Big Ten scheduling — a common talking point in ‘Recent History’ posts — has led to some interesting quirks in the 2010s.
The Leaders and Legends fiasco and the subsequent move to nine conference games meant weird back-to-back games in the same location and long gaps between certain matchups. Like every Big Ten team, Michigan has been heavily affected.
The Wolverines face Wisconsin for the third straight year this Saturday. The two teams meet each of the next three seasons as well, being matched up as cross-division opponents during the 2016-2021 scheduling cycle. Michigan holds a 50-15-1 record against the Badgers, but the teams have split the past two years with the home team holding serve.
2016: Michigan 14, Wisconsin 7 (Ann Arbor)
Jim Harbaugh has faced the Badgers twice as Michigan’s head coach, with the first encounter leading to victory. Both teams entered the contest undefeated, but No. 4 Michigan was able to take out No. 8 Wisconsin in a game that was not quite as close as the final score indicated, thanks to a trio of missed field goals.
The Wolverines had a huge 349-159 advantage in total yards, but both teams struggled heavily on third downs. While both Kenny Allen and Ryan Tice missed field goals for the Maize and Blue, three Alex Hornibrook interceptions (along with a 9-for-25 passing effort) severely limited the Badgers offense.
Michigan scored on its second possession by marching 77 yards down the field. De’Veon Smith scored the touchdown, but Ty Isaac and Chris Evans were involved all night as well. Wilton Speight threw the go-ahead touchdown to Amara Darboh midway through the fourth quarter, giving him 219 passing yards on the night.
The win was huge for the Wolverines, who beat their first top-10 opponent in eight years. However, that is not why this game will be remembered. Instead, it was one spectacular, and slightly unnecessary, play that will live on in the memory of fans: a lasting picture of Jourdan Lewis, hovering in mid-air with an outstretched right hand, bringing down one of the most amazing interceptions Michigan fans will ever see.
2017: Wisconsin 24, Michigan 10 (Madison)
Harbaugh’s second battle against the Badgers was much less positive, with the No. 24 Wolverines falling to undefeated No. 5 Wisconsin on the road. Surprisingly, Michigan actually held onto a slim 10-7 lead midway through the third quarter, but the home team went on to score 17 unanswered points.
The storylines all revolved around Brandon Peters, who made his fourth straight start at quarterback. The sophomore was playing well before being injured in the third quarter, knocking him out of the game and sidelining him for the regular season finale. Though he did not throw for a touchdown, he did rack up 157 yards before exiting, his highest total through that point in the year.
Michigan struggled to find much rhythm on offense. Neither Evans nor Karan Higdon averaged even three yards a carry against Wisconsin’s tough defense. Ben Mason was the sole Wolverine to find the end zone, plunging in from one yard out before halftime. Donovan Peoples-Jones led the receivers with just four catches for 64 yards.
It is impossible to know how the game would have turned out had Peters not been injured, but Michigan was hanging close with a very tough Wisconsin team. The offense did not have its most prolific day, but Peters looked competent against one of the nation’s top defenses. Meanwhile, the Michigan defense held its own for the most part. The game was ultimately inconsequential, but it felt like a missed opportunity marred by injury.