The Wolverine

November 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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I Up For Grabs By Chris Balas f there���s anything veteran Big Ten observers have learned over the years in conference play, it���s to expect the unexpected. That���s been especially true over the last two decades in which reduced scholarship numbers, along with an increase in talented prep players, has led to more parity than ever, a trend that won���t end any time soon. The surprising moments might not be as stunning these days, but they���re still eye opening ��� and every bit as fun to watch. There were two in Oct. 29 games alone that helped jumble the standings in both the Big Ten Leaders and Legends divisions ��� Iowa���s 22-21 loss to a Minnesota team that looked like it might not win another game all year, and Wisconsin���s second straight defeat, this time to Ohio State The latter makes the Badgers, who many felt were head and shoulders the best team in the conference, a long shot to win the Leaders Division. A quick look at the standings at the Big Ten���s halfway mark: U-M Was Still In A Position To Win The Legends Division Entering November sota,��� Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said prior to U-M���s game at Iowa. ���There are six to eight plays in a game that are going to be the difference. We���re on the road at Iowa, and it���s a championship game.��� The Hawkeyes have been disappointing this year, but most of their struggles have come on the road. They���re perfect at home, albeit against lesser competition. Michigan, meanwhile, still has plenty to prove. The Wolverines have played only one road game, overcoming a slow start to handle Northwestern, but seem much better prepared to make a late season run rather than sufLEGENDS fer a second-half Team Conf. Div. Overall Best Win swoon similar 1. Nebraska 3-1 2-0 7-1 MSU, 24-3 to the last three 2. Michigan 3-1 2-1 7-1 Purdue, 36-14 years. A domi3. Michigan St. 3-1 1-1 6-2 Wisconsin, 37-31 nating 36-14 win 4. Iowa 2-2 1-1 5-3 Northwestern, 41-31 over an improved 5. Minnesota 1-3 1-2 2-6 Iowa, 22-21 Purdue team Oct. 6. Northwestern 1-4 0-2 3-5 Indiana, 59-38 29 served as eviLEADERS dence of that. Here���s a breakTeam Conf. Div. Overall Best Win down of Big Ten 1. Penn State 5-0 3-0 8-1 Iowa, 13-3 play through 2. Ohio St. 2-2 2-0 5-3 Wisconsin, 33-29 the end of Octo3. Wisconsin 2-2 1-1 6-2 Nebraska, 48-17 ber and a look at 4. Purdue 2-2 1-1 4-4 Illinois, 21-14 what to expect 5. Illinois 2-3 1-3 6-3 Northwestern, 38-35 the rest of the 6. Indiana 0-5 0-3 1-8 None way. Big Ten Standings ��� Entering November Four teams could feasibly win the Legends Division title, though Iowa���s recent struggles seem to make the Hawkeyes a long shot, while three have a legitimate chance to capture the Leaders. Every contest will be magnified down the stretch, and one slip-up essentially ends the dream. ���Every game is a championship game. We���ve said that since Minne20��� the wolverine��� ������ November 2011 ��� Looking Ahead Contenders With The Most To Prove Michigan (Legends): The Wolverines are in the middle of the conference pack in all defense categories except the one that matters most ��� points allowed. U-M is second in the conference at 14.6 points given up per game, thanks in large part to much improved tackling and the ability to force turnovers. The meat of the schedule is on tap. An offense that has faltered against the better teams on the schedule the last three years is about to face some solid defenses in Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State. How Michigan���s offense fares will determine where the Wolverines finish in conference play. Penn State (Leaders): Like Michigan, Penn State (5-0 in Big Ten play) is about to face the toughest teams on its schedule. The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in scoring defense and are in the top three in most defensive categories, but their offense has been doing it with smoke and mirrors. If they win any of the three games left on the schedule ��� Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State ��� chances are it will take scores in the teens or less to do it. PSU is 10th in the Big Ten in total offense, and its signature win is a 13-3 victory over Iowa. Contenders With Hardest Road To A Division Title Michigan (Legends): The Wolverines travel to Iowa and Illinois, and though neither has played well in recent weeks, they���ll both be difficult to beat at home. Iowa City is one of the Big Ten���s tougher venues, and the Hawkeyes hadn���t lost at home this year heading into the Nov. 5 showdown with U-M. Granted, they had not played anyone of significance at home, but worse Iowa teams have given better Michigan teams very good games at Kinnick Stadium. In his first year leading U-M, head coach Brady Hoke directed the Wolverines to a 7-1 overall record through the first two months of the season. photo by lon horwedel

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