Two of the Big Ten's perceived front-runners had issues last weekend with Michigan nearly losing at home to a bad Akron team and Wisconsin losing in controversial fashion on the road to a very good Arizona State team.
Despite opposite results for two of the conference's more visible programs, both need a good showing this weekend. The question is, who needs it more?
On the one hand Wisconsin is looking to put a bitter loss and a crazy ending behind them, and on the other hand there is a Michigan team looking to prove last weekend was a fluke and not a harbinger of things to come.
This weekend's results have a chance to cement images for both of these teams. Win big and it is back to contender status; lose, or look bad in victory, and the buzzards are likely to hover over the Badgers' and Wolverines' chances to be contenders.
Michigan has yo-yoed in public perception in just the past two weeks alone.
After winning big at home over Notre Dame they were considered a contender—not just for the Big Ten title, but potentially for the national title. They moved up from No. 17 in the AP Poll, previous to the Notre Dame game, to No. 11 with the win.
Just a week later and more people have hopped off the Maize 'N Blue bandwagon than jumped on it after the Notre Dame win. Despite winning the game 28-24 over Akron, the Wolverines dropped to No. 15 in the AP Poll.
It also didn't help that Notre Dame looked weak in a win over Wisconsin's opponent this week—Purdue.
The challenge for Michigan this weekend is not only do they need to win, but they need to look good doing it. Specifically, the Wolverines need a better performance from Devin Gardner and the offensive line. Otherwise the questions about whether this team has enough to be a true conference contender will continue to linger.
We all know that the longer perception is allowed to linger, the greater the chances that perception becomes reality.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, had blown the doors off of two inferior opponents to open the season and went into the Arizona State game with questions needing to be answered about just how good they actually were.
After the game, those questions weren't answered fully thanks to an ending that most won't forget anytime soon.
Yet, that is exactly the challenge the Badgers football team faces—forgetting the ending and moving on.
Do the Badgers move on, crush Purdue this weekend and prove that their season is far from over? Do the Badgers come out sluggish, look bad in victory or allow the Boilermakers to spoil their home Big Ten opener?
For the Badgers it is all about the result. Win and the season isn't over by a long stretch. However, lose and Wisconsin runs the risk of having a bad situation at the end of the Arizona State game kill its season—especially with games against Ohio State and Northwestern (fellow conference contenders) coming up next.
That's why this weekend it is more important for the Badgers to win, and win big. It puts a bad loss in the rear view mirror and shows the team, its fans and the voters that they are still going to be players in the Big Ten Leaders division race.
Luckily for the Badgers, they have a history of knowing how to not let a bad or strange loss ruin their season goals and they are playing Purdue—a team they have won their last seven games against and their last four by an average of 31.8 points a game.
For Michigan, an impressive win on the road would be nice for its confidence as a team, but will it change any perception of the football team? Not likely, because its opponent is a bad UConn team—and that's the difference.
A big win will help both teams put less than desirable situations from last week behind them, but only one of these results has a chance to push a season off the cliff—and that belongs to the Badgers.
More importantly, though, these two teams have the potential to both steamroll their opponents and re-gain the confidence needed heading into bigger matchups in the coming weeks.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of the Big Ten discussion.
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