3 games to watch
■ Sept. 6 at Notre Dame: After more than 35 years, this will be the last meeting in the series between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish for the foreseeable future, as Notre Dame ended the series just before kickoff of the 2012 game in South Bend, Ind. Michigan leads the all-time series 24-16-1.
■ Oct. 11 vs. Penn State: This game could play a significant role in the pecking order of the Big Ten’s East Division. But this also could feed the growing rivalry between the Nittany Lions and the Wolverines — two of college football’s watershed programs who, before last year, had only faced each other 16 times since 1993, Penn State’s first year in Big Ten competition.
■ Nov. 29 at Ohio State: Even with the loss of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury, many have penciled this game in as a de facto East Division championship game — provided that somehow, East favorite Michigan State takes a tumble. Otherwise, this is easily one of the most anticipated games on either Michigan or Ohio State’s schedules.
3 causes for concern
■ Will the pressure get to Brady Hoke and to the Wolverines? Tabbed as one of a handful of FBS coaches on the hot seat, there’s a general sentiment of “Win and stay in” as far as Hoke’s future goes at Michigan.
■ An unproven and, for lack of a better term, untested offensive backfield outside of Devin Gardner. Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith, and Drake Johnson have 25 games, one start, 387 rushing yards, and two touchdowns between them — and Johnson missed last season after tearing his ACL in the 2013 opener.
■ The offensive line lost two players to the NFL but still has to open holes for its running backs and protect quarterback Devin Gardner. Michigan will start Mason Cole, a true freshman, at left tackle, as well as a handful of players who got on-the-job training last season.
■ At least 9-3, and Michigan wins at Ohio State in the regular-season finale. An Ohio State win will almost always erase the sting of a string of losses, and Michigan’s nonconference slate (Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Utah) as well as its conference games against Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, and Northwestern could put Michigan in position for a prime bowl game.
■ Anything worse than 8-4 and a trip to a New Year’s Day bowl game. The Wolverines got a taste of that last season and vowed not to repeat that, but the pressure is on UM to return to form.
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