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Michigan Wolverines football always has a tough schedule, but the 2021 slate is particularly difficult, especially when stacking it up with other teams around the country.

College football expert Phil Steele released his annual preview magazine and ranked the Wolverines’ schedule as the 12th-toughest in the nation.

The only teams with more challenging slates than the Maize and Blue, who check in third among Big Ten teams, are No. 1 Arkansas, No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 Georgia Tech, No. 4 Kansas, No. 5 Purdue, No. 6 Kansas State, No. 7 Arizona, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 Colorado, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 11 Texas.

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Michigan Wolverines football head coach Jim Harbaugh has won 49 games in six seasons (2020 was a shortened campaign) at U-M.
Michigan Wolverines football head coach Jim Harbaugh has won 49 games in six seasons (2020 was a shortened campaign) at U-M. (AP Images)

In his magazine, Steele includes each team’s cumulative opponent winning percentage from the prior year, but notes that there are several flaws in that system, including that roster turnover and coaching changes can play a major factor in what a team looks like the next season. For example, Northwestern went 3-9 in 2019 but won the Big Ten West in 2020 (Steele was right on the money with his prediction that the Wildcats would be the most improved team in the conference a year ago).

Michigan’s opponents held a winning percentage of 52.3 last season but will pose much tougher threats than that number indicates, Steele opined while placing the Wolverines in the category of having one of the more underrated schedules (teams that face a tougher slate than the NCAA’s percentage rankings) among teams in the sport.

Meanwhile, CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli slotted Michigan’s slate as No. 2 in the Big Ten, behind only Nebraska. He notes just how tough the Wolverines’ Big Ten crossover games are, as well as an early-season non-conference contest against Washington will be.

“I have to give Michigan credit. I’ve been doing our SOS rankings for years, and the Wolverines consistently play one of the more difficult schedules in the Big Ten,” Fornelli wrote. “Of course, considering some of the results, you could argue they should reconsider this approach.

“The 2021 nonconference schedule features three home games, highlighted by a visit from Washington in the second week of the season. Where things get tricky is in Big Ten play. The Wolverines draw Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern from the West with both the Wisconsin and Nebraska games on the road.

“The Wolverines will also hit the road for games against Penn State and rival Michigan State before the annual finisher against Ohio State. At least that one is at home.”

Michigan Football 2021 Opponent Breakdown

Below, we’ve rounded up the 2020 record, 2021 preseason SP+ ranking and number of returning starters for each of Michigan’s opponents.

Michigan Football Opponent Breakdown

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