Last year, around this same time, the University of Michigan football team was 7-3 and was preparing for a big game against a ranked opponent in Wisconsin, followed by the annual season-ending grudge match with “that team from Ohio” (I just love how Coach Hoke says this, so I have decided to remove the real name of the team from my vocabulary as well.) We all know how that ended up. Michigan got drilled in both games and finished 7-5…and followed that up with a embarrassing bowl loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Will this year be different, I think so. Only time will tell, but it starts this Saturday at 12pm when the Maize and Blue welcome in the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a battle of 4-2 Legends division teams.
Nebraska (8-2 Overall, 4-2 Big Ten)(No. 17 AP Poll, No. 16 USA Today Coaches Poll, No. 16 BCS Poll) comes into Ann Arbor fresh off of a hard fought 17-14 win over Leaders division front runners Penn State. Michigan (8-2 Overall, 4-2 Big Ten) (No. 20 AP Poll, No. 18 USA Today Coaches Poll, No. 18 BCS Poll) returns home after an impressive 31-14 drubbing of Illinois. Both teams are looking up at Michigan State, who leads the Legends Division with a 5-1 conference record. The Spartans play the Indiana Hoosiers, the worst team in the Big Ten, so although stranger things have happened, it appears MSU will win this weekend and dash Michigan’s slim hopes of appearing in the first ever Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. Nebraska, however can still frog jump Michigan State if the Cornhuskers win out and the Spartans lose to either the Hoosiers this weekend (unlikely) or the Northwestern Wildcats next weekend (more likely) Either way, both teams have a lot to gain, and a lot to lose, in this weekend’s game.
Michigan is 8-2 and has already assured themselves a season where they win more than 7 games for the first time since Lloyd Carr’s last season in 2007 when they went 8-4 during the regular season, but capped it off with a fantastic bowl win over Florida to finish 9-4. If they could win out, they would finish with 10 wins for the first time since 2006, when they started 11-0 but finished a disappointing 11-2. Not only would the 10 win season be nice, but it would basically guarantee them an at large BCS bowl bid. Now, wouldn’t that be incredible in Brady Hoke’s first season patrolling the sidelines in Ann Arbor. Lastly, if Michigan can beat Nebraska, they would move to 5-2 in the Big Ten, guaranteeing themselves a winning record in the Big Ten for the first time since 2007, when they finished 6-2. Another interesting side note is that many “experts” say the race for Big Ten Coach of the Year is a two man race, Brady Hoke of Michigan and Mark Dantonio of Michigan State. If the Wolverines win out, or at least play Nebraska tough and beat “that team from Ohio” for the first time in 8 years…Hoke is a shoe in. You need one more reason, well, as Coach Hoke says…there are 20 seniors on this football team who only have two games left in the Big Ten and at Michigan Stadium. That is enough to play for in itself. As Bo always said, it’s all about The Team, The Team, The Team.
Nebraska has a lot to play for too, seeing as they have a legitimate chance at the Legends Division crown since they beat MSU 24-3 just three weekends ago. They hold the tiebreaker with the Spartans, so if they win out and MSU stumbles once, the Cornhuskers will be in Indy on December 3rd. Also, after their embarrassing loss to Wisconsin to begin the Big Ten season, Nebraska has been trying to redeem themselves and prove they are the cream of the Big Ten crop. They almost did after an impressive victory over Michigan State, but choked at home against a fiesty Northwestern team the following week. They need to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor to further prove they not only belong in the Big Ten, but that they will be a force to reckon with. Now for the game itself.
Denard Robinson needs to have a good game this weekend for Michigan to come out on top. And by that I don’t mean he needs to have 500+ yards of total offense (although odds are, if he does that we probably will win) but he needs to have a solid, turnover free game. Fitzgerald Toussaint has proven he is more than capable of carrying the rushing load and Vincent Smith is a fantastic change of pace back and receiving threat. Denard doesn’t need to run the ball 20 or 30 times a game anymore. He can pick his spots and manage the game. I know he has had some bad passing games this year, but I am still not convinced he is a terrible passer. There are some throws that he makes that look so darn good. I will admit that on game days I am not as understanding and I am with the masses, telling the TV screen that we will never get over the hump until we have a quarterback who can throw the football like a quarterback. But I really think he can, if he would just relax, have fun again, and stop pressing. Either way, if he can have a turnover free game and the offensive line can open holes for him and Fitz, Michigan will be sitting pretty. I think the defense will give up some yards to the Husker’s talented double threat quarterback Taylor Martinez and their powerful, workhorse of a running back Rex Burkhead, but they are a bend don’t break defense and they will hold Nebraska to field goals and maybe force some turnovers.
It should be a fantastic game, and let’s hope that at 3:30pm or so on Saturday afternoon we will all be fist-pumping and doing crazy jigs as we look forward to a showdown with “that team from Ohio” and a chance to finish 10-2. GO BLUE!!!
University of Michigan Official Athletic Website (www.mgoblue.com)
NCAA Official Athletic Website (www.ncaa.com)
Big Ten Official Athletic Website (www.bigten.org)