As the leaves disappear and the weather turns frigid, it can only mean that college football is heading into its home stretch. The month of November makes champions and exposes frauds and Michigan has four games remaining to determine which side of the fence they’ll land on to complete the 2012 season. The Wolverines head into the final month sitting on a 5-3 record with a 3-1 record in Big Ten play.
The only problem?
That one loss was last week to Nebraska, the chief competition in the Legends division. They now own the tiebreaker over Michigan as both teams head into November with one conference loss. Nebraska’s schedule also sets up much more favorably than Michigan’s. Big Red’s remaining slate is at Michigan State, home for Penn Stateand Minnesota, and at Iowa. Not exactly a murderer’s row.
Big Blue’s schedule can be described as smooth sailing as well, with a road trip to Minnesota and home dates with Northwestern and Iowa. The one catch: at Ohio State to finish the season. OSU will likely be heading into that game undefeated and treating it as their Super Bowl and National Championship all rolled into one, seeing as they are ineligible for the Big Ten Title game and a Bowl game. Michigan must win out the rest of the way and hope Nebraska trips up at some point. The best shot of that happening would be tomorrow when the Cornhuskers visit East Lansing. Even the biggest Michigan fans will have no choice but to root for the Spartans to pull off the upset tomorrow, or else Michigan’s chances of going to Indianapolis as the Legends division champions will be reduced to slim to none. Granted none of that will matter if Michigan can’t take care of its own business first.
The Wolverines must use these next three games as tune ups for The Game and hope that it’ll lead to some actual offense in The Game that matters. This season against Air Force, UMass, Purdue, and Illinois, Michigan has averaged nearly 46 points per game. Against Alabama, Notre Dame, MichiganState, and Nebraska, (the real teams that matter) the Wolverine offense has been completely toothless, averaging only 10.2 points per game. You’re not winning many games when your offensive output against real teams is similar toward a Richter scale number from an earthquake. An even more significant stat: against those four teams, Michigan has scored a grand total of two touchdowns. That’s two touchdowns in 16 quarters of football. Both were against Alabama in garbage time after falling behind 31-0 in that game.
Denard Robinson has been uneven this season, but last week at Nebraska showed that this Michigan team cannot win without him. Yes, I know, sometimes Michigan can’t win with him, but that’s not the point here. Robinson injured his elbow late in the first half in Lincoln last Saturday night, couldn’t return, and backup quarterback Russell Bellomy struggled mightly taking his place. The freshman quarterback could only complete three of 16 passes for only 38 yards and could not move the Michigan offense at all against the Cornhuskers. For all of Robinson’s shortcomings, there’s a reason why he’s been viewed as the MVP of this team for the last couple of years. Saturday night was the biggest of them all.
The Wolverines have yet to win a game that matters on the road, which is the lone blank checkmark left on head coach Brady Hoke’s Michigan resume. In his nearly two years at the helm, his teams are 3-5 (including Alabama) on the road. In the three wins against Northwestern and Illinois last year and Purdue this year, Michigan has averaged 39 points per game. In the five losses against Michigan State and Iowa last year and Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska this year, the Wolverines have averaged just 12 points per game.
Those marks must change if Michigan wants to take the road trip that matters to them in early December, just to get a shot to take the biggest road trip of their lives for New Year’s Day.