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The Final 5

October 28, 2011

With 5 games to go, Michigan is sitting at 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference, not a bad position.  Though some still scoff at the idea, this team actually has a shot to play for the Big Ten title this year.  Part of that is due to the Big Ten being very average this year, and part of it is due to Michigan’s improvements.  But nonetheless, with 5 games to go, we’ve got a shot.

Looking at the final 5 games, Michigan is capable of winning any of them.  Unfortunately, with the exception of Purdue, none of them can be chalked up as a definite win, and even Purdue is tenuous.   As I said earlier this week, the most likely outcome to me is a 3-2 finish, giving Michigan a 9-3 record and a well deserved New Year’s Day Bowl game in Florida.

However, if Michigan can find a way to win 4 of the last 5, there’s an outside chance we could sneak into the Big Ten Title game.  If not, we still could find ourselves with an at large berth in a BCS bowl.  A 10-2 Michigan team would be awfully attractive to a BCS bowl looking to sell tickets.

Taking a look at the schedule game by game, here’s how I think it will break down.

Purdue – An absolute must win for Michigan.  They looked good against Illinois last week, but they aren’t talented enough to compete with us.

@Iowa – In some ways it’s the toughest opponent left on the schedule.  OSU and Nebraska may be better, but Iowa is a road game.  Iowa is not definitively better than us, but we’ll have to handle the road adversity better if we want to win this one.

@Illinois – Illinois looked good to start the season, but they’ve crumbled as of late with back to back losses to OSU and Purdue.  If they roll over and die against Penn State this weekend we should be able to go into Champaign and come out with a victory.

Nebraska – Probably the best team left on our schedule.  Facing MSU this week and Penn State in two weeks means they could be pretty banged up heading into Ann Arbor.  It should be a rowdy atmosphere as well.  Are they a better team?  Yes.  But that doesn’t always matter.

Ohio State – I know the Buckeyes have looked better the last two weeks, but they didn’t beat Nebraska, and Illinois may prove to be a paper tiger.  Their offense is still struggling, and if they aren’t careful, they might need a win in Ann Arbor to be bowl eligible.  Plus, they will probably be playing for Luke Fickell’s job – and it’s not a foregone conclusion that the players want him to stick around for more than an interim year.  It’s The Game, so anything can happen, but our 7 years of misery should come to an end this year.

If I had to guess, I think we beat Purdue, Illinois and OSU, but lose to Iowa and Nebraska.  I still think 4-1 is possible, but we’ll have to play at a very high level for 5 weeks in a row while staying healthy to make that happen.

We can wait until next week or the week after before getting excited about who needs to lose for us to play in the Big Ten Title game, but for right now we need to root for the Spartans to drop a couple of games.  If they beat Nebraska this weekend, we’d need to go unbeaten the rest of the way and hope Sparty slips up twice more against a relatively easy schedule in order for us to play in Indianapolis.  Let’s see how things shakeup after the first weekend in November before we start looking at our opponents’ schedules.

For Saturday….

Purdue brings in a better than expected defense, and a solid rushing attack.  But two weeks of rest + a significant talent advantage means Michigan should win this one. Purdue was our undoing in 2008 and 2009 before our workman like win last year.  But this is a new staff and a different team.  Without turnovers or special teams surprises, Purdue doesn’t have enough on offense to score points at regular intervals.

Don’t be surprised if Michigan comes out a little flat after 2 weeks off, and Purdue comes out flying.  We’ll right the ship though and eventually pull away.

Michigan 34

Purdue 17

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