Predicting the first loss for every college football top 25 team

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: Deondre Francois
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: Deondre Francois /
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Michigan Wolverines
COLUMBUS, OH – NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines argues a call on the sideline during the second half against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

No. 9 Michigan Wolverines: at Penn State, Oct. 21 

While a top ten ranking might feel a little lofty given how much Michigan has to replace, it’s hard to doubt Jim Harbaugh will have the Wolverines right in the thick of the Big Ten race again.

Behind arguably the nation’s top defense, Michigan achieved its second straight 10-3 campaign under Harbaugh and was in College Football Playoff contention until the final snap of the regular season. Last-second road losses to Iowa and Ohio State knocked the Wolverines out of the Big Ten Championship Game, but few programs in college football are set up better for the long-term.

Michigan is in about as good of shape as possible for returning only five starters, the fewest in all of the FBS. Quarterback Wilton Speight and the running back duo of De’Veon Smith and Chris Evans will be counted on to guide an offense that returns basically no experience at wide receiver and has a couple of question marks on the offensive line.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan’s projected front seven got plenty of experience as backups in 2016 and features studs like Rashan Gary and Mike McCray, although there are questions in the secondary after losing Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis. There’s highly touted young talent all over the roster, and the Wolverines will be dangerous if it can develop rapidly enough.

Speight will be effective enough to grind out a victory in the aforementioned opener against the Gators, and the Wolverines only potential trap for the next month plus will be at Indiana on Oct. 14. A road matchup in Happy Valley will follow, and the Wolverines could struggle to keep up with the big play ability of Trace McSorely and Saquon Barkley in the toughest environment an inexperienced team will have ever played in.

The Big Ten West will likely beat itself up again, so Michigan should still be playing for the division in the final two weeks of the season against Wisconsin and Ohio State.