Michigan Football: Wolverines Could Stumble vs. Northwestern, Colter and Mark
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They haven't always appeared effective and synced, but the Michigan Wolverines have respectably competed thus far in the Big Ten.
A Legends Division title was forecast for Michigan, which entered the season as No. 8 in the nation, but a 23-9 loss to the Nebraska Huskers kept it from standing alone at the top of the standings.
Nonetheless, victories—some of which were decisive—over the Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Gophers, Purdue Boilers and Illinois Fighting Illini have shown that the Wolverines (6-3, 4-1) are serious about earning a league championship.
However, they may stumble Saturday against the recently up-and-down Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, 3-2), who started the fall unblemished at 5-0 prior to losing to the Penn State Nittany Lions and Huskers.
A win for Michigan would keep it on pace for first, while a loss would put the Wildcats in a position to pounce, should the Wolverines and Huskers hit a wall in the late goings of the Big Ten schedule.
Michigan hasn't had the fortune of meeting two of the Chicago area's biggest college football stars, and that could throw a wrinkle into Saturday's game plan.
Learn from the past, prepare for Kain and Venric
To avoid a second conference loss, the Wolverines have to cap Kain Colter and Venric Mark, two of the conference's most intriguing and strike-capable athletes.
Colter scored three rushing touchdowns this past Saturday in a 28-17 ousting of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The fact that he found the end zone on three option read-like plays should almost play into Michigan's hands—Michigan sees that look in practice each week when facing Denard Robinson.
However, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez runs similar plays, and he broke out for a 29-yard sprint two weeks ago against Michigan.
Like Colter, Martinez is quick on the peds. He may or may not be faster than Robinson, it depends who you ask.
Respecting Colter's feet will likely be a theme for Michigan, but it can't solely concentrate on him, either. Mark is just as, if not more, dangerous; he has two punt return touchdowns, one receiving and nine rushing (fifth in Big Ten with 12, Colter is sixth with 11).
How's that for versatile?
Mark is approaching elite-level
Haven't heard of Venric Mark? He's not exactly a household name outside of fanatical Big Ten circles, but he's certainly worth the buzz.
He tore through Minnesota's defense with 182 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 9.1 yards per carry (20—)that was the same Minnesota defense that held Michigan to 155 yards, about 25 percent less than its average.
In a 28-17 win over Iowa, Mark scattered for 162 yards, or about 14 more than Iowa normally gives up each Saturday.
Mark will be tested this Saturday against a Wolverines defense that allows 143 yards per game, but has slown down the likes of Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Minnesota's Donnell Kirkwood.
Keying in on Mark and Colter may seem quite obvious. And it probably is. But, Michigan hasn't faced a real two-headed threat in the Big Ten like them.
Although Nebraska had Martinez and Ameer Abdullah (who combined for 159 yards in their win over Michigan), Colter and Mark have the ability to hurt Michigan in a multitude of ways: Returning, passing, rushing and receiving.
The obligatory "who wins" poll...
This one will likely be back-and-forth, coming down to a field goal or timely special teams play that turns into a touchdown.
Northwestern is a team that doesn't seem to back down or easily intimidate.
Having the ability to fight back late in games is a plus.
Having Colter and Mark on offense packs a running punch that's almost unmatched in the Big Ten.
That's why I would go with Northwestern—if the game was in Evanston. But it's not; it's at The Big House.
Michigan 28, Northwestern 27
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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