- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The summer is about to kick off everywhere across the United States -- Memorial Day is this weekend -- which means one thing, of course.
One season until football begins.
As you itch to get on your boats this weekend and out to the beaches if you’re near the water, first take a peek at Michigan’s schedule for the 2013 season, which begins on Aug. 31 against Central Michigan, as we rank each opponent from toughest to weakest.
1. Ohio State (Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor, Mich.): Was there any question this would be at the top? Besides the Buckeyes being one of the top two teams in the country in the preseason, this is Michigan’s biggest rival. The Wolverines also haven’t beaten the Buckeyes when they have finished a season with a winning record since 2003. These should be the best teams both teams have fielded at the same time since the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in 2006.
2. Notre Dame (Sept. 7 in Ann Arbor): The Irish are coming off a national championship game appearance, return their quarterback, Everett Golson, and one of the best defensive lines in college football, spearheaded by tackle Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Being early in the season, at night, with three-fifths of a new offensive line will make this a challenge for the Wolverines. It will also be Michigan’s biggest test until November.
3. Northwestern (Nov. 16 in Evanston, Ill.): The Wildcats almost knocked off the Wolverines last season and have a good core returning led by quarterback Kain Colter and do-everything running back Venric Mark. This game also comes in a tough time in Michigan’s schedule, the third game in a brutal November that sees five of the Wolverines’ six toughest opponents.
4. Michigan State (Nov. 2 in East Lansing, Mich.): The Spartans had a four-game winning streak snapped last season on a last-second field goal from Brendan Gibbons. While Michigan State is still going to be questionable on offense this season, its defense should be among the best in the Big Ten. The Wolverines also could enter this game undefeated depending what happens against Notre Dame.
5. Nebraska (Nov. 9 in Ann Arbor): Following a rivalry game is tough. Following a rivalry game facing a team with an experienced quarterback (Taylor Martinez) and one of the top wide receivers in the league (Kenny Bell) is a challenge. The Cornhuskers defense is where the questions lie, although they should have figured some things out by November. This game is a threat.
6. Iowa (Nov. 23 in Iowa City, Iowa): Most of the preseason questions for Iowa should be known by this point in the season, including the quarterback question. Michigan will be more talented than Iowa, but the scheduling of this makes it murky -- sandwiched between a game at Northwestern and the finale against Ohio State. Add in that Michigan has only won in Iowa City once in the past decade and this pushes the Hawkeyes past Penn State.
7. Penn State (Oct. 12 in State College, Pa.): This will be the first time Michigan is facing Penn State without Joe Paterno on the sidelines in its history. Coming off major sanctions, it was unclear how Penn State would perform last season. The Nittany Lions fared well, but this is year two of their bowl ban and without an experienced quarterback, there are more questions. The Wolverines should be the more experienced and more talented team in this game.
8. Connecticut (Sept. 21 in East Hartford, Conn.): Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon tried to have this game moved to a neutral site, but UConn would not budge, so the Wolverines will make the trip to suburban Hartford. Linebacker Yawin Smallwood, running back Lyle McCombs and an experienced offensive line could be a problem for Michigan, but this is a good road tuneup test for games later in the season.
9. Indiana (Oct. 19 in Ann Arbor): The good news for Indiana -- the Hoosiers are getting better. The bad news for Indiana -- it likely won’t matter. The Hoosiers do not have the talent or experience to compete with Michigan this season, and it will only get worse as the Hoosiers will eventually enter the Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State nightmare (for them) division starting in 2014.
10. Central Michigan (Aug. 31 in Ann Arbor): Central Michigan went .500 in the MAC last season. It loses the No. 1 player taken in the NFL draft, Eric Fisher, and guard Darren Keyton. Michigan might be breaking in a new interior of the offensive line and potentially a new running back, but it should have little issue with a mid-level MAC school.
11. Minnesota (Oct. 5 in Ann Arbor): The Gophers could be good. Really, they could. But receiver is a huge issue on offense, and the front seven could be a problem on defense. The Wolverines have beaten Minnesota by at least 14 points in their past five meetings and have lost to the Gophers just three times since 1970. Two of those losses came in Ann Arbor. Don’t bet on a third this season.
12. Akron (Sept. 14 in Ann Arbor): The only MACtion here will be whether or not Michigan covers what will likely be a massive point spread. The Zips were one of the worst teams in their league a season ago, and while Terry Bowden is a good coach, he won’t have enough to come close on this one.
1dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
2dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
3dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman