The Wolverine

October 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2016 P reliminary bouts have ended with Big Ten teams delivering some two-fisted messages while absorbing a black eye or two along the way. Now, the true pugilists separate from the to- mato cans. There's already been some separation on a national basis. Ohio State went into Norman, Okla., and made the Dust Bowl look like Mardi Gras. The playoff-minded Sooners absorbed their second hum- bling in three games, sending their fans back to noodling on Saturday afternoons. Michigan State took Notre Dame apart in South Bend, in such a snoozer that the Spar- tans napped the Irish back into it. No matter — with two losses in their first three games, Brian Kelly's crew is battling for partial-schedule ACC supremacy. The Big Ten hardly escaped un- scathed, Iowa dropping a shocker to North Dakota State, 23-21, and losing the fictional Old Oil Rig Trophy. On the whole, though, Big Ten teams turned some heads. For Michi- gan, that's good and bad. U-M will face a number of opponents that can boost an already lofty No. 4 status heading into conference play. The bad news is Michigan's sched- ule may be tougher than advertised. All the talk about the Buckeyes and Spartans suffering massive personnel losses melted away on a strong Sep- tember Saturday night. They're going to be twin handfuls of highly competent odiousness, ready for fistfights in their own sta- dium against Jim Harbaugh's crew. Here's an early look at the con- tenders in each division and how schedules could play a big role: BEASTS OF THE EAST Ohio State — Love 'em or hate 'em (we know which), the free tat men know how to reload and tattoo others. They're at it again, behind one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in J.T. Barrett. The Buckeyes don't face an easy road schedule, traveling to Wiscon- sin, then to Maryland and Michigan State in the fortnight prior to hosting Michigan. But Urban Meyer's crew has pulled off a ridiculous, nation- leading 19 straight road victories, including most recently the Norman Invasion. If OSU stays healthy, it's a potential playoff team. Michigan State — Many Michigan fans chuckled and nodded when the Spartans struggled in their opener against Furman. MSU then opened up a can of whoop-Kelly in South Bend, building a 36-7 lead before tak- ing much of the second half off. The Spartans get both Ohio State and Michigan at home, and will look to bully-ball their way back into the conference conversation. Seeing them in South Bend argues against light dismissal. Michigan — The Wolverines' season rides on three road games: Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State. Win two of the three, including the last one, and they're in the Big Ten championship game. Easier said than done, but far from impossible. A WILDER WEST Iowa — Many will write off the Hawkeyes after their 23-21 home disaster against North Dakota State. Fact is, the FCS power is a good team, getting some push to be in the national Top 25. Iowa's schedule gives major hope for a rebound. It hosts its three toughest opponents — Wisconsin, Michigan, Ne- braska — and could get on a roll after playing three of its first four conference contests on the road. Wisconsin — The Badgers made national news by knock- ing off LSU at Lambeau Field, but the fact is, LSU might not be a giant itself this year. Wisconsin's subsequent 23-17 escape against Georgia State whispered not so fast, and Paul Chryst's squad faces an upcoming schedule that makes a washed-out logging trail look smooth. Wisconsin's first five Big Ten games: at Michigan State, at Michi- gan, Ohio State, at Iowa, Nebraska. The Badgers draw a bye for the month of November, but it says here it won't matter by then. Nebraska — The Cornhuskers caught some attention by knocking off Oregon. But here again is where the schedule could turn this corn into mush. Nebraska travels to Wisconsin and Ohio State in the back half of the season, and finishes at Iowa. If Mike Riley's team somehow claws to the top of its division, it will have earned Sherpa stripes. Nobody knows how it will all play out. Michigan fans remain rightly hopeful that the Wolverines — vastly improved in many areas under Har- baugh — will continue to ascend. That's likely, although the Colorado game delivered plenty of items on the Fix This Fast list. The others aren't going away. Nobody knows this better than Har- baugh, and he and his staff are work- ing like a NASCAR pit crew to get U-M where it needs to be. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Big Ten Time Means Outing The Frauds Jim Harbaugh's squad has outscored its competition 159-45 through three games, but it's about to get a lot tougher with the start of Big Ten play. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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