Due to the Big Ten’s expansion, weak non-league opponents and the incoming playoff system, Michigan football could find itself in a peculiar position.
As a result of unprecedented success on the recruiting trail, the Wolverines are filling their depth chart with top-tier talent. However, their schedules are headed in the opposite direction.
It seems that a share of Michigan’s non-conference opponents in 2014 and 2015 are glorified high school teams. That’s not meant as disrespect for Brigham Young, UNLV, Miami (Ohio) or Appalachian State, which actually beat the Wolverines in 2007, but a robust non-league schedule isn’t there.
Those schedules both help and hurt Michigan.
Remove Notre Dame from the equation, which has been done, and that leaves slim pickings and high expectations for coach Brady Hoke.
The Wolverines will get shots at quality competition in the Big Ten. That much is certain.
Michigan State has been up and down, but Spartans coach Mark Dantonio has done a fine job of restoring pride to the program. In an attempt to rebound from scandal, Bill O’Brien looks like he has Penn State going in the right direction.
In 2014, Michigan travels to South Bend on Sept. 6 to take on the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. That one could go either way. A loss could be devastating, given that the game of the year is in Columbus.
That scrum with the Buckeyes is a must-win in any light, as it’ll play a significant role in postseason selections.
Playing in East Lansing hasn’t been easy for Michigan, either. Two league losses combined with a hiccup Sept. 13 against Miami (Ohio), and the season would be annihilated before it started.
The 2014 docket is a double-edged sword. If Michigan runs through a watered-down Big Ten before colliding with Ohio State, spectators would ask one question: “Whom did the Wolverines play?”
Even with a victory over Meyer’s Buckeyes, Hoke’s team would be questioned.
Taking into account the high level of recruits entering the fold, Michigan would be viewed by its skeptics as a high-powered title hopeful that railroaded nobodies for 11 weeks. In turn, the recruits’ contributions and talent would take a hit.
Damned if they do, damned if they don’t—that’s the 2014 season in a nutshell.
The only positive, perhaps, is that Michigan has to get the job done on the road.
Other than Oct. 11’s duel with Penn State, the schedule is devoid of a true marquee home contest. Fans get the short end there. However, road wins versus Ohio State and Michigan State may carry a little more weight.
A reverse of that scenario, 2015 will see the Spartans and Buckeyes come to The Big House. But again, the weak non-conference schedule will loom. A loss at home—where Michigan is traditionally strong—would damage the overall picture.
Pounding BYU wouldn’t mean much in the eyes of analysts. Games against UNLV, Utah and Oregon State are a step up from Hawaii and Miami (Ohio), but Michigan would serve itself better by scheduling higher-profile programs.
Starting in 2014, becoming playoff-eligible will be the goal. Instead of finishing the season ranked No. 1 or 2 with hopes for a BCS invite, Michigan just has to be in the top four, which is an attainable goal given its pool of athletes. But even that could get foggy. There’s a selection committee, so nothing will be automatic.
I think they have done a very nice job of explaining how the process works, but selection weekend is still a private time for the basketball committee. While we don't know how this will work, I think basketball can be a very good model in many different ways.
Prepare for more argument. Plenty of teams don’t make the NCAA basketball tournament for whatever reason while similar teams qualify.
Needless to say, having an impeccable resume will be necessary. It wouldn’t hurt Hoke to lobby for the addition of better non-conference games to ready his team for playoff runs.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.