Michigan is 5-1. A season-opening loss to Notre Dame continues to look better as the Irish rack up victories. The Wolverines have pushed inferior competition around four times and survived a 17-0 deficit against Northwestern in Evanston. Jim Harbaugh, much maligned and seeking a true signature victory in Year Four, gets three chances in the next three weeks.
Wisconsin and Penn State come to Ann Arbor. In between, Michigan makes the short trip to play Michigan State. These three weeks will define the season and determine if the season-ending date with Ohio State will have Big Ten title implications as it did two years ago.
There’s danger in buying into Michigan. They haven’t won the conference since 2004. Harbaugh has started hot and petered out in in all three of his campaigns. Shea Patterson, while a significant improvement, is not a world-beater.
Yet this hope feels different than previous hope. Perhaps that’s because the trio of opponents to be played has significant problems. The Wolverines will likely be favored in all three, and are arguably better than all three.
Wisconsin, still technically a national title contender, is a 9.5-point underdog. Earlier this year, BYU, a storebrand version of Michigan’s physicality, walked into Madison and won. Alex Hornibrook’s last visit to the Big House was hellish. Jonathan Taylor must run past a stout defense allowing only 96.5 yards/game.
Michigan State is a mess. A patchwork offensive line is getting exposed. L.J. Scott can’t stay healthy. Brian Lewerke has been a turnover machine. The Spartans will be out of title contention after taking lumps against Penn State. The battle for the state always comes down to which team can run the ball better. That team will be in maize and blue.
Penn State is explosive and has an elite quarterback. But the last trip to Ann Arbor was a curb-stomping. Michigan could be playing with extreme confidence and puffed-out chests.
Everything is set up for Harbaugh. He should capitalize. He should notch some signature wins. This is it. This is the chance.
If it doesn’t happen now, it’s worth wondering for the umpteenth time when it will happen. If this not the year where Michigan can compete for a Big Ten title, will it ever come under Harbaugh?
Oddly enough, the pressure cooker feels different this year. There are less think pieces. Harbaugh is not the focal point of discussion like he once was. This, again, is a good thing for he and his team.
It should be time for them to win, and win now.
Will they, though?