With five losses — including one each to rivals Ohio State and Michigan State — Michigan didn’t have the kind of impact in college football it likely was hoping for last season.
And, though the Wolverines return plenty from last season (14 players who started at one time of another on offense, and 10 on defense), there’s still plenty of questions in Ann Arbor. One, apparently, won’t be their impact in the race for the College Football Playoff.
ESPN on Tuesday listed 12 games that could define the college football season for members of the selection committee. Michigan is involved in three of them, including the top two on writer Heather Dinich’s list: At Notre Dame on Sept. 1, home against Wisconsin on Oct. 13, and at Ohio State on Nov. 24.
Michigan is one of three programs with three games on the list, joining Ohio State and Auburn. The Wolverines’ clash with the Fighting Irish to open their season ranks No. 1 on the list in terms of impact.
“This game will feature two coaches who are both desperately trying to remain relevant through November, but it starts here,” Dinich writes. “With no conference championship to play in, Brian Kelly knows the Irish can probably afford only one loss all season. The Irish also have road trips to Virginia Tech and USC this season. Technically, there are no elimination games in September, but if the Irish start with a loss, every game after that will certainly feel like one.
“Michigan can lose this game and still win the Big Ten, but starting the season with a win over the Irish is exactly what Jim Harbaugh needs.”
The annual grudge match between Michigan and Ohio State is second on the list, with Dinich noting, “Harbaugh is 0-for-3 against the Buckeyes, and … isn’t that enough.”
The Michigan-Wisconsin game checks in at No. 10 in “an important cross-divisional game that should be a huge boost to the winner’s resume.”
Michigan State also made the list, with its game against Ohio State coming in at No. 6. The Spartans rebounded from a miserable 3-9 effort in 2016 to go 10-3 last season, including a Holiday Bowl victory over Washington State. Like Michigan, Michigan State returns plenty of starters. The Spartans will be looking to avenge a 48-3 pasting at the hands of the Buckeyes last season, which dashed their Big Ten East title hopes.
Michigan State will be a Big Ten East contender again this season, Dinich writes — and possibly more.
“Don’t underestimate the Spartans in the Big Ten’s East Division race this season,” she writes, “especially when they’ve got home-field advantage against both the Buckeyes and Michigan. With 19 starters returning, and a nonconference road trip to (Arizona State), the Spartans have the pieces to be a CFP contender.”
Michigan State opens its season Aug. 31 at home against Utah State.