5 games that will define the 2022 Michigan football season

The season Michigan football fans have dreamed of for years finally became a reality in 2021, when the Michigan Wolverines defeated Ohio State for the first time in 2011 before winning a Big Ten championship and earning an appearance in the College Football Playoffs.

DraftKings sees Michigan (+600) as the second most likely team to win the Big Ten title in 2022, with Ohio State listed as a favorite (-210). Wisconsin (+1,000), Penn State (+1,800) and Iowa (+2,000) round out the top five.

In my opinion, for the Wolverines to repeat their success from last season, they need to win at least four of the five games listed below. Here are the games that should determine how the 2022 season plays out for the Wolverines.

In Iowa (Saturday, October 1)

Harbaugh’s record against Iowa: 2-1

After starting the season with four straight home games, this should be Michigan’s first real test of the season.

Iowa isn’t the easiest place to play, but many young players are likely to be asked to play for the Hawkeyes. If Michigan can hold quarterback Spencer Petras to nine completions and 137 yards like they did in the 42-3 win in the Big Ten championship, it should be okay to go about the business in that case.

If Michigan finishes off Iowa and starts the season 5-0, don’t be surprised if the national media picks Michigan as the national championship dark horse, especially if the offense plays out the way JJ McCarthy envisions it.

Penn State (Saturday, October 15)

Harbaugh’s record against Penn State: 4-3

I’m sure I’m not the only Michigan fan who remembers last year’s 21-17 win over Penn State as an Erick All game.

Penn State should be helped by Sean Clifford, who is returning for what feels like his 15th season in college football. And while receiver Jahan Dotson is now a Washington commander, Clifford will have a new talented target to throw at in Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley (87 catches, 1,402 yards, 14 touchdowns in 2021).

The Nittany Lions had a bit of a bad year last season by their standards, but they defeated Michigan three times during Harbaugh’s tenure. If the Wolverines want to be among the elite of the Big Ten, they need to win games like this.

Michigan State (Saturday, Oct. 29)

Harbaugh’s record against Michigan State: 3-4

Jim Harbaugh wasn’t exactly loved by Michigan fans heading into 2021, but after last season’s success, it’s safe to say he’s earned a lot of goodwill from the fan base. But as great as last season was, Harbaugh and the Wolverines still couldn’t beat Michigan State.

After a respectable 11-2 season last year, Mel Tucker and the Spartans ranked a place ahead of the Wolverines in ESPN’s latest all-too-early Top 25, with Mark Schlabach pointing out that the Spartans got more than a few talented transfers.

As Michigan proved last season, a loss to Michigan State can still get you into the college football playoffs. But after that there wasn’t much room for error. In college football, and collegiate sports in general, you have to beat your rivals to be considered successful. I don’t think Michigan fans can take another losing lead against Michigan State, and winning that game would help Michigan’s playoff resumption tremendously.

Nebraska (Saturday, November 12)

Harbaugh’s record against Nebraska: 2-0

The Wolverines have three games in November where they should be heavily favored ahead of The Game at the end of the month; They travel to Rutgers before facing Nebraska and Illinois at home.

Out of those three games, I would expect Nebraska to be the one that would cause the Wolverines a little trouble. A field goal by Jake Moody with 1:24 left kicked off last season’s 32-29 win over a scrappy Cornhuskers team.

In Scott Frost’s four-year tenure with Nebraska, the Cornhuskers have never won more than five games, including last season when all of Nebraska’s nine losses were in single digits.

Nebraska has a new offensive coordinator (Pitt’s Mark Whipple) and a new quarterback (Casey Thompson). Who knows, maybe this will be the year the Cornhuskers put it all together. Regardless, this could be a close game Michigan needs to win going into the matchup with Ohio State two weeks later. Speaking of…

In the State of Ohio (Saturday, November 26)

Harbaugh’s record against Ohio State: 1-5

Harbaugh finally got the monkey off his back last season, beating Ohio State 42-27 in a win that saw the national media finally begin to take Michigan seriously as a title contender.

Ohio State has a lot of great plays back, including quarterback and Heisman favorite CJ Stroud. While two of his top targets in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are now in the NFL, Jaxon Smith-Njigba (95 catches, 1,606 yards, nine touchdowns last season) will return and the Buckeyes have a top-five recruiting league.

Columbus is a tough place to play, but I think Michigan beating Ohio State last season gave the guys a lot of confidence. If they manage to defeat the Giant again, they should capture the Big Ten title and secure a second straight finish in the College Football Playoffs.

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