Michigan Football: Early Game-by-Game Predictions for the 2014 Season
On Aug. 31, Michigan opens its season against Appalachian State in Ann Arbor. Yes, that Appalachian State (insert joke here).
Sure, memories from 2007 may linger, but really, these two programs are vastly different than they were seven years ago, when the Mountaineers shocked college football with a 34-32 win at The Big House. Back then, Appalachian State was months away from its third straight FCS title and the great Lloyd Carr era was coming to an end at Michigan.
Today, the Mountaineers, who now belong to the FBS, are in the midst of a changing of the guard as Scott Satterfield enters his second season as head coach. Not anywhere near its former level, Appalachian State went 4-8 in 2013 and doesn't seem to pose an immediate threat to a Big Ten program.
As for the Wolverines, they're still trying to rekindle that spark that capped 2011 with an 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl victory. Since then, they've gone 15-11 (1-2 in bowls) under Brady Hoke, who enters his fourth season with less firepower as stars Taylor Lewan (LT) and Jeremy Gallon (WR) have moved onto the NFL.
Team 135's season opener is, without question, a pivotal game for Hoke and the program. It's no longer David vs. Goliath—it's rebuilding power vs. rebuilding power, plain and simple. Picking against the Wolverines probably wouldn't be a wise bet, though. In all likelihood, the staff would probably immediately resign after dropping another homestand to a perceived lower-tier opponent.
A loss would be unbearable and embarrassing. That's why it can't, and won't, happen. If the Wolverines fail to pummel the Mountaineers, they might as well pack it in for the year. Anything short of a shellacking would be unacceptable.
Prediction: UM 49, ASU 14.
By now, you've picked up on where this is going.
The rest of this slideshow will give a look at the remaining 11 regular-season opponents, as they appear in late May, and (loosely but as logically as possible) predict the outcomes of each meeting. There may even be a player-of-the-game pick or two thrown into the mix.
Note: Early predictions are obviously subject to change. If nothing else, consider them a starting point for conversation. Rosters and even coaching staffs could change before kickoff 2014.
Week 2 : At Notre Dame
It'll be the end of an era for both the Irish and the Wolverines. No one wants to play nice and make a deal, so fans get the short end of the stick. But hey, at least there's one more dance in front of Touchdown Jesus, right?
Notre Dame plays host on Sept. 6 in South Bend, and it's probably looking to put all of this "when are you going to play Michigan again?" talk to rest with a win. In 2013, the Irish lost 41-30. Since 2002, the two have met each fall—and the Wolverines have a 7-5 edge.
Everett Golson appears to be the new old quarterback and, as he's proven in the past, he's definitely the type of athlete who can take over a game within minutes. Due to an academic suspension, he sat out 2013 but seems poised to make a positive impact this season.
In all likelihood, this one will come down to a special teams play, a fumble or interception. Who knows? There could be a pick-six involved—those certainly aren't out of question, are they? Michigan's offensive line is under construction and there is one less reliable set of hands on the team. Jeremy Gallon can't come back, so Michigan better hope that its youngsters are ready for the challenge.
Prediction: ND 23, UM 20
Week 3: Miami (Ohio)
As the new guy at Miami, Chuck Martin has officially joined the Cradle of Coaches.
He used to be the OC at Notre Dame, so there's that. And the COC was once home to Bo Schembechler, so there's probably that whole mini-rivalry going on too. Due to those connections, he's probably not too fond of the Wolverines, and beating them could make his season.
However, despite having his 14-game streak snapped by Nebraska, Hoke's pretty solid in Ann Arbor, losing only twice in his own yard since taking over in 2011.
Prediction: UM 34, Miami 17
Week 4: Utah
Despite its home advantage, Michigan could have trouble Sept. 20 when Utah comes to Ann Arbor.
During the past eight years of his tenure, Kyle Whittingham has coached the Utes to 70 wins, including a 25-23 exciter at Michigan in 2008. However, victories have been at a premium lately, giving reason to believe that Whittingham could consider a win over the Wolverines as a season-saver.
Score one for the unpredictability factor.
However, Hoke's team has the benefit of being consistently targeted. "Michigan Week" will be one of the most intense for each of this fall's adversaries. According to this slideshow's predictions, Michigan will already have a close encounter with a good team on its resume: The loss to Notre Dame.
It won't be automatic. The Utes have a seasoned defense and a few experienced O-liners that should make it easier for sophomore running back Bubba Poole to maneuver. Travis Wilson, a 6'6," 240-pound sophomore, was listed as the No. 1 quarterback in spring.
He should be a lot of fun for Michigan's defense.
Prediction: UM 28, Utah 17. Think of a late-game surge in this scenario. Wrestling Wilson, who has solid wideouts, could be an all-day affair. It may take three quarters for Michigan to get a hold of him.
