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500 Words on Michigan

Best guess at a record when the Wolverines face Nebraska:

I’m going with 6-2 with Michigan losing two of the following three games: Notre Dame (9/7), at Penn State (10/12) and at Michigan State (11/2). Nebraska’s hopes for a Legends Division title could hinge on that happening, as this trip to the Big House is the game most bullish Husker fans have been pointing to all offseason.

The one player you simply must know:

Left tackle Taylor Lewan is the Wolverines’ best player and his decision to return for his senior season totally changes the outlook for Michigan in 2013. Without him, the Wolverines had just one returning starter on the o-line. With him, the prospects look a lot better.

But how many people are going to focus on a left tackle? Not many, so watch quarterback Devin Gardner early this season. He had five good starts to close out the 2012 season and is the key figure as offensive coordinator Al Borges looks to transition to a more pro-style attack in Ann Arbor.

How’s the match-up for Nebraska?:

Tough. This should be strength-on-strength when the Huskers have the ball. Michigan held Nebraska to just 326 yards in Lincoln last year, the Huskers’ lowest output of the season until Iowa “limited” Nebraska to 263 yards to close out the regular season (with a big “wind-aided” asterisk). The Wolverines were so bad on offense without Denard Robinson in that game that the defensive performance was almost totally overshadowed. But Michigan did a very good job of bottling up the explosive Nebraska offense in that game.

The match-up is a little murkier on the other side. We don’t know what Nebraska’s defense is going to be at this point, and it’s hard to predict exactly what Michigan will be doing at that point. Under Hoke, the Wolverines relied heavily on big plays each of the past two years, most of them courtesy of Robinson. He’s gone and the offense is changing. The run game will be particularly interesting to watch as Michigan’s running backs combined for just 940 yards last year (last in the Big Ten).

Final verdict:

Ask around and you’ll find plenty of Nebraska supporters that have the Huskers at 8-0 headed into this game, and that might be a likely scenario. If so, this is going to be a “backs against the wall” situation for the Wolverines if Michigan does have two losses coming in. You want to have those types of games at home and Michigan does in this instance.

This will be a tough environment for Nebraska. Michigan has the defense to slow down the Huskers’ (presumably) high-flying offense and, with everything on the line, a ton to play for. Due to those factors, this has the look of Nebraska’s first loss of the season but it may not matter in the long run. A loss to Ohio State in the final game of the regular season, where the Buckeyes should be favored, could still drop Michigan behind Nebraska in the division standings eliminating the lead for the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Prediction:

Michigan 24 Nebraska 21