A Look at the Michigan Wolverines Non-Conference Schedule

The Michigan Wolverines will open their title defense on August 31st when they host the Fresno State Bulldogs in their first game of the season. The Wolverines are coming off their first-ever 15-win season and first National Championship since they split the title with Nebraska in 1997. The Wolverines used a top-ranked defense and a good offense to win the Big Ten and their first-ever College Football Playoff championship.

Wolverines Non-Conference Schedule is Tougher This Year Thanks to Texas

They were loaded, but they took a lot of criticism for their non-conference schedule in which they played East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green. It was their second straight year of having very weak competition outside of the Big Ten, but this year it is going to be different.

Yes, they still have two “cupcakes” on their schedule in the Bulldogs and Arkansas State, but those two games sandwich a monster matchup with Texas on September 7th. The Longhorns nearly played the Wolverines in the National Championship game last year, but they lost to Washington in the semifinals. It should be a great game between two teams likely to be in the preseason top 10.

We are just two months away from the start of the season, but first, we take a look at each of the three teams the Wolverines will be playing outside of the Big Ten.

Fresno State Bulldogs – August 31st

The Bulldogs are led by head coach Jeff Tedford who is in his sixth year at Fresno State. Tedford has led the Bulldogs to at least 10 wins three times in five seasons and is coming off a 9-4 record and a bowl win last season. Tedford has done a good job with the Bulldogs since being hired in 2017.

The Bulldogs started last season 8-1 with wins over both Purdue and Arizona State. They are no strangers to playing schools for the big conferences and are not going to be intimidated coming into the Big House.

The offense is going to be led by quarterback Mikey Keene who threw for 2,976 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first year as starter. He transferred in from UCF and was very good for the Bulldogs in 2023.

He is joined in the backfield by running back Malik Sherrod who ran for 966 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also is a threat catching the ball as he had 260 yards receiving.

The defense is a big question mark for the Bulldogs, though, as they gave up 30 or more points six times last season. The Wolverines will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and will look to take advantage of the Bulldogs’ defense.

The Wolverines will still be a big favorite in Week 1, but they have to make sure they are ready to play as the Bulldogs are capable of pulling off the upset.

Texas Longhorns – September 7th

In one of the biggest non-conference games of the season, the Longhorns come to Ann Arbor in the first game of a home-and-home series with the Wolverines. Michigan will head to Austin in 2027 in the rematch.

The Longhorns have their sights set on winning a National Championship this year after they came up just short last season. It isn’t going to be easy for them as they join the SEC and also have the Wolverines on their schedule.

They are led by star quarterback Quinn Ewers, but they also have Arch Manning waiting in the wings. The quarterback room is loaded in Austin and Ewers showed he is more than capable of being one of the best in the country with his play last season.

The offensive line did struggle at times in 2023, but they return a lot of veterans and appear to be a strength this year. Helping Ewers in the backfield is a good combo of CJ Baxter and Jaydon Blue at running back. Both are explosive and can catch the ball out of the backfield.

On defense, the Longhorns were great against the run, which should set up a matchup of strength against strength in this game. Michigan is going to run the ball and the Longhorns will be ready. They did lose a couple of stud linemen, but they brought in both Tiaoalii Savea Sr. and Bill Norton, Sr. from Arizona to bolster the defense.

The secondary is a bit of a concern for the Longhorns, but the Wolverines are going to have to prove they can exploit that with Alex Orji or whoever ends up winning the quarterback battle.

With the 12-team playoff this year, this game is not a must-win, but it will go a long way in helping either team make it. The winner will have one of the best non-conference wins of the season, while the loser will be left needing to do work in conference play.

Arkansas State – September 14th

The Wolverines wrap up their non-conference schedule against the Red Wolves. Michigan will open up Big Ten play a week later against USC and need to make sure they aren’t looking ahead.

The Red Wolves are led by quarterback Jaylen Raynor who had a great year in 2023. He was the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year after throwing for 2,543 yards and 17 touchdowns. He is a mobile quarterback who also ran for 380 yards and five touchdowns.

The offense returns 10 starters from a team that went 6-7 last season and optimism is high for the Red Wolves. They did lose their center to a torn ACL and it is not certain when he will return.

The defense will be a concern for the Red Wolves as they gave up 21 or more points in all but one of their games against FBS opponents last season. The red zone was a problem as they gave up points in 80.7% of trips inside the 20.

The Red Wolves are going to be overmatched in this game, but they have enough talent on offense to move the ball. The Wolverines should win this one easily, but if they get caught looking ahead to the Trojans it could be a trap game.

Main Image: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

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