At first glance of the Michigan Wolverines’ 2013 schedule, it appeared that Brady Hoke’s bunch would have a 50-50 shot of opening the season with a 1-1 record (win over Central Michigan, loss to Notre Dame).
But now that Irish quarterback Everett Golson has been tagged as academically ineligible for the upcoming season, revisiting Michigan’s schedule is in order.
In the absence of Golson, one of the hottest signal-callers in late 2012—he threw for at least 200 yards and completed as least 57 percent of his passes during his final five games, pushing Notre Dame to a BCS title game appearance—the Wolverines seem to be in great shape to topple Brian Kelly’s Irish.
And that Week 2 victory could be a sign of things to come.
Not only does 2-0 seem logical to predict, but forecasting an unbeaten record heading into Oct. 12’s scrum in Happy Valley with the Penn State Nittany Lions also seems entirely possible. At that point, Michigan would be 5-0 and be on the doorstep of equaling Hoke’s Michigan-best 6-0 start in 2011.
Imagine how high the Wolverines would be flying if they knocked off Penn State. Who else would stand in the way of perfection?
We’ll get to that later.
Remember this: One player’s non-enrollment won’t completely overhaul an opposing team’s season. However, with Golson sidelined—and Michigan fans craving something better than an 8-5 repeat of 2012—the stars could align for the Maize and Blue this fall, making a one- or two-loss campaign entirely possible.
Analyzing the Factors
Rees-on to be Optimistic vs. Notre Dame
Tommy Rees hasn’t been the most effective quarterback—that’s no secret.
As an interception-prone passer, Reese can’t exactly be counted on to deliver, although he was quite efficient during 2011’s 35-31 loss to the Denard Robinson-led Wolverines. Rees connected on 27 of 39 attempts for 315 yards and three scores.
But he threw two picks.
In 2012, Rees’ arm helped lead the Irish to a 13-6 win over Hoke and Co. in South Bend. The 6’2”, 210-pound senior-to-be completed 8-of-15 (72.7 percent) tosses for 115 yards, including a 38-yard clock-drainer in the fourth quarter to Tyler Eifert that put Notre Dame in cruise control.
If Rees doesn’t start, the Irish don’t have an experienced backup to fill the void—that plays into Michigan’s favor, as well as into the favor of every other team that faces Notre Dame this season.
Rees isn’t the ideal No. 1 for Notre Dame, which has a respectable offensive line coming back. However, Rees is predictable, one-dimensional and simply put, not great on his feet. Golson was unpredictable, quick on his feet and capable of mixing runs and passes, making him the anti-Rees.
Win vs. Notre Dame...Then What?
As mentioned above, a win over Notre Dame would catapult Michigan’s confidence, creating a buffer between its next “real” game in Week 7 against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions are gaining momentum under second-year coach Bill O’Brien. However, they lose .625 percent of the time to Michigan (6-10 since 1993).
Pegging the Wolverines at 6-0 after that meeting wouldn’t be crazy. In fact, forecasting a 7-0 start—now that Golson is out of the picture—wouldn’t be either: Michigan hosts the Indiana Hoosiers the next Saturday (Oct. 19).
Hoke hasn’t lost at The Big House.
And it’s Indiana.
The rest of the way isn’t free of threat, but it won’t be too hard to handle until the final Saturday of the year—Nov. 30 versus Ohio State at Michigan Stadium.
Although the Michigan State Spartans have won four of their past five meetings with Michigan, Hoke’s program is on the obvious upswing while Mark Dantonio’s program looks to have taken a step back in the wrong direction.
At this point, coaching may be the only thing that keeps Michigan State competitive this year against Michigan.
Well, that, defense and home-field advantage. The Spartans defense is far from a cupcake to face, and Dantonio is difficult to best in East Lansing; he’s 3-1 when hosting the Wolverines.
Ohio State is ESPN’s No. 1 team in its latest preseason poll, but not the only ranked opponent Michigan has to vault past during the home stretch: Northwestern (Nov. 16 in Evanston) is No. 24. Nebraska, which travels to Michigan on Nov. 9, is No. 22.
Michigan is 54-15 against Northwestern (.775), and the Huskers will have the daunting task of handing Hoke a loss on his home turf.
Keep Grounded but Expect Better Than 8-5
This can’t be said enough: Golson’s absence only creates optimism when speculating what Michigan could do in 2013. Notre Dame was to be an early test, fresh off a BCS championship appearance and primed for more with Golson at the helm.
But things have changed.
If Michigan does take advantage of Notre Dame and down Penn State, the only looming threats would be Nebraska and Ohio State.
Let’s call 2013 a two-loss year at this juncture, although a one-loss season is much more appealing. Ohio State may win the Big Ten this year, but due to a cozy schedule and one less potential thorn in their side, the Wolverines’ chances of winning at least 10 games increase without Golson taking the field for the Irish.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81