Early rankings: Michigan football has look of top 10 team in 2019
Michigan has finished 10-3 in three of Jim Harbaugh's four seasons as head coach. As the Wolverines try to take that elusive next step in 2019 — a Big Ten title — they'll get no help from their schedule.
Michigan, which finished No. 14 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, is hovering around the top 10 in several early top 25 rankings for 2019, including those offered by ESPN and the Sporting News.
Bill Bender of the Sporting News has Michigan at No. 10 in his "pre-preseason" rankings, while Mark Schlabach of ESPN has the Wolverines at No. 11.
Michigan State is unranked in both.
Michigan opened 2018 with a loss at Notre Dame before reeling off 10 straight victories, including convincing wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State. The Wolverines faded at the finish, getting rolled by bitter rival Ohio State and Florida in the Peach Bowl.
The three rivalry games — Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State — will be played in Ann Arbor this season, but Michigan must hit the road for Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa, while also playing host to Army, which also is finding a home in way-too-early top 25 projections.
"Michigan's schedule will be one of the most difficult in the FBS in 2019," Schlabach writes.
Quarterback Shea Patterson's return gives the Wolverines a boost, though they must replace key pieces on defense.
"With quarterback Shea Patterson and a talented group of receivers back," Bender writes, "Harbaugh can let the offense take flight."
In addition to losing defensive stars such as Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, Chase Winovich and David Long, the Wolverines' defense also must replace defensive line coach Greg Mattison and linebackers coach Al Washington. Mattison and Washington are joining the Ohio State coaching staff, which is 4-0 against Harbaugh.