This was supposed to be the year for two fanbases. The maize and blue of Michigan was supposed to triumphantly return to the glory of yesteryear, while the cardinal and white of Wisconsin was finally going to establish itself as a Big Ten power and grab that elusive Rose Bowl win.
Through the first four games of the young college football season, the football gods have been cruel to these two programs. The Wolverines stumbling to a 2-2 record while the Badgers have been lucky to escape with a 3-1 record after playing a slew of cupcake games.
There may still be a glint of hope for both these programs. The Big Ten season has not started, and crazier things have happened than two talented teams recovering after early-season stumbles. The question that must be asked is, just how bad are each of these squads and can they regain their preseason luster?
Of the two limping football titans, Michigan seems to be in better shape. They were shellacked by Alabama in the opening, but the vast majority of teams (the Crimson Tide's close encounter with Auburn not withstanding) would not have fared much better. Michigan also lost its last game to Notre Dame, but falling in a close game to the Irish within the hostile confines of South Bend is not unforgivable.
Michigan may not be the title contender it was expected to be, but they should finish the season much stronger than they started it. The Wolverines have a bye week and will use the time to lick their wounds and recover from a litany of injuries. Expect Michigan to be healthier and hungrier when conference play starts and have the ability to put its unsightly opening behind it.
Denard Robinson had an awful outing against Notre Dame, but he was playing an outstanding Irish defense and a team that was eager to avenge last year's brutal loss. Robinson had an abysmal game, but his dynamic play has earned him the benefit of the doubt.
This team may not be a top-five squad, but Michigan can and will play its way back into respectability before the year is out.
It is still unclear if the Danny O'Brien experiment ended closer on the same scale of Frankenstein or Chernobyl, but alas, it has mercifully ended. Joel Stave provided adequate production from the quarterback position, but it may not be enough to salvage the Badgers' season.
The team's offensive line performed better against UTEP than it has all season, but it still has not been its usual dominant self. The fantastic trench play of the O-line has been the Bucky's calling card for years, and if this group is not up to carrying that torch it will be a long season.
The safety play of the team continues to be an abomination. Even if Wisconsin manages to reassert itself offensively, it will mean little if their secondary keeps giving away touchdowns like they are free samples.
Even more troubling is the rash of injuries on the D-line. Brendon Kelly did not dress last week and Paul Muldoon has missed to games in a row. With the secondary's continued struggles, it is imperative that Wisconsin establish a consistent pass rush. An absurdly difficult task when your best pass-rushers are not in the game.
Wisconsin should take some solace in Oregon State's victory over a pretty good UCLA team. The Badgers' loss at Corvallis seems more understandable in light of the Beavers' victory in Pasadena.
Maybe this team will limp into the Big Ten championship game, but that will have more to do with luck and the neutered state of the Big Ten division instead of their football talent. Bret Bielema has proven to be a pretty solid coach and Wisconsin will rebound, just probably not this year.