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Way Too Early Three Toughest Games for 2019 (plus a service academy)

Coming off an 8-5 season, Michigan looked to be staring down a gauntlet in 2018.

Trips to South Bend, East Lansing and Columbus looked (and mostly were) dangerous. Also, two double-digit win teams in Wisconsin and Penn State were set to visit Ann Arbor.

Some tasks ended up being too tall (Notre Dame, Ohio State). Others were blowouts against teams decimated by injury (MSU, Wisconsin) or personnel losses (Penn State).

The lesson? Things change between now and then. With that said, here’s three games (plus a trap one) that stand out on Michigan’s 2019 schedule.

(3) Notre Dame, Oct. 26

Brian Kelly deserves a lot of credit.

After 10 losses in his first two years, he guided the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game. After a 4-8 campaign in 2016, his program reached the College Football Playoff this past fall.

The paradigm has shifted. Don’t underestimate Notre Dame, even as they need to replace six starters on each side of the ball. That includes early NFL departures from receiver Miles Boykin and cornerback Julian Love.

What does return is Ian Book at quarterback and three starters up front from the nation’s No. 27 offense per S&P+. Also, defensive end Khalid Kareem will get another chance to harass Shea Patterson.

If Michigan’s pass protection continues its improvement under Ed Warriner, Patterson should be able to wing it to a deep corps of wideouts.

The Irish haven’t left Michigan Stadium with a win since 2005.

(2) at Wisconsin, Sep. 21

This one is a choice between visits to Camp Randall or Beaver Stadium. The decision came down to one man: Jonathan Taylor.

In his first two matchups against Don Brown’s defense, the Doak Walker winner eclipsed 100 yards. In total, he amassed 2,194 yards (second-most in Big Ten history) and 16 touchdowns. This almost single-handedly lifted the country’s No. 13 efficiency offense.

Meanwhile, Penn State will no longer have Trace McSorley, the last piece from James Franklin’s best teams.

Paul Chryst will have to reload on the offensive line with three starters leaving. It’s decades past the point to doubt lineman development in Madison.

Wisconsin absorbed a slew of injuries this past year en route to an 8-5 mark. When healthy, though, they plowed over Manny Diaz and the Miami (Fla.) defense 35-3 in the Pinstripe Bowl.

The last Michigan victory at Camp Randall came in 2001.

(Trap) Army, Sep. 7

Don’t. Schedule. Triple-option teams.

If two squeakers against Air Force in 2012 and 2017 weren’t enough, Don Brown has to prepare once again for the flexbone offense utilized by the service academies.

The difference next fall? Army is coming off an 11-2 run, capitalized by a crushing 70-16 obliteration of Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Don’t expect the Big House to intimidate them. The Black Knights took Big XII champion Oklahoma to overtime, eventually falling 28-21.

Yes, the cadets held Heisman winner Kyler Murray and the Sooners to less points than Alabama. Pep Hamilton and Harbaugh can’t sleep on the prep for this one.

(1) Ohio State, Nov. 30

Obviously.

14 out of the last 15. 62-39. Now, two defensive assistants jumping ship. There’s no getting around the Buckeye dominance in the rivalry.

Sure, there are losses from this year’s Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion. As usual, all have viable reinforcements.

Dwayne Haskins? Enter elite prospects Justin Fields or Tate Martell. Mike Weber? More of the running load to two-time 1,000-yard rusher J.K. Dobbins.

Ryan Day also inherits a defense that should return 10 starters (assuming Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield spurn the NFL Draft).

Michigan will be foaming at the mouth to end the losing streak to its bitter rival, particularly with last year’s rout and the recent staff departures.

The next year has to be the one for Harbaugh, right? Those words were last heard before…this:

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