I remember as the baseball season was getting underway, I looked at Michigan’s schedule to try and predict how each Big Ten series would end.

Well, the Big Ten baseball season hasn’t turned out quite like anyone would have imagined. Four teams are tied atop the conference at 10-8, just two games ahead of four other teams tied for last place at 8-10.

Needless to say, my predictions — which included at least a couple of series sweeps for the Wolverines — haven’t exactly been perfect, or even anywhere close to that.

But that’s been the story of the Michigan baseball team and the Big Ten in general this season: unpredictability.

Who would’ve thought that the Wolverines would drop a 26-6 decision at Indiana while still managing to win the series? Who would’ve thought Michigan, after winning the first two series of the conference season, would drop two out of three at home to Iowa, who came into the series in the Big Ten basement

Then, who would’ve thought that the team would come right back and win its series against the rival Buckeyes the next weekend, the squad nearly everyone picked as the conference’s cream of the crop?

And who would’ve thought that a Big Ten record of 10-8 would be good enough for tied for first place this late in the campaign? Probably not many, but the fact is, the Wolverines are still in first place despite being just two games above .500.

But so is Northwestern, who comes to the Fish this weekend for yet another critical series with just two weeks remaining in the regular season.

From the very start of the season and every season before it, Michigan’s goal has been to win the Big Ten. Coach Rich Maloney and his players have talked about it nonstop from the get-go.

When the Wolverines squared off in their nonconference schedule against teams as lowly as Fordham and as talented as No. 6 Coastal Carolina, win or lose, it was about how the team played and whether that performance was a positive or negative sign for the approaching Big Ten season.

And during Big Ten play, the team has viewed each game with the rest of the conference season in mind.

But the Wolverines — like every other team in the league — have yet to do anything to stand out. There have been plenty of opportunities: beating Purdue ace Matt Bischoff at home in a game televised nationally by the Big Ten Network; sweeping the Buckeyes, as Ohio State was without ace starter Alex Wimmers due to injury; or winning the series at Minnesota in the team’s longest in-conference road trip. But each time, they have fallen short.

So if the Wolverines want to truly make a statement that they are the team to beat — that they will achieve their goal of winning the Big Ten — they need to do what they have yet to do in the conference and sweep Northwestern this weekend.

Sure, just winning the series would be nice, but they’ve done that enough this season without separating themselves from the pack.

A sweep would essentially clinch the championship, as there is only one more series left before the tournament (against Penn State, one of the four teams tied for last place). With the way the season has gone, it would provide enough of a cushion to most likely seal the regular season Big Ten race.

But just as important would be the psychological ramifications. Sweeping a fellow conference leader would serve notice to the Big Ten that the Wolverines are for real, providing excellent momentum heading into the Big Ten Tournament, which is Michigan’s only shot at making the NCAA field at this point.

Northwestern may be tied for first, but its overall record stands at just 21-27. The Wildcats have been blown out twice by George Mason (25-2 and 15-1), and were also beaten twice by Ivy League bottom-feeder Cornell.

They have no standout ace that can shut the Wolverines down, and their .303 team batting average is more than manageable for Michigan’s bats to match.

The Wolverines have not played well lately, barely squeaking by Western Michigan, dropping two of three to Minnesota and being outpitched by Michigan State on Wednesday.

But after the loss to the Spartans, Maloney said that his players needed to regroup and realize that they’re still in first place.

So is Northwestern though, and a sweep this weekend should help them come to that realization.

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