Saturday, October 30, 2004

Big Ten/Wolverines Football Preview

This weekend represents another big test for the Michigan Football team. Michigan is perfect in conference play, with a 5-0 record. They are 7-1 overall, with a single loss early in the season against Notre Dame.

Even with big wins against Minnesota (25) and Purdue (21) in the past few weeks, Michigan has not moved up much in the national conference standings. Michigan started the season at #7, but dropped as low as #18 after the loss to Notre Dame, and a narrow victory over lowly San Diego State.

Michigan Current Rankings:

BCS - #12
ESPN//USA Today Coaches Poll - #11
AP - #12

Michigan has three games remaining on their schedule, but they are all against currently unranked teams (Michigan State, Northwestern, and Ohio State) There is little chance that wins in these three games will be enough to move Michigan significantly higher in the poll.

Winning all three games will ensure Michigan at least a share of the Big Ten Championship with Wisconsin (#6 in all three polls), who is 5-0 in conference play, and 8-0 overall. Since Michigan won the big ten championship more recently then Wisconsin (2003), the tie-breaker rules state that the conference championship would go to Wisconsin in the event of a tie.

I was really hoping Wisconsin would've lost to Purdue two weeks ago. It was so close. Purdue had the lead, and the ball with a few minutes to play. Kyle Ortan was going for first down, and he did this stupid head first dive over a tackler. He got hit, and the ball fell out before his knee hit the ground. A Wisconsin player picked it up and ran to the end zone. Purdue had one last chance to tie the game with a field goal....they got within field goal range, but missed the kick
in the dying seconds.

So, now, Wisconsin has 3 games remaining. So far, Wisonsin's schedule has been pretty easy, although they did manage to pull off the win against Purdue, and a big win vs. Ohio State. None of Wisconsin's remaining games are going to be easy. They get this week off - but then they have to play Minnesota, followed by road games vs. Michigan State and Iowa. If anything, I am guessing that they will have a very tough game against Iowa on the road. Let's hope one of these three teams can beat Wisconsin to give Michigan the conference title.

Back to my original point -- I was hoping big wins vs. Purdue and Minnesota would've pulled MIchigan higher in the rankings, but that hasn't happened. The loss vs. a mediocre Notre Dame team is really holding them back. If Wisconsin loses a game, and Michigan wins out the season, the big ten championship will guarentee Michigan a spot in of the major BCS bolls, although it sure looks like the national title game is out of reach now.

A few weeks ago, today's game against the Spartans looked like an easy win for the Wolverines. The spartans started out 2-3, with losses against Rutgers, Notre Dame, and Iowa. The turning point for the Spartans was a huge 51-17 victory over Minnesota, the week after Michigan just barely squeeked by the Golden Gophers. Prior to that victory, Michigan States onlyl victories had come against weak teams --> Central Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. Michigan, meanwhile, has wins against three strong teams (Purdue, Minnesota, and Iowa), along with wins versus a few weaker teams (Illinois, Indiana, San Diego State, and Miami (Ohio)). Michigan has been on fire ever since a strong second half vs. Iowa.

There were question marks for both teams early on this season, but Michigan found the answers in two freshman -- Mike Hart has rushed for 936 yards in 7 games this season, including an astounding 600 yards in the last three games. If he keeps up his numbers from the past three games, he has a small chance of being the nation's leading rusher, where he currently in 10th in the nation, 277 yards behind Ryan Moats. ESPN has a feature story on Hart this week:

The other answer has come in the form of freshman quarterback, Chad Henne. Henne has shown exceptional composure for a freshman. At key moments in games, Henne has shown that he can dig deep all pull out the plays needed to win the game. Defining moments have been late fourth quarter scoring drives versus Minnesota and Purdue.

Today's game should be an exciting one. Although a resurgant Spartans team should keep things interesting, I think the Wolverine's at home in Ann Arbor will be too much to handle. I predict a 34-21 victory for Michigan.

Big 10 Predictions:

Michigan (11) 34 - Michigan State 21

Purdue (19) 38 - Northwestern 14

Minnesota (23) 35 - Indiana 14

Iowa (24) 28 - Illinois 17

Ohio State 28 - Penn State 21