Michigan enters its game with No. 24 Northwestern this weekend knowing its Big Ten title hopes are hanging by a thread. Not only do the Wolverines likely need to win out, but they are going to need help in the form of a Nebraska loss.
While players haven't been able to avoid the constant discussion about the race for the Legends division crown, they have kept the focus in the right places. Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press passed along the thoughts of Taylor Lewan on the last few weeks.
"We're trying to win every single game," left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "Every game is a championship game to us. Whatever happens, somebody's got to lose, somebody's got to win? It doesn't matter. We've got to focus on Michigan. I can't focus on any other team."
So even though the Wolverines are attacking the uphill battle with the right attitude, too many things would have to go right in order for them to reach the conference championship game.
First and foremost, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Michigan ends up winning the division without running the table. It has literally no margin for error because of the loss to Nebraska a couple weeks ago, which Michigan let slip away in the second half.
Although the Wolverines are attempting to sidestep the pressure by remaining in the present, it's impossible for them to completely escape the title talk. And that adds a huge burden on their shoulders, which continues to grow with each passing week.
On paper, they should be able to beat Northwestern and Iowa as Denard Robinson works his way back into form after a hand injury. Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Rawls should be able to control both of those games on the ground.
It's won't be so easy when the Wolverines travel to face undefeated Ohio State. The Buckeyes aren't bowl-eligible, meaning they don't appear in the BCS standings, but the AP poll still considers them and they check in at No. 5.
Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde have been virtually unstoppable so far, giving the Buckeyes a good chance to finish the regular season unbeaten. Their shaky defense at least gives Michigan a chance, but the Wolverines are clear underdogs.
That said, the biggest thing working against Michigan isn't even in its control. Even if the Wolverines end up winning their remaining three games, Nebraska's easier schedule gives them a major edge heading down the stretch.
The Cornhuskers' toughest test comes on Saturday against Penn State, but it's a home game and they haven't dropped a game on friendly soil all season. Assuming they get past the Nittany Lions, only non-contenders Minnesota and Iowa remain.
So, while Michigan still has plenty of reason to keep fighting, the odds of reaching the title game are stacked against them and the Wolverines won't be able to overcome them.
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