All season I have played along with my own joke that Michigan and Wisconsin are middle tier Big 10 programs, and that Ohio State is a lock to make the College Football Playoff. While the latter still seems to be true, I will admit that Michigan and Wisconsin are not that bad. Although both teams did suffer what seemed to be crippling early season losses, they both completely control their own destiny to college football’s biggest stage. While a big win on Saturday night will propel the victor even further into the discussion, the loser will officially be eliminated from contention.
Since their Week 1 road loss to Notre Dame, which turns out to be not as bad as we thought, Michigan has looked very impressive against their rather unimpressive schedule in weeks 2 through 6.
While the combined records of the five unranked teams the Wolverines have beaten is 11-16, their defense has been impeccable, leading the nation in both pass and total defense. If that defense can continue to win Big 10 football games, they will find themselves playing increasingly bigger and bigger contests as the season goes on. A 12-1 Big 10 Champion Michigan team makes it to the playoff 100 times out of 100, you can come up with any scenario you want, and they’re still in. Factor in that their resume would include a victory over a presumably top 3 team in Ohio State, a top 10 team in Penn State, and then once or twice over Wisconsin, and it is without question that they qualify. No bad loss, either. The committee will respect a 7 point loss in Week 1 to another Final Four contender. That being said, that’s a whole lot of ifs for this Michigan team, but the path is certainly there.
On the other sideline is Wisconsin, who sits at 4-1 after two straight Big 10 West division victories over the last two weeks. The Badgers only blemish came at home to BYU in Week 3, when Wisconsin was ranked 6th in the country. The loss was embarrassing at the time and it continues to be embarrassing now, as BYU fell to 3-3 this past weekend with a 45-20 loss at home to Utah State. However, as much as it hurt their national rank and reputation, they have their entire schedule in front of them, just like Michigan. Aside from heading to Ann Arbor on Saturday, the Badgers also travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State in early November. Two victories, paired with expected wins over the rest of the Big 10 West powers such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue, and Wisconsin will find themselves in a winner-joins-the-playoff match against whatever team comes out of the East. Like Michigan though, Wisconsin running the table doesn’t seem likely. But like their opponent on Saturday night, a win sparks the discussion.
Michigan has opened up as 8.5 point favorites out in Vegas, with the Over/Under sitting at 47. The home night crowd surely factors into that number, but that tenacious Wolverine defense is a huge part of it as well. The Badgers defense is currently reeling, giving up 6.01 yards per play that averages 100th in the country. Add in that their starting cornerback Caesar Williams is questionable, starting strong safety Da’Kota Dixon was in a walking boot this week, and starting free safety Scott Nelson is out for the first half due to targeting last week. Two backup corners are banged up as well, meaning that Shea Patterson and Michigan should feel very confident with their ability to move the ball in the air on Saturday. One dimensional Wisconsin and Jonathon Taylor likely won’t feel as confident, as Dom Brown’s defense is giving up a Big Ten low 15.8 points per game. Can Michigan score on Wisconsin? Yes. Can Wisconsin score on Michigan? Eh, I’m not sure.
One thing I am sure of is that the very best college football pregame show in America is heading to Ann Arbor on Saturday. No, I’m not talking about senile old man Corso that likes to play dress up at noon. I’m talking about the Barstool College Football Show. Dave. Big Cat. Kaycee. Tommy Smokes. 6:00 pm. Live show. 1300 S. Main Street. Be there.