Since losing its first two games of the season, Michigan has made clear that even though a National Championship may be unattainable, the team still has big goals. Such as winning the Big Ten.
To do so the Wolverines have said they must treat each game as if it’s for the title.
“It’s just a Big Ten game,” wide receiver Greg Mathews said Monday about tomorrow’s game at Wisconsin. “And if you want to win a Big Ten Championship, you have to win your Big Ten games.”
Actually, Mathews shouldn’t talk so fast. Because the funny thing is the Wolverines don’t have to win this one.
Along with Ohio State, Michigan has a two-game lead on the rest of the conference. That means even with a loss against the Badgers (3-3 Big Ten, 7-3 overall), the Wolverines can win the a share of the title – and a trip to the Rose Bowl – when they play the Buckeyes next week.
“I guess it’s strange,” said running back Mike Hart said of knowing the team will play Ohio State for the title. “You know that’s how we always expect it and how we always want it, that’s how it is a lot of the time, a lot of the years we’ve played football. That’s why Michigan-Ohio State is so special.
“But this game against Wisconsin we want to get, too. We care a lot about this game, we’re going into this game, we need to win it, we want to win it.”
Given the circumstances, need might be a bit strong. But to be fair, Michigan has a lot to play for.
For starters, if Michigan (6-0, 8-2) loses this week, it must beat Ohio State to earn a BCS spot. With a win against the Badgers, the Wolverines would still have a shot at a BCS game, however slim, even with a loss to the Buckeyes.
And pride plays its part, too.
Two years ago, the Wolverines lost, 23-20, at Camp Randall Stadium when Badger quarterback John Stocco snuck into the end zone with less than a minute left. Although the Wolverines topped Wisconsin during Revenge Tour 2006, surely they would like to do it in front of the Badgers’ own crowd.
That will mean stopping quarterback Tyler Donovan, who in his first year at the helm has been one of the Big Ten’s most efficient passers. And containing tight end Travis Beckum, who Michigan coach Lloyd Carr believes to be one of – if not the most – talented player at his position in the country. And for the second year in a row, bottling up running back P.J. Hill, who plays a straight-ahead, power-running game, much like the one Michigan State used to beat up the Michigan defense in the second half this weekend.
That is if he plays. Although Carr said he will game plan for Hill, a bruised left thigh kept the running back out of last week’s 38-17 loss to Ohio State.
Hill is just one of the many Badgers on the injured list. Just this Monday, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema announced two more starters – cornerback Allen Langford and defensive tackle Jason Chapman – have also sustained injuries that will force them to miss the rest of the year.
Michigan has some injury problems of its own. Hart and quarterback Chad Henne battled injury last week to play in the Wolverines 28-24 win. Some have speculated the two will rest this week to gear up for Ohio State.
Just don’t suggest that to them.
“It feels really good,” said Henne of his shoulder injury, adding he will “definitely” play. “I got treatment (Monday), and everything has definitely gotten a lot tighter, and it feels a lot better.”
Said Hart: “These are the last two games of my career at Michigan. And a bowl game. I’m not missing anything.”