Not even a full day after the No. 3 Michigan football team’s emphatic victory over No. 2 Ohio State, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh balanced looking ahead with celebrating.
On one hand, he gushed about his team’s performance the day prior, delivering minutes-long monologues about individual players and the statements they made. But on the other, Harbaugh spoke with caution in regards to Purdue — the Wolverines’ lone roadblock in the way of their second consecutive Big Ten championship.
“We realize it’s a big task,” Harbaugh said of the Boilermakers Sunday. “… We haven’t played them much, but we’ve certainly watched them in all the big games, and all the success they’ve had.”
Perhaps even more important to Harbaugh than Purdue’s team itself or the fact that Michigan hasn’t played the Boilermakers since 2017 is the position that Purdue is in. It’s the Boilermakers first-ever trip to Indianapolis and their first chance at a Big Ten championship since 2000 — back when Drew Brees was its quarterback.
Harbaugh knows the spot that Purdue coach Jeff Brohm is in quite well — it was the one he was in just last year.
But now Harbaugh and his Wolverines have been here before. Outside of how new everything was last year, the circumstances are mostly the same.
Much like this year, Michigan came into last year’s game as the No. 2 team in the nation, heavily favored over an inferior team from the Big Ten West. The Wolverines took Iowa seriously and easily marched to the College Football Playoff in a 42-3 championship game romp.
Michigan is trying to do that again, but that’s easier said than done given the offense that it will face.
“They throw the ball extremely well,” Harbaugh said. “… And they’re really running the ball more effectively too, which makes them even more dangerous offensively and harder to stop.”
Purdue boasts the second best passing offense by yardage in the Big Ten — trailing only Ohio State. The Wolverines slowed down the Buckeyes’ passing attack on Saturday, but that doesn’t neccessarily mean that trend will continue against the Boilermakers in Indianapolis. Harbaugh understands that he’ll need his team to be ready if it wants to repeat as conference champions.
As Harbaugh spoke on a Zoom press conference previewing the Big Ten title game, an image of last year’s Big Ten championship trophy sat behind him. This is now the second year in a row that Harbaugh will go through these moments; he’s more comfortable now.
“I remember the feeling last year,” Harbaugh said. “Nobody expected us to be there last year and here’s this opportunity to go play in the championship game. So I know how dangerous a team like that can be.”
Purdue poses a threat to Michigan for multiple reasons, but for that one especially. The Boilermakers may not be the best team that the Wolverines have faced all season, but they are still only one game away from a Big Ten championship — just like Michigan. Purdue can spoil Michigan’s coronation as the new Big Ten dynasty in just 60 minutes.
If the Wolverines’ perfect record ends before the College Football Playoff, realistically all of their goals would still be ahead of them. Michigan still beat its rivals, it could still make the playoff and it could still win a national championship. But that would be an unceremonious beginning to the Wolverines’ postseason.
And it’s one that Harbaugh and Michigan are trying to avoid.