Losing really isn't an option Saturday for Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
His Wolverines—the mighty Team 134—have grossly underachieved en route to posting a 6-2 (2-2) record. Big Ten title contention is in the rear view thanks to a 29-6 pummeling courtesy of Michigan State (8-1, 5-0).
Come bowl selection time, Hoke could find out that this his team is playing in late December rather than in early January, the period in which the top matchups unfold.
That wasn't the forecast for a team with a top-10 recruiting class, per Rivals, and supposed "next" program quarterback Devin Gardner, who's been anything but "next."
Like Michigan, Nebraska is struggling to find an identity. Without star quarterback Taylor Martinez, the Huskers (6-2, 3-1) have found ways to stay afloat, namely Hail Mary tosses at the most opportune moments imaginable.
That makes the Huskers a bit tricky to predict—isn't that right, Northwestern?
Hoke's team is hobbling, but so is Bo Pelini's group, which could use a win this weekend in order to maintain its chase of the Michigan State Spartans.
The following tweet from Nebraska's official Twitter account links to a superbly done infograph. Take a look. It's well worth the click:
Prepare for Backlash
After being dropped on its head this past weekend, Michigan must rebound with some sort of vigor if it wants to calm its legions of fans who are dangerously close to hitting the panic button.
Two straight losses would only feed the beast that would be Hoke's lack of job security. That's not meant to suggest that he's in limbo, but let's face it, being defeated by an average Big Ten team would just about do it.
A loss to Pelini would be the worst-case scenario for a coach with high hopes of conference and national titles, neither of which are probable this time around.
Maybe next year.
The mass appeal of Michigan football stretches to all corners of the country, including Ohio. Hoke has cleaned up in enemy territory, but his recruiting trails could become more difficult to navigate should he lose to the Huskers.
Ohio is a prep powerhouse. Some of the top players hail from the Buckeye State on a year-in, year-out basis. Wolverines football is dependent on a steady flow of athletes from its southern provider.
Hoke may owe the state of Ohio a thank you note.
Connect the dots. Losing to a fairly beatable Huskers squad wouldn't do much to influence superstars to play for Michigan rather than Ohio State.
The final stretch of 2013 is important for a couple of reasons, especially when it comes to securing future talent. Sure, Team 134 probably wants to cap its roller coaster ride with a few wins and an appearance in a respectable bowl game, but this year is about more than this year.
If a player, say, Da'Shawn Hand, is torn between Michigan and the other 20-plus offers, his decision could come down to what he stands to inherit. At Ohio State or Alabama, he'd inherit a title-contending team off the bat.
That could be Michigan next year—despite shortcomings, the Wolverines are in position to succeed—but finishing with less than 10 wins would likely turn off an athlete such as Hand, the No. 1-ranked strongside defensive end of 2014, per 247Sports.
Then again, he'd probably start immediately at Michigan. That's always a plus, right?
Saturday is a Test
Hoke's 45-17 drubbing of Nebraska in 2011 seems like it happened eons ago. Well, it's been just two years, but he still has something to prove to the Huskers.
As one of the upper-echelon programs in the Big Ten, Nebraska will be a threat for years to come, like it or not. Beating rivals and competitors is what great teams and great coaches do, right?
Michigan vs. Nebraska isn't Michigan vs. Ohio State or Michigan State. But it's becoming one of the league's must-see games.
That being said, Hoke must prove that last year's 23-9 nightmare in Lincoln was a fluke, not the norm. Hoke has a tactical advantage this year; he's at The Big House, where he's posted a 19-0 record.
Home sweet home.
At the very least, Hoke's unblemished home record is something on which Michigan can hang its hat. Snapping that streak would cause a bit of commotion. It probably wouldn't be major, but it'd set off a few alarms.
Saturday's duel with Nebraska is about more than winning; it