Seven years into Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as Michigan coach, the Wolverines have yet to win a Big Ten Championship or play in the College Football Playoff.
That could all change this weekend.
Last Saturday, Michigan overcame its biggest hurdle with a momentous, 42-27 victory over Ohio State, snapping a nine-year drought against the Buckeyes. Now, the second-ranked Wolverines are set to play in the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time in program history, with No. 13 Iowa the last remaining obstacle standing in the way of a College Football Playoff berth.
Can Michigan hoist the conference trophy for the first time since 2004 on Saturday night? The Daily football beat discusses:
Three short months ago, we all thought this was the story we’d be writing the first week of December. Didn’t know the Wolverines were going to contend for a national championship this season? Well then, clearly you weren’t reading The Daily’s football coverage back in August.
Just kidding. Outside of Schembechler Hall, few believed Michigan would be playing for a Big Ten title this season given last year’s dismal 2-4 campaign, Harbaugh’s winter staff overhaul and a lack of talent compared to years past.
The craziest part? The Wolverines enter this weekend as heavy favorites, and deservedly so.
In Iowa, Michigan should see a lot of itself. Harbaugh himself admitted to his fascination with coach Kirk Ferentz and his physical style of throwback football. The Wolverines and Hawkeyes do a lot of the same things, both starting with strong play in the trenches to win the line of scrimmage.
Neither program has dazzled in the air this season, but the Hawkeyes’ passing attack has really struggled at times. During consecutive losses to Wisconsin and Purdue in October, Iowa managed only 14 combined points and completed just 26-of-51 passes for 288 total yards. Against a strong Michigan secondary, the Hawkeyes will need to throw the ball confidently in order to keep up with a team that has scored 101 points in its last two games.
I don’t see that happening. I believe the Wolverines’ strong offensive line play and consistent run game will keep their offense humming, while the defense should be able to do enough to keep a relatively inconsistent Iowa unit off-guard.
Michigan 31, Iowa 17
It’s amazing what one game — and one victory — can do for a program.
Saturday’s stunning victory over Ohio State has changed the national perception of Michigan football and Jim Harbaugh. Positivity and optimism abound in Ann Arbor. Recruits are coming in droves, too — in the wake of The Game, the Wolverines have picked up a trio of commitments.
For once, as the turmoil of the coaching carousel clouds college football, Michigan is surprisingly stable.
Maintaining that momentum, though, requires a win this weekend over Iowa.
In theory, the Hawkeyes shouldn’t give the Wolverines too much trouble. The days of doubting Michigan and second-guessing their run-pass disparity or middling secondary are over. It’s abundantly clear that the Wolverines are legitimate contenders.
On the other hand, they seem ripe for a letdown. It’s imperative that, come Saturday night, Michigan forgets about last week’s game. If it winds up looking past Iowa, it may very well find itself on the wrong side of the outcome.
Throughout the season, the Wolverines have spoken ad nauseum about how they are “different,” and they haven’t given us any reason to not believe them. So in that spirit, I’ll take Michigan to win and stave off the letdown, capturing the program’s first Big Ten Championship since 2004.
Michigan 27, Iowa 10
Last week was a bit of an ego check for the Michigan Daily football beat.
I’ll be honest: I was really, really confident that Ohio State was going to win that game. On paper, it just seemed obvious that the Buckeyes were the better team. The idea that Michigan would not just win, but remain in complete control throughout the game would have been ridiculous at the time.
Of course, I was wrong and so was the rest of the beat. But to anyone who feels inclined to celebrate my wrongness, I have some bad news: I’m equally confident that the Wolverines will beat Iowa.
Yes, the Hawkeyes do have a defense that can keep them in almost any game. They rank 10th nationally in total defense, allowing just 315.8 yards per game (Michigan, by contrast, ranks 12th and allows 318.8 yards per game). They’ve held opponents under 100 rushing yards in all but four games. Big Ten West caveats aside, those are impressive numbers for any defense.
Still, Iowa’s offense is, well, an Iowa offense. It doesn’t pass the ball well — its 177.9 passing yards per game are 109th-best in the FBS — and it still manages just 121.2 rushing yards per game, fourth-worst in the Big Ten. The Wolverines won’t need to score many points to win this game.
Kirk Ferentz-coached teams are good at hanging around in (and winning) games against tough opponents, but Michigan should still win this one pretty comfortably. It’s more talented, better coached and playing its best football all season right now. What could go wrong!
Michigan 30, Iowa 12