Michigan has one of the oldest and most storied programs in college football. It ranks atop the entire sport in all-time wins and is in the upper echelon of nearly every other historical metric. Needless to say, Michigan has built some hefty series with a handful of other football programs over the years.
Let’s take a look at the top-five Michigan football opponents of all time, taking into account a football history that dates back to well before 1900.
Top 5 Michigan Football Opponents
5: Northwestern – 76 Games (59-15-2)
This very lopsided series is the fifth-most played in Michigan football history, dating back to 1892 when Northwestern outlasted the Wolverines, 10-8, in Chicago. The following year, Michigan put the Wildcats in their place, 72-6, and haven’t looked back much since.
From 1966 through 1992, Michigan won 19-straight against Northwestern, the longest winning streak of many winning streaks for the Wolverines in the series. Currently, Michigan boasts a seven-game victory run over the Wildcats that dates back to 2011. You have to go back to 2008 to find the last time Northwestern overcame Michigan.
With the Big Ten’s modern situation, Michigan and Northwestern don’t play very frequently meeting just twice since 2016. The Wolverines pummeled the Wildcats, 33-7, on Oct. 23 in Ann Arbor but won’t play Northwestern again until they go to Evanston in 2024.
4: Illinois – 96 Games (71-23-2)
The Illini have a long history with the Wolverines that goes back to 1898. Michigan won the first five meetings between the two in 1898, 1899, 1900, 1905, and 1906 until Illinois finally got the better of the team in 1919. Michigan has maintained a strong hold on the series since, including a 16-game positive streak from 1967 through 1982, most of those victories coming by very wide margins.
Illinois had a small run of supremacy in the early 1950s, winning four in a row from 1950 through 1953, including two-straight 7-0 score lines in 1950 and 1951. It’s never been better than that for the Illini in this series, though – Illinois has beaten Michigan only six times since 1959.
Michigan and Illinois don’t play as often as they used to and have only met twice since 2013. The last game they played was in 2019 – a 42-25 victory for Michigan in Champaign – and the Illini haven’t come out on top since 2009. Michigan and Illinois will share a football field again in 2022 with the Illini taking the trip to the Big House.
3: Minnesota – 104 Games (76-25-3)
This was one a great rivalry that has become much more muted in more modern times, in part because of Big Ten expansion and the series becoming less and less frequent. The battle for the Little Brown Jug has such an incredible story that could only happen in a sport as ridiculous as college football, and it’s a shame that conference realignment has harmed this once-great rivalry. To be fair, Michigan dominating in the 70s, 80s, and 90s played a role, too. But none of that changes its rich past.
These teams first played in 1892, then had a handful of contests between then and 1919 when the series became almost annual. From 1934 through 1942, it was Minnesota who owned the rivalry, claiming nine-consecutive Ws and returning the favor after Michigan largely controlled the 20s. That was the best period for the Gophers in this series, though.
Michigan won 16-straight from 1987 through 2004, and the Gophers have only come out on top in this series four times since 1968. Minnesota most recently won in 2014 – a 30-14 triumph in Ann Arbor, which was the team’s first victory over Michigan in nine years – and is 0-3 since. The Wolverines dispatched of the Gophers, 49-24, in 2020, and they’re set to meet again in 2023 in Minneapolis.
2: Michigan State – 114 Games (71-38-5)
This is one of the best rivalries in the Big Ten, and it’s only fitting that it would be one of the most-played series in Michigan football history.
This heated in-state rivalry began in 1898 and has played in almost every year since 1907, skipping only 1909, 1943, and 1944. It’s largely been in Michigan’s favor with the Wolverines boasting six streaks of at least five-straight wins over the Spartans, including a 14-game run from 1916 through 1929 and an eight-game positive period from 1970 through 1977.
The rivalry has become especially heated in the last 15-or-so years as Michigan State has flipped the script and become the more dominant force between the two. From 1970 through 2007, Michigan State beat Michigan just eight times, but the Spartans own the series record, 10-4, since 2008, including their 37-33 victory over the Wolverines on Oct. 30 in East Lansing.
1: Ohio State – 117 Games (59-52-6)
This is more than just the most-played series in Michigan football history – it’s also The Game.
Michigan-Ohio State is one of the best rivalries in all of North American sports, let alone college football. The impact the result normally has on the Big Ten and/or national college football landscape is a big part of why the rivalry is what it is, but its longevity is important to that, too. The Wolverines and Buckeyes first played in 1897 – a 34-0 rout in Michigan’s favor – and have played in almost every year since.
The Wolverines dominated the early portion of the rivalry. It took Ohio State 16 tries before it finally beat Michigan for the first time in 1919, but the Wolverines haven’t achieved the same level of consistency against the Buckeyes since. The series was much more even from that point on until modern times when Ohio State has taken the rivalry by the horns. Since 2001, Michigan has beat Ohio State just three times, though it claimed the most recent battle, 42-27, on Nov. 27, ending an eight-game losing streak to the Buckeyes.