Week 5: Minnesota (Big Ten Opener)
Team 135 enters Big Ten play on Sept. 27 vs. Minnesota, which lost quarterback Phillip Nelson but returns a steady backfield and surprisingly good roster. The Gophers won eight games last year, but could have strung together 10 in a perfect world.
As one of the hottest teams in the league, Minnesota closed 2013's regular season with a 4-2 record, including a 20-7 loss to Wisconsin and 14-3 setback to Michigan State, the eventual Rose Bowl champion.
Nonetheless, at this point, Michigan's getting into gear and proves to be too much.
Prediction: UM 31, Minnesota 13
Week 6: At Rutgers
On Oct. 4 in Piscataway, New Jersey, Michigan and Rutgers meet for the first time.
It won't be the final encounter, but it'll be the first of many unpleasant experiences.
Michigan rolls. Easily. Shane Morris will probably have a touchdown toss or two in this one. It should be that kind of game.
Prediction: UM 41, Rutgers 10
Record: 5-1 (2-0)
Week 7: Penn State
Here's the good news: Allen Robinson won't be around to catch a Hail Mary and help Penn State complete a miraculous comeback against Michigan.
But here's the bad news: Christian Hackenberg, a hotshot sophomore quarterback, will be. And he has friends: running back Zach Zwinak, who rushed for 989 yards in 2013, and Geno Lewis, who had 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns as a secondary option.
In 2013, the Nittany Lions posted a 7-5 record and beat Michigan in quadruple overtime, 43-40. They've recruited well and have a fresh face on the sideline, coach James Franklin. There is a new feel to Penn State football—expect a brawl at The Big House.
Prediction: PSU 27, UM 21
Record: 5-2 (2-1)
Week 8: Bye
Time to rest up for Michigan State...
Week 9: At Michigan State
This slide could be really long and cite all of the reasons why Mark Dantonio has the Wolverines' number. For starters, his Spartans are riding a wave of momentum not seen in decades. Since winning the Rose Bowl, Michigan State is humming through the offseason as a preseason favorite.
Secondly, Dantonio's won five of his past six against Michigan. Make it six of seven on Oct. 25 in East Lansing. But don't expect anything close to this past year's 29-6 shelling. The Wolverines should be more competitive this time.
Prediction: MSU 35, UM 24
Record: 5-3 (2-2)
Week 10: Indiana (Homecoming)
Who knows? We may see another high-scoring affair Nov. 1 between Indiana and Michigan, which needed 503 passing yards from Devin Gardner and 369 receiving, a program record, from Jeremy Gallon to notch a 63-47 Big Ten win over the Hoosiers in 2013.
Quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson return, and so does star receiver Shane Wynn.
But after two straight losses, the Wolverines handle the task and redeem themselves.
Prediction: UM 35, IU 20
Record: 6-3 (3-2)
Week 11: At Northwestern
The Wildcats are always a tricky bunch. But we won't waste a lot of time here, although we should. It seems as if the interesting "what ifs" happen when these two teams get together—or for anyone playing Northwestern, for that matter.
Let's call this a strange win for Michigan. Some kind of weird blown play or mistake paves the way for a solid victory on Nov. 1.
Prediction: UM 31, NW 17
Record: 7-3 (4-2)
Week 12: Bye
Getting ready for the Terps...
Week 13: Maryland
On Nov. 22 in Ann Arbor, Maryland faces Michigan for the first time as a Big Ten opponent.
It'll face a Rutgers-like fate. The first year won't be easy for the new kids on the block.
By now, Michigan's running game better be on full-tilt—there's only one more regular-season contest remaining. According to NCAA.com, the Terps have the No. 26-ranked rush defense in 2013. This late-season test should be fun to watch, but it could be the pre-Ohio State unveiling of real-deal versions of Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, who might be on the tail end of extremely well-rounded sophomore years.
Prediction: UM 55, Maryland 14
Record: 8-3 (5-2)
This year's lovefest will be held Nov. 29 at The Shoe, which isn't a Michigan-friendly environment. The Wolverines don't exactly need anything going against them, either. They've only won thrice during the series since 2000 and have just a pair of victories in Columbus since 1996.
But for Hoke's sake, this one is really huge. Gargantuan. And considering this slideshow predicts losses to Notre Dame and Michigan State, not to mention Penn State, beating Urban Meyer's Buckeyes is an obvious must-do.
Hoke's 1-2 against Ohio State, and with a 40-34 triumph in Ann Arbor, he ended his first year on a high note. Let's call it this way: By knocking off Urban, he'll end his fourth year, in Columbus, on one as well.
Prediction: UM 30, OSU 21
Final record: 9-3 (6-2)
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81