The doldrums of the college football season are a thing of the past. The final three weeks of the schedule typically represent a time of chaos, rankings turned upside down and upsets left and right.
The No. 14 Michigan football team, as evidenced by last-second finishes against Michigan State and Minnesota, has already endured its share of drama this season. Now, with two games remaining before that big one on Thanksgiving weekend, the Wolverines will be tasked with staying on par for the course.
First up for Michigan is Indiana (0-5 Big Ten, 4-5 overall). The Hoosiers, despite their lackluster conference record, have presented a challenge to some of their most difficult Big Ten opponents this season. Indiana took No. 3 Ohio State down to the wire, falling by just seven points. The Hoosiers also hung with No. 13 Michigan State well into the second half last month before the Spartans turned the game into a blowout late in the fourth quarter.
Indiana is largely a threat to the Wolverines because of its offense. The Hoosiers have accumulated the second-most yards and fifth-most points of any team in the Big Ten this season, hardly statistics for a cellar dweller. The Hoosiers have scored fewer than 26 points on only one occasion this season, when Penn State limited them to just seven on Oct. 10.
Though Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that he would make sure his team was aware of the larger implications of the final three games of the season, his players feel as though Indiana is enough of a challenge to keep them from worrying about conference championships and the slim possibility of a playoff berth just yet.
“Everything boils down to this game,” said redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Maurice Hurst on Tuesday. “We can’t focus on what’s up next, especially when we’re playing a team like Indiana that’s scored on everybody.”
The Hoosiers’ defense, however, hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain. The unit is last in the Big Ten in points (37) and yards (504) allowed per game.
Indiana’s porous defense will give Michigan’s offense the opportunity to build off of its performance against Rutgers in which it compiled 487 yards. Fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock played his best game of the season, completing 18 of his 25 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns.
Rudock’s performance inspired high praise from Harbaugh.
“He even looked like an NFL-type quarterback,” Harbaugh said Monday. “You know, somebody who would have a future playing in that league.”
This is a welcome development for the Wolverines, particularly after Rudock struggled from bouts with turnovers early in the season. A second straight good performance against Indiana would inspire further confidence as Michigan heads into the home stretch.
A win against the Hoosiers would keep the Wolverines alive in the Big Ten race. Then comes another road game at Penn State, a place where Michigan has had some trouble in recent memory. And then, if things hold to form and the Buckeyes defeat the Spartans next weekend, the Wolverines will play their chief rival for the division title on Nov. 28.
But things rarely tend to work out as planned toward the end of the college football season. Michigan will look to take care of its part Saturday.