The Michigan Wolverines have a tough schedule in 2013, and if Brady Hoke's team hopes to improve upon the 8-5 record of a year ago, there are some key games it can't afford to lose.
This upcoming season will be won or lost based on how well the team's young players can perform—especially on offense—and there won't be much room for mistakes.
Thankfully, the Wolverines are led by quarterback Devin Gardner, who is entering his senior season at Michigan, and he will build on what was a solid campaign in 2012.
Here are the biggest games on the schedule for Michigan in 2013—the games that will determine whether or not the Wolverines rise to become a national powerhouse once again or stay on the brink of mediocrity.
September 7: Notre Dame
Michigan's second game of the season will be a brutal test against national-championship contender Notre Dame.
Brian Kelly's team will still be smarting from its devastating loss to Alabama in the BCS title game last year, and Notre Dame's defense will put Michigan's offense to the test.
As an added storyline, Michigan will have a chance to avenge last year's 13-6 loss to Notre Dame.
Playing at home will give the Wolverines a huge boost, and Gardner should be able to put stress on Notre Dame's secondary by taking some shots deep. This will open up the team's running game, which should lead to a victory.
The biggest key to this game, though, will be whether or not Michigan can stymie Notre Dame's running game. If not, fans could be subject to another low-scoring game that favors the Fighting Irish.
November 2: @Michigan State
Some might say that Michigan's game against Nebraska one week later will be a bigger game, but given the fact that this game will be played on the road and Nebraska will be traveling to Ann Arbor, I can't agree.
Michigan narrowly defeated the Spartans last year by a score of 12-10...at home.
It was also the Wolverines' first victory over Michigan State since the 2007 season, which is why another victory over Mark Dantonio's squad will mean a lot to this team.
Gardner will need to be more efficient behind center than Denard Robinson was last year, otherwise the Spartans defense will be able to focus on stuffing the running game—something that will not bode well for Michigan's chances at pulling out a tough road victory.
November 30: Ohio State
It's the last game of the season, and boy, it's going to be a doozie.
Ohio State is finally bowl-eligible in 2013, and given the way the Buckeyes went undefeated in the Big Ten a year ago, they'll be the team to beat in the conference this upcoming season.
Obviously, we can't predict whether Ohio State will be undefeated at this point in the season, nor can we accurately say how the Wolverines will have fared.
That said, there's a really good chance both teams will be sporting fine records, and both of them will likely need a win to secure a favorable position in bowl season.
Simply put, this is going to be the biggest game of the season for the Wolverines. Michigan must play at the top of its game to pull out the upset, but if it does, it'll be the biggest victory of the season.
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