The Wolverine

December 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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18 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2022 BY JOHN BORTON J im Harbaugh's 10-0, No. 3-ranked Wolverines face two more hurdles before a perfect regular season be- comes a reality. One of them looms largest, in terms of bragging rights, series momentum, Big Ten championship hopes and College Football Playoff dreams. But first things first. Michigan takes on Illinois Nov. 19, in the regular season's penultimate contest. This one appeared a bit more daunting when the Illini got off to a 7-1 start, fea- turing the nation's best scoring defense. Even after losing 23-15 at home to Michigan State Nov. 5, the Illini led the nation in scoring defense, surrender- ing an average of 10.44 points per game. Somehow, though, a home loss to the struggling Spartans followed by a home loss to Purdue isn't a stretch that strikes fear into a top-five foe. In fact, Illinois has now lost to a pair of teams that have spent time in the Big Ten East cellar. The Illini dropped their Big Ten opener 23-20 at Indiana, before run- ning off six straight wins. Bret Bielema's crew still can slow peo- ple down, giving up 10 or fewer points in a half-dozen games this year. It will not have faced an of- fense like Michi- gan's, which is aver- aging more than 40 points per contest. That irresistible force could turn the Illini into a certifiably movable object, like the Wolverines did in piling up 418 yards rushing against a Penn State team which had given up only 399 all season prior to entering Michigan Stadium. Still, the Wolverines won't be taking anything for granted coming down the homestretch. They vaulted from No. 5 (amid some local outrage) to No. 3 in the first two Col- lege Football Playoff rankings. Making the playoff could come the most simple, straightforward way — beat Illinois, win at Ohio State and repeat as Big Ten cham- pions in the conference title game at In- dianapolis. The Wolverines could even drop a game heading into Columbus and still make the playoff, Michigan radio play-by-play man Doug Karsch opined recently on "The Wolverine Podcast." But, he added, why? "Michigan controls its own destiny, right?" Karsch noted. "If they run the ta- ble, they are going to the College Football Playoff. In fact, even if they lose … and beat Ohio State, and beat the champion of the Big Ten West, they're probably going to the playoff then anyway. "Tennessee losing, or Alabama los- ing, only becomes significant if Michigan loses to Ohio State. But I would imag- ine Michigan fans would just prefer to go ahead and beat Ohio State, and Ohio State is showing vulnerabilities." Everyone noticed when the Buckeyes ventured to Northwestern in blustery November weather and won by only two touchdowns, 21-7. OSU quarterback C.J. Stroud — who commented on the snow affecting the Ohio State-Mich- igan showdown at The Big House last season — completed 10 of 26 passes for 76 yards passing against the Wildcats. Ohio State's defense, meanwhile, gave up 206 yards rushing to a strug- gling Northwestern squad, which has now dropped nine straight following an opening-week win over Nebraska. Karsch maintained the game in Evanston burst the bubble of invincibility the Buckeyes had been building up over the course of the season. Not that it will be easy to win at Co- lumbus. It clearly won't be impossible, however. "I think everybody that's a Michigan fan is perfectly aware of Michigan's vul- nerabilities too, right?" Karsch said. "But there was this perception that Ohio State didn't have vulnerabilities. And I would say that was inaccurate. "The trouble running the ball, to just shove it down Northwestern's throat, TWO FOR THE SHOW Michigan Faces Illinois, Ohio State And Then … Head coach Jim Harbaugh "Our time's not last year. It's not next year. Our time is now. And we're on a ride. It's a happy ride. It could be even a magical ride." Head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are looking for a sec- ond straight win over the Buckeyes, which could lead to another Big Ten Championship Game appearance, and maybe much more. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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