Expectations are high for the Michigan football program heading into the 2013 season, but there are some difficult games on the schedule. In order for the Wolverines to live up to these expectations, the team must implement flawless game plans and execute them to perfection.
Last year's 8-5 record isn't an acceptable outcome.
In order for Michigan and its fans to feel good about this upcoming season, a record of 11-2 or better is likely the goal. And with a difficult schedule ahead of this program, such a record would be quite an accomplishment.
Speaking of the schedule, here's a look at the opponents that will give Michigan the biggest challenge in 2013, along with a deeper look at the biggest key to victory in each game.
Notre Dame vs. Michigan: September 7 at Michigan Stadium
The Golden Domers handed Michigan a loss last year, winning an ugly game by the score of 13-6.
Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and the big guys up front mauled Michigan's offensive line, forcing Denard Robinson into four interceptions—two of which were claimed by Manti Te'o—while Vincent Smith tossed another in his only attempt.
Notre Dame will be without Everett Golson, as it was recently discovered that he's suspended due to "academic performance" issues, per ESPN's Tom Rinaldi:
Everett Golson tells ESPN's Tom Rinaldi he's been suspended by Notre Dame for 2013 Fall Term for academic performance, intends to return.5/26/2013, 8:00:55 PM
Without Golson, Notre Dame's offense will be easier to defend.
That said, the Notre Dame defense still features Tuitt, Nix and a few other big-time players who will become nationally recognized by the time the end of the season is upon us.
Therefore, the biggest key to this game will be the offensive line's ability to protect Devin Gardner. If he has time to throw, Michigan will likely win. If he's running for his life, he'll likely turn the ball over, just like Robinson did last year.
Michigan vs. Michigan State: November 2 at Spartan Stadium
The Wolverines barely scraped by the Spartans in 2012, winning by a score of 12-10 at home thanks to a couple of fourth-quarter field goals. Robinson failed to complete half his passes on that day, and the team's passing attack was a stagnant mess.
If not for a valiant effort by Michigan's defense, which held Le'Veon Bell to just 68 yards (2.6 yards per carry), Michigan State would have won the game.
The biggest key to this matchup in 2013 will be keeping the chains moving on offense.
The player most responsible for making this happen is Devin Gardner. If he can generate some first downs by way of the passing game, then the team's running game will be effective as well.
Michigan State's offense isn't going to be as effective in 2013 without Bell running the ball and with no clear answer at the quarterback position. So if Michigan can control the clock by keeping the chains moving and dominating the Spartans' defense, it will win.
Ohio State vs. Michigan: November 30 at Michigan Stadium
Michigan almost beat Ohio State last year, but the team's offense was shut out in the second half. In the end, two second-half field goals by the Buckeyes were the difference in the game as Ohio State won 26-21.
Gardner had been entrenched as the starting quarterback for a few games by this point, but he struggled against Ohio State's athletic defense, throwing one interception to pair with his lone touchdown.
Unlike the first two matchups, the big key to this game will be on the defensive side of the ball.
Braxton Miller and his offensive attack put up 37.2 points per game last year, and another year under Urban Meyer's guidance—along with an explosive 2013 recruiting class—will likely see those numbers inflate.
Getting pressure on Miller will be critical for Michigan in this game, and the team's secondary must play disciplined—especially on the back end.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!