Congrats, Michigan. After you dropped the season opener to Notre Dame, you have done exactly what you needed to do.
It has not always been pretty, but most of the time it has been thorough and decisive. One of those five wins had to rely on a big comeback on the road, but you got the job done. And some of your biggest question marks have progressed in the last five weeks.
Now, the training wheels come off.
Michigan is taking a 5-1 record into the stretch of games that will define them heading into the stretch run. The next three weeks include a primetime showdown at home against Wisconsin, a rivalry game on the road against Michigan State and another huge Big Ten East showdown with Penn State.
The ingredients are there. A playmaking quarterback unafraid to make risky throws, a deep and talented stable of running backs, wide receivers and tight ends that are finding ways to get open and an offensive line that is ascending. The guys up front still are a work in progress, but the pass protection has gotten better every week and the line as a whole is moving bodies. Mind you, we have seen this before against lesser competition only to take a step back in big games, but basing this only on the last five weeks since Notre Dame, they’ve taken a step forward.
Statistically speaking, this is still one of the best defenses in the country, but they have a tendency to get punched in the mouth and give up big plays at times. However, they have proven more than capable of locking things down and putting bad stretches behind them.
The biggest concern that remains is how this team comes out in big games. At Notre Dame, and even Northwestern, this group came out tentative and unsure of itself and looked like deer in the headlights. They found a way to fight back in both and got the win over Northwestern, but the importance of them starting fast cannot be understated. For once, it would be ideal to see them go out and put good teams on their heels like they have been able to do against the likes of the Nebraskas and Marylands of the world.
I said after the loss to Notre Dame that right now, I cannot give the Wolverines the benefit of the doubt to win when it matters most. Those concerns still exist until they prove otherwise. Even if fans want to write off Michigan State after a loss to NW and probable loss to OSU next week that would drop them to 3-3, you know that’s a team that will be ready, has nothing to lose, and wants to wreck your season.
These are three perception games coming up for Michigan and it’s a stretch they need to find a way to get at least two wins in. A record of 7-2 probably keeps the hopes of a Big Ten East title alive and makes the game in Columbus mean something. Getting wins in all three sets you up for that and perhaps more. There’s a lot of business to still take care of, but this is where we find out if this is another eight or nine win team or a group that can finally turn the page and silence its many doubters.
Anyone who says they know what this team is lying to themselves right now. None of us have any idea what is about to happen. We know what they are capable of with the talent they have, but we also know how things have spiraled out of control in the past. The latter has been the status quo, but now Michigan has a chance to change it.