One of the most fascinating nonconference matchups of the 2021 college football season takes place in Week 2. Defending Pac-12 North champion Washington will travel to the Big House to take on Michigan in yet another high-profile battle between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. Adding to the intrigue is the setting of Michigan Stadium at night, as this will be just the 10th time Michigan has played a home game under the lights in the iconic stadium.
The Wolverines enter the game off a 47-17 win against Western Michigan highlighted by an efficient offensive performance but also notable for the significant loss of star wide receiver Ronnie Bell to a knee injury. While Washington did not catch the same kind of unfortunate developments on the injury front the Huskies arrive with a bit of a limp as well after dropping their season opener to FCS Montana 13-7. So while the game continued a seven-year streak of Washington's defense holding opponents to 35 points or less (last doing so on Nov. 8, 2014), it revealed the improvement needed on the offensive side of the ball if the Huskies are going to contend with Oregon for the division title.
Both of these teams have an opportunity to use the primetime spotlight against a formidable opponent to kickstart a run in their respective conferences, so while neither team is nationally ranked heading into the contest it's possible either could be soon with a win on Saturday night. Check out LIVE updates from the top games in Week 2.
Michigan vs. Washington: Need to know
Replacing Ronnie Bell will be a full team effort: The Wolverines offense was expected to be a little bit sharper in 2021 thanks to having a full offseason with second-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and having the quarterback who finished last year as the starter, Cade McNamara, securing that position to start the season. McNamara was sharp in his 2021 debut, completing 9-of-11 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns while leading the offense to scores on six of its first seven drives. But now there is an emphasis for McNamara to raise his level of play, beyond a distributor and leader of the offense, since the season-ending injury to senior wide receiver Ronnie Bell. Not only was Bell the star of this passing game he was also the most experienced player in the wide receiver room and one of the team's leaders on offense. Cornelius Johnson, Mike Sainristil and Roman Wilson are among the names to keep an eye on that will get more work with Bell off the field, but the entire offense (offensive line, run game included) now need to level up without the Wolverines' best playmaker.
Huskies offense needs a spark: Washington only played four games in 2020 so the sample size in small, but under Jimmy Lake the offense is averaging just 25.6 points per game and has only broken 30 once, against Arizona last season. In the modern game that kind of scoring will put you just below the FBS average and it's rare that teams are able to field a defense that can hold opponents to less than that on a regular basis. Washington may be one of those teams, but it would relieve a lot of pressure on that great defense if the Huskies could score more points. Starting quarterback Dylan Morris certainly tried to get things going through the passing game against Montana, but only completed 26 of his 47 pass attempts for 226 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The ground game didn't get much going either (less than 100 rushing yards, only 65 when you include sacks) and while Montana is a good FCS program that's not going to be enough to beat a team like Michigan or contend for division and conference championships.
New challenges for the sideline: Again, there's some small sample size here and Jimmy Lake has plenty of experience as a defensive coordinator in tough spots, but this is the first non-conference road game for the second-year Huskies coach. It's also the first Power Five opponent outside of the Pac-12 because Washington not only played a conference-only schedule but did not play in a bowl game. On the other side Michigan has a new defensive coordinator in Mike Macdonald and it's still the second year for Gattis, who like Lake didn't have any non-conference opponents in the regular season schedule in 2020 and also did not play in a bowl game.
How to watch Michigan vs. Washington live
Date: Saturday, Sept. 11 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Michigan Stadium -- Ann Arbor, Michigan
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Michigan vs. Washington prediction, picks
My favorite play here is on the under, with a big part of that thinking that Washington's offense is going to take longer than a week to get back on track. Now the Huskies will get a boost with some pass catchers in the lineup that missed the season opener, but Michigan's defense should be stout enough to hold that group in check. Prediction: Michigan (-6)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 2, and which favorites will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned over $3,500 in profit over the past five-plus seasons -- and find out.