Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 7, 2012

The latest in my series examining the 2012 football schedules: Michigan. Previously, I covered Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa. Find them all right here now and moving forward

Toughest non-conference game? Toughest Big Ten game? Upset alerts? I look at those and other categories because it?s never too early to talk about next fall. Feel free to leave me your own take on these schedules in the comments section, or come tell me on Twitter and Facebook.

Toughest non-conference game: There will be no dipping of the big toe in the water for Michigan. Instead, the Wolverines will dive right into the deep end on Sept. 1 with a game at Jerry Jones football temple in Arlington, Texas, against the defending national champion Alabama. The last time Michigan opened against  the defending national champ? It was 1989, when the Wolverines played Notre Dame and Lou Holtz.

Toughest Big Ten game: Yes, the season finale at Ohio State on Nov. 24 will be huge. But Michigan State?s visit on Oct. 20 is the one Michigan has circled. The Spartans have won four in a row over the Wolverines. The last time the Spartans held a similar spell over Michigan was from 1959-62.

Who they don?t play: Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin. It?s nice to miss the Badgers, the two-time Big Ten champs who have been to consecutive Rose Bowls and figure to be the heavy favorite in the Leaders Division.

Easiest game: Will UMass, which is joining the MAC as it transitions from FCS to FBS, have much of a shot when it visits Ann Arbor on Sept. 15? Probably not. So, go ahead and look forward to that visit to Notre Dame the next week, Wolverines. It?s OK. Speaking of the tilt with the Irish, the Wolverines have dominated the series of late, winning three in a row and five of six. But the games have been tight, as Michigan has won each of the last three meetings by four points. The last time the Wolverines dominated the Irish like this was when they opened the series with seven wins in a row from 1887-1908.

Rugged stretch: Michigan faces a tough twosome when it plays host to Michigan State (Oct. 20) and then travels to Nebraska (Oct. 27) on consecutive Saturdays in what shapes up as huge Legends Division contests. Michigan also has a rough 1-2 punch right out of the gate, playing Alabama in Arlington and then coming home to play pesky Air Force on Sept. 8.

Best chance to be upset: The Air Force game is kinda scary. Michigan will be coming off that Titanic season opener against Alabama. What will be the mind-set of the Wolverines? And will they be up to playing an always well-coached Falcon team and its option offense?

Best chance to pull an upset: Nov. 24 at Ohio State. Most likely, Michigan will be an underdog as it wades into Columbus. The Buckeyes? saw their seven-game winning streak in the series end last year, as the Wolverines took a 40-34 triumph. This also will act as Ohio State?s de facto bowl game, as it?s ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA probation. The last time Michigan won in the Horseshoe? The 2000 season. The last time Michigan won two in a row in this series? The 1999-2000 seasons.

Must win: If Michigan wants to win the Legends Division, it must take down the Spartans in the Big House on Oct. 20. The last time the Wolverines beat the Spartans in Ann Arbor was 2006, a 31-13 thumping. Michigan State has won the last four meetings: 2008: 35-21; 2009: 26-20; 2010: 34-17; 2011: 28-14.

Bye week: Sept. 29. This comes after the visit to Notre Dame, Michigan?s final non-conference game. It will allow the Wolverines to catch their breath before opening Big Ten play at Purdue on Oct. 6.

Sept. 1 Alabama (Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 8 Air Force*
Sept. 15 UMass*
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame#
Oct. 6 at Purdue*
Oct. 13 Illinois*
Oct. 20 Michigan State*
Oct. 27 at Nebraska
Nov. 3 at Minnesota*
Nov. 10 Northwestern*
Nov. 17 Iowa*
Nov. 24 at Ohio State

*Must win; #tossup

Full Michigan 2012 schedule senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.