How Critical are Michigan's Next Two Games?

Before the season started, there were two really interesting parts to our schedule. The first 5 games of the season, all at home, including the first night game ever at Michigan, were huge. Any time you have a new coaching staff, how you get out of the gate is very important. No one can argue that Michigan starting out 5-0 in those games was huge, but also eerily similar to the starts from the last 2 years.

I don't think any Michigan fans out there didn't feel at least a little uncomfortable about that. Undefeated or not. We've been there before and we've seen it not end well.

The other part of the schedule that stood out to me, at least, was the final two games of the year against Nebraska and Ohio State. I had a feeling these two games would be important to Michigan, but probably not to the overall B1G title race. I thought Nebraska would be too far out of reach for Michigan to catch, and I figured with OSU being in a different division, that game wouldn't have much bearing on their title game hopes...mostly because I figured by this time of year, they wouldn't have any.

But these two games are extremely important to Michigan. If for no other reason that it could help justify that this year is certainly not going to end on the same note as 2009 or 2010. But they're also important because it's Nebraska and Ohio State.

Let's breakdown exactly how crucial these two games are.


How important is this game for Michigan?

Oddly, still not that important. But only because we have a much more important game next week. The win against Illinois on the road last week helped take the edge off this game. I think most Michigan fans picked us to win eight games this year (myself included), so should we drop this one, it's not the end of the world. Am I wrong in assuming that most Michigan fans prognosticated that we probably lose this game? However, both squads being 8-2 going into it helps make this game seem more winnable. We are favored by 2.5 for whatever it's worth.

What happens if Michigan loses?

Assuming it's a close loss, the Michigan fan base, players, coaches, everyone....immediately turns their focus to Ohio State. Of the two remaining games, that's the one everyone wants to win anyway. We simply chalk this game up to being over matched and outplayed. It's not like Nebraska is a slouch. I'm sure we'll get their very best game, just as we do with every team we play. (cough, Iowa, cough)

What happens if Michigan wins?

If we win this game, words cannot describe how much of a shot to the arm this would be to the program and these coaches and players. To date, it would be the landmark win of this season. Maybe the biggest win of the last 3 years. It would immediately give this team a sense of separation from the struggles of previous seasons.

Put it simply: If we beat Nebraska, it could the turning point of this program under Brady Hoke.

It's really an intriguing game in that, should we lose, it's not the end of the world. But should we win, it will define our season.

Ohio State

How important is this game for Michigan?

Game of the year? Certainly. Will it define this season and how we perceive this coaching staff? Yes. Is Ohio State extremely vulnerable? Yes. Does that dilute the importance of a win? Nope.

Look, it's pretty simple. No matter how good or bad OSU is, this is a must-win game for Michigan. Win or lose against Nebraska, it really doesn't matter. But we must beat Ohio State. Brady Hoke has made Ohio State his focus since day one. He calls them "Ohio". He doesn't wear red. He put a clock in Schembechler Hall that counts down to the game. He also put a counter up that counts how many days its been since we've beat them. I can guarantee that Michigan does something every day in practice to prepare for that game.

What happens if Michigan loses?

If we lose by 1 or by 21, a loss is a loss. And a loss in this game could be detrimental to the growth of this program. It won't kill anything because this is Hoke's first year. But it certainly doesn't help. I don't want to get too much into it right now, but I just don't see how Luke Fickell comes into the Big House and neutralizes our defense. Herron is good, and Braxton Miller has played well at times this year. But I just don't see it.

Screw Ohio State. I can't even envision losing this game right now.

What happens if Michigan wins?

The turning of the tide? Maybe. It certainly breaks the the streak and gives this program meaning. A win will go a long way in bringing together the factions of the fan base that somehow still exist, although getting smaller all the time, and gives every Michigan fan an honest to goodness feeling of satisfaction when a season ends.

Beat Ohio State, go to a New Year's Day bowl, maybe even a shot at a BCS bowl should we finish 10-2, and then sign one of the top recruiting classes in the country in February. What a #tremendous start to the Brady Hoke era at Michigan.

But is all starts this Saturday at noon in the Big House. This is chance for a big finish to a good season so far. How we play these next two weeks will define how we remember this season. The win against Notre Dame and the losses to Sparty and Iowa are still fresh in our minds. But be certain that these next two games are going to test where this program is and how good we think we are.

I can't wait.

1 comment

  1. Great article, Brad. Ohio State is crucial to how 2011 will be remembered. Even Denard's great day against ND in 2010 is tarnished because of the later losses to MSU and OSU. Rivalry games are everything. Just ask the 1969 team.