in the right direction toward having a season this fall, but it’s still difficult not to be skeptical whether or not these games will actually occur. All your Equus ferus caballus horse talk got me fired up as well, and as a result I’m raising my odds of a season occurring to 55 percent. ‘Cautious optimism’ is a term that’s being thrown around a lot lately, and I have officially jumped on that bandwagon.
Sayfie: Glad to hear you're going to be OK, and glad you're joining me in my optimism (I'm at 56 percent, for those wondering).
Fox: You’re outbidding me by one? What is this — The Price is Right?
You did bring up a great point, though. The biggest surprise out of this whole thing was the MSU game being in Ann Arbor (Oct. 3), just because that fine a detail had not been discussed, since there's more important intricacies that had to be hammered out.
Let's get to the structure of the schedule. What did you think about games starting on Sept. 5, unlike some other conferences that pushed week one back, and the two bye weeks plus one open date at the end of the season?
Fox: I’m fine with the teams starting on their normally-scheduled weekend of Labor Day. What good would it do to push things back three or four weeks? Nothing would change during that span. Starting on time now gives everyone two bye weeks, and an opportunity to semi-easily make up games if any get canceled.
Sayfie: I think the reasoning for starting late in September is that you get more time to evaluate the many factors that go along with playing through a pandemic and you don't have that pressure of starting so soon weighing over your head. You also get the chance to watch the NFL operate for a week or two. But, the Big Ten, by far, has the most flexibility in its schedule. That's been a big buzz word for athletic directors, administrators and commissioners over recent weeks.
The Big Ten very well may not begin Sept. 5, but those built in off weeks will help get as many games played as possible if and when there are cancellations. In addition, the championship game can be moved back to as late as Dec. 19. You wanted flexibility? You got it.
Your thoughts on Michigan's schedule and the order of games?
Fox: I have no complaints with the overall order of Michigan’s schedule, though I think each of the first three games are going to be very challenging. The season-opener against Purdue will be trickier than some realize thanks to the Boilermakers’ borderline-elite passing attack, while the next two contests — at Minnesota and home against Penn State — will both be viewed as tossups.The two-week stretch in late-October against Ohio State and Wisconsin is going to be brutal, but Michigan then closes the year on an easier note against Maryland and Northwestern.
Sayfie: It's nice for the Wolverines that they start with Purdue. You're right, it is a trap game, for sure. But, even though the Boilers have a dynamic duo at wideout in sophomore David Bell and redshirt sophomore Rondale Moore, that's a team Michigan should absolutely handle at home — fans or not.
I do worry about the offensive line not having a game or two against lesser opponents after the Purdue tilt to get up to speed more. As we know, that's going to be an inexperienced group, and they'll be thrown into the fire against the Gophers and Nittany Lions. I guess the Wolverine Faithful will have to trust that Ed Warinner can get these guys ready at a rapid rate. He is one of the best in the business, so I wouldn't rule it out at all.
But that late-October stretch is going to be ... something. If the Wolverines pull off the upset in Columbus, I think they'll keep the momentum rolling and beat Wisconsin at home. If not, who knows, though I love how last year's team responded against Notre Dame after the devastating loss in Happy Valley. One thing's for sure — some physical football will be played in those two games, and we'll see if the Wolverines can get out of the stretch with at at least one victory.
OK, we mentioned it quickly, but let's fully address it: How do we feel about The Game against Ohio State being played on Oct. 24?
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