2013 is supposed to be the year that Michigan takes a step forward. The team will finally be made in the image of their head coach, Brady Hoke, playing a more physical, pro style of offense with Devin Gardner at quarterback. The Wolverines have recruited better than most programs in the country, and the talent deficit left at the end of the Rich Rodriguez era looks to have been corrected. Will a sneakily difficult schedule delay Michigan's return to the nation's elite? Let's take a look.
2013 Michigan schedule
Projections from Football Outsiders' 2013 college football almanac.
The good news for Michigan is that since they play in the Big Ten, they should have a significant talent advantage in nearly every game they play. The only opponents who seem capable of matching them talent-wise are Notre Dame and Ohio State, and both of those games are being played in Ann Arbor. A conservative look down their schedule should get the Wolverines to eight wins, and several other games look at worst to be toss-ups.
The bad news for Michigan is that the final five weeks of their schedule is about as difficult as one can be in the Big Ten. Three-consecutive games against Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern will do a lot to sort out the Leaders Division standings, and even one loss in there could put the Wolverines behind the eight ball. Before the Wolverines even get to that point, though, they have to travel to Penn State, which is an exceptionally difficult place to play. NCAA sanctions have weakened the Nittany Lions, but as last year showed, it's foolish to dismiss them as an easy win.
The Iowa game looks like it should be easy, but Iowa City can be a difficult place to play, and it could be a trap game if Michigan is looking ahead to Ohio State the next weekend. Realistically, Michigan could play two-straight games against Ohio State if both teams make it to the Big Ten Championship, an outcome over which Jim Delany and the Big Ten brass must be salivating.