The Michigan Wolverines came into the 2012 season with delusions of rose petal-infused grandeur. Returning most of the members of an already stout defense, they seemed to be a slight improvement from Denard Robinson away from serious contention.
A 2-2 start wasn't exactly what they had in mind, but considering the opponents, it's more than understandable. Plus, with the Big Ten in turmoil, their Rose Bowl hopes are still alive, if not thriving.
At least for now, that is.
The Wolverines get to rest this week, but next week they travel to West Lafayette to take on a team that has, arguably, been the most impressive in the conference: Purdue.
The 2-1 Boilermakers lost a close one at Notre Dame, but have dominated their other two contests, beating Eastern Kentucky 48-6 and Eastern Michigan (who played Michigan State close) 54-16.
"C'mon, Brian," you might be thinking "Purdue hasn't mattered since Kyle Orton donned the black and gold. Michigan is just in a different class." That thinking is solid(ish), but the argument is specious at best.
Those who think Michigan is better than Purdue would be well-served to re-watch the Boilermakers' near-upset in South Bend this year. Purdue marched into Notre Dame's house and played the Irish down to the wire. Tommy Rees needed to hop off the bench and lead a two-minute drill for a game-winning field goal to secure the 20-17 victory.
Michigan's defense was as good as advertised when it played the Irish, but the offense sputtered, producing only two field goals. Yeah, the Wolverines only lost by a touchdown. But I choose to see it as Michigan having its score doubled.
In truth, that both teams played Notre Dame evenly suggests that, in all likelihood, they are evenly matched. Under that assumption, you have to give the advantage to the home team, right?
Even without former Miami QB Robert Marve––the Boilermakers' opening day starter who's out with a thrice-torn ACL––Purdue has a much more potent passing attack than Michigan. It will be vital to see how Marve's replacement Caleb TerBush performs against a decent Marshall team on Saturday. But he looked awfully impressive in his first career start.
Any way you shake it, this will be a watershed game for Michigan's season. Either the Wolverines re-emerge as Rose Bowl contenders, or sputter to a losing record in early October. Ideally, this game would be against a relative lightweight like Indiana or Minnesota––but it's not.
Purdue poses a quality test for the Wolves. If they aren't careful––heck, even if they are careful––they could easily lose.