The Michigan Wolverines’ 2022 football season opener is coming up on September 3 against Colorado State. This game will begin a season where expectations are high for the Wolverines, who were ranked No. 8 in Monday’s AP poll.

To maintain that top-10 status, Michigan will need to win nearly all of its games, but there are certainly some spots throughout the season that could slip. Here are the Wolverines’ five most important games of the year so they have a chance to earn another appearance in the College Football Playoff.

no. 5: November. 5 @ Rutgers

It feels so weird to put Rutgers here, but this has the potential to be a trap game. Last season, the Scarlet Knights completely shut down the Michigan offense in the second half and nearly pulled off an upset in the Big House.

They will be fighting for a bowl game all season and have an extremely difficult schedule. They will need to win at least two of their home games against Iowa, Michigan, Penn State or Nebraska to get there. Quarterback Noah Vedral returns with a host of weapons in the receiving corps, and Greg Schiano would like the rebuild to take a big leap in 2022.

For Michigan, this game comes a week after playing Michigan State at home, making it a potential hangover contest and one that could easily be overlooked. Expect Rutgers to bring everything they’ve got against Michigan in Piscataway.

No. 4: Oct. 15 vs. Penn State

It’s this game, a bye week and then Michigan State to wrap up the month of October for Michigan. Penn State has a good football team and I was very surprised to see them unranked to open the year. Michigan can’t be looking for a good week and preparation for the Spartans, or they could get here.

The Nittany Lions play at Purdue, at Auburn and at Michigan in the first half of their season. If they start 5-0, they’ll have a ton of momentum heading into Ann Arbor.

The key for Penn State will be rebuilding the play that has been lacking in recent seasons. Five-star true freshman Nick Singleton hopes to be the answer to that and all of James Franklin’s woes.

No. 3: Oct. 1 @ Iowa

Michigan trampled Iowa in Indy, but this one is heading deeper into enemy waters. Something about Kinnick Stadium is incredibly scary. Iowa fans bring it to all of their home games and make every moment difficult for opposing offenses.

To make matters worse, Iowa’s defense returns a host of players that propelled them to Indy last season. The question is whether that side of the ball will be enough to keep up with the Wolverines’ offense, which proved to be the difference in the Big Ten Championship.

Iowa’s offense is in rough shape. The quarterback battle is between two guys who repeatedly lost the starting job to each other a season ago. The offensive line lost one of the best centers the program has ever played in Tyler Linderbaum, and its leading rusher from 2021, Tyler Goodson, is headed to the NFL. The amount of holes in this offense are alarming.

However, Iowa City is a tricky place to get away with a win, and Michigan will need to do just that to keep the early season on track.

No. 2: October 29 vs. No. 15 Michigan State

For the third straight season, Michigan should be the best football team in this rivalry. But we all know that doesn’t mean winning since Mel Tucker took over in East Lansing. Somehow, he became the first coach in Michigan State history to start 2-0 against the Wolverines.

What the Spartans continue to do well is fill their needs through the transfer portal. Running backs Jalen Burger and Jarek Broussard will likely split the job of taking over for Kenneth Walker III. They also beefed up the middle with some portal additions as well.

Losing to Tucker twice to this point could be as embarrassing as any blowout loss to Ohio State. Harbaugh needs to find a way to get past the Spartans in what should be a sweet Halloween weekend matchup.

No. 1: November 26 @ No. 2 Ohio State

It happened once, now it should start to turn into a trend.

Michigan finally got the job done in the Big House last year, but everyone is already wondering if Harbaugh can do it again. Everyone wants to recapture the feeling of beating their rivals, and it certainly won’t be easy in 2022.

Ohio State returns their starting QB-WR-RB trio of CJ. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson to form one of the most explosive offenses in the country. But they were just as good on that side of the ball last season.

What about their defense? Jim Knowles has taken over as defensive coordinator and hopes to address that issue along with eight top-200 quarterbacks signed in the 2022 class. This team looks to be rejuvenated on that side of the ball, which puts them on top -2 of the preseason.

Michigan isn’t as attractive as the Buckeyes, but will have a chance to beat them again in 2022. The Wolverines will need the defense to step up and make plays, especially on the edge. Aidan Hutchinson dominated last season in this game and was a massive reason for the win. Stroud had almost no time to throw the ball due to constant pressure from himself and David Ojabo.

Where does this come from in 2022? And can the breach continue if it doesn’t? That will be what it’s all about, especially in the hostile territory of The Shoe. The Wolverines haven’t won in Columbus since 2000. The odds will be stacked against them again, but that hasn’t stopped them in 2021. The game has as much at stake as ever.

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