At times this season, Michigan has looked shaky. Michigan, in fact, has not looked like a team that is capable or deserving of a Big Ten title and/or a bid to the Rose Bowl.
But, if anything, this Wolverines team has taught us that there's always time to rebound from a couple of tough losses.
Sometimes, it can be demoralizing to begin your season in the top 10 only to be humiliated by the best team in the nation the very first time you step on the field. That's what happened when the Wolverines took on Alabama at home in Week 1 and promptly suffered a 41-14 loss.
Just a few weeks later, in their next certifiable big game, the Wolverines visited then-No. 11 Notre Dame with a chance to knock the resurgent Fighting Irish off their throne. No such luck. Michigan dropped that one, 13-6. Close, but no cigar.
At that point, Michigan sat at 2-2. The Wolverines looked nothing like the No. 8 team the experts expected to see when the 2012 season began; instead, they looked decent—average, at the very best.
And then, they started turning things around.
Since that disheartening loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 22, Michigan has knocked off Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State, all in succession, and there has been an abundance of positives in the midst of those three wins.
For one thing, this Wolverines defense finally seems to have found its way. It has allowed just 23 points in its last three games—averaging just over a touchdown per game—and it has outscored opponents 101-23. Those are the kinds of numbers you like to see from top-25 teams at this stage of the season.
For another, those teams Michigan beat may not have been ranked, but they're all conference opponents. Because Michigan managed to pull it together in time to face them, it now sits in first place in the Legends Division at 3-0 with four conference games left.
And that is precisely what makes Saturday's matchup against Nebraska so critical.
If there is one team in the Legends Division that stands a good chance of catching Michigan at the top of the standings, it's Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are 2-1 in conference play, and if Michigan beats them on Saturday, it could stake a two-game lead in the division standings, which will be hard to lose with four games left. Not impossible, but hard.
Nebraska may not be the Nebraska of old anymore, but it still knows how to put up serious points and will present a big challenge for this Michigan defense playing on the road.
Michigan can still win the division if it loses this weekend, but a loss this weekend will be demoralizing. Losing this weekend will only strengthen the conviction that the Wolverines can't win when it really matters, and that's not something they want hanging over them with a matchup at Ohio State looming in the final week of the season—a matchup that could become a critical must-win if Michigan loses to Nebraska.
The Wolverines blew it in their first two big games of the season. Here's their chance to make sure it doesn't happen again when it really matters.
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