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What We Learned: Indiana Week

For seven years, we've witnessed teams fold under pressure, run out of gas in the fourth, and train us to wait for the future when a coach's recruits finally are in the program. Michigan doesn't do that anymore. Instead, they get stronger as the game goes longer.

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They just don't quit. We first saw this team's resolve when they kept it close against Utah -- a game in which the previous seven editions of Michigan football would have found a way to be blown out. However, this trait had to be put on ice until the next time Michigan found themselves trailing in a close game and needing a comeback.

Fifty-eight days later, despite losing starting quarterback Jake Rudock to injury, Michigan found a way to beat a Minnesota team that had them on the ropes, with redshirt freshman Wilton Speight of all people entering the game as the backup and completing just the third pass of his career for the game-winning touchdown.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to this past Saturday, and Michigan continued to find ways to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive. Time for one last drive and down seven points? No problem. Facing 4th & Goal from the IU 5 with the game on the line? Sure, why not? Indiana scores a touchdown first in OT, and Michigan needs to match it to extend the game? Have to score again to keep the pressure on? Yep, let's do it. Need to stop them on 4th & Goal after their running back has just gashed you, knowing they'll likely go for two and the win if they score? Yep, Michigan's up to that task as well.

So many opportunities to give the game away. So many chances to let a talented Indiana team grab the win. But Michigan refused to die in every instance.

September Jake Rudock vs. November Jake Rudock is a similar comparison to "stale, plain tortilla chips vs. fresh tortilla chips with delicious queso dip". Here is an early season sampling of tweets about Jake Rudock:

Skip ahead to November, where, in two games, Jake Rudock has completed 72% of his passes, has totaled nine touchdowns and one pick, and has thrown for 777 yards. He is one of the main reasons that Michigan still has a shot at the conference title. And, if not for a miraculous Nebraska touchdown pass against MSU, he would have the monopoly on the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week Award for all of November so far.

Here are the Rudock tweets now:

It's funny how much can change in a couple of months. Rudock was supposedly awful at the beginning of the season, and he has looked all-world in November. During his last two starts (20% of the season), he has accumulated 57.1% of his touchdown passes, 35% of his season passing yards, and only 12.5% of his interceptions. Give credit to the Harbaugh Effect. But also give credit to Jake Rudock for awesome execution, working on his timing with Michigan's receivers, watching the film, and never giving up.

Winning on the road: no longer an impossible task. In the Hoke and RichRod eras, Michigan was a combined 9-19 in Big Ten road games. That's right, the winningest team in the history of college football was only winning 32% of its conference road games over a seven-year span. After seven years of road futility, it's easy to expect that to continue.

However, Harbaugh came in and changed the culture.

Just that simple, right? Well, so far it has been, even though the last two have gone down to the wire. Michigan has its toughest conference road test Saturday in Happy Valley. I tend to think this game being at noon helps the Wolverines. Penn State is a nasty place to play after dark. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Michigan is outscoring opponents, 123-14, during noon starts this season.

Run defense could be a problem. Michigan gave up 238 yards to Indiana running back Jordan Howard. During the go-ahead touchdown drive, Michigan knew he was getting the ball every play and couldn't do anything to stop it. This is cause for concern as Penn State's Saquon Barkley and OSU's Ezekiel Elliott are on deck, and they arguably are the best two backs in the Big Ten. Michigan was without run-stuffing defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow and looks to be without him for the rest of the season.

However, there are a couple reasons to believe Saturday will be an isolated incident. As Drew points out, Indiana runs a very quick pace, one that is not emulated by other Big Ten teams. This stopped Michigan from rotating fresh linemen in and led to them being punished by the run.


Five Teams: One Trophy

There are five BIg Ten teams still left in the hunt. Iowa needs just one more win to take the West, and they will be favored in both of their remaining games. So I am giving them the West. Then, there is the wild, wild East. Four teams in the hunt, and there are many scenarios. The scenarios are all laid out in the Reddit CFB graphic below, and, with U-M, MSU, OSU, and PSU all playing each other the next two weeks, anything truly can happen.

The Big Ten can be really tough. Poor Indiana. 4-0 in the non-conference slate, and then they start the conference schedule by taking six losses. Five of those games were against the five Big Ten contenders mentioned in the previous paragraph. Quite simply, Indiana is a victim of being in the Big Ten East, arguably the toughest division in America.

Maryland and Rutgers have coaching vacancies. Sometimes people even say these are good jobs. Are they? Is playing against Meyer, Dantonio, Franklin*, and Harbaugh EVERY YEAR something that appeals to people? Probably not. Those jobs are career suicide, as those four coaches continue to build up well-established programs.

*Franklin and Penn State probably aren't in the same tier as the other three, but I feel like leaving them out could be bad karma for Michigan on Saturday.

The narrative that the Big Ten is way behind the SEC and other Power 5 conferences died last bowl season. MSU beat Baylor, OSU won the national title and beat Alabama in the process, and Michigan made the best coaching hire any team has made in years. Add in strong Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Penn State teams, and any team that survives this gauntlet every year and makes it through Indy rightfully deserves a spot in the College Football Playoff.