All year, the No. 2 Michigan football team has insisted it only looks at the opponent in front of it.
The Wolverines never admitted to looking forward to The Game, or past weaker opponents. Every team was a test, presenting its own unique challenges.
This week, that hasn’t changed.
“We’re just focused on the game this week,” senior guard Trevor Keegan said Tuesday. “… It was the biggest game of the season last week. This week is the biggest game of the season. And we worked too hard to fold at this point.”
But there’s a little bit of a wrinkle. While acknowledging and respecting four-loss Purdue, the unranked Big Ten West opponent Michigan is slated to face in Indianapolis, the Wolverines see it as part of a bigger mission — winning a national title.
“I feel like the way we look at it is it’s another game in the way of our ultimate goal, which is a national championship,” sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy said. “And last year it was kind of one of our main goals to win a Big Ten championship, and obviously we’re not taking them lightly and we’re not taking this game lightly whatsoever, but we’re just excited to get back there, enjoy it and dominate on all three cylinders.”
Last season, everything felt like a grand opportunity — a must-win to check a box Michigan hasn’t in years. There had been no win against the Buckeyes, no Big Ten championship and no College Football Playoff appearance. It was all new.
Now, the Wolverines have been there before. They know what it’s like, and their aspirations go beyond what they accomplished last season. And they’re going to lean not only on that desire to propel them forward, but that experience as an advantage.
“We know what it takes to win, and we’re gonna prepare even more than we did last year,” Keegan said. “… “I think this year, we just expect it. Last year, we were trying to show everybody who we were, trying to prove everybody wrong. And this year we expect to win. We expect to dominate people because it’s engraved in us. That’s what we want to do. That’s how we work.”
Senior corner DJ Turner echoed that sentiment:
“We just know we got to take care of business,” he said. “And we did last year. We knew what it took. And we got to replicate that.”
But Michigan is in a difficult spot in terms of focus. It’s a team coming off its biggest win of the season with goals that go beyond a Big Ten championship. From the outside, it seems more procedural than anything else.
So how is Michigan not overlooking the Boilermakers on its crusade for a national championship banner?
“It’s the mentality; the mentality that we practice with that week,” sophomore linebacker Junior Colson said. “We’ve just got to keep that mentality. … It was always, ‘What can we do to beat Ohio State?’ Now that we have, it’s like every other game after that, it still matters, still more important.”
With that mentality, the Wolverines have steamrolled nearly every opponent in their path. It’s a mentality that’s made them perfect — so far.
That perfection is a feat in itself, and Michigan doesn’t plan on letting Purdue spoil that come Saturday.
“I mean, 12-0 is really hard to do, no matter what conference you’re in or what team you’re on,” McCarthy said. “But I just feel like 12-0 doesn’t matter unless you finish the job. And no matter what happens next, we’re still focused on going 15-0.”
A Big Ten title and 13-0 looks pretty good, but it won’t be enough for the Wolverines if they can’t go further than they did last year. They want to be perfect, but not just now, and not just next week — Michigan wants to be perfect after Jan. 9.
Saturday is just the next step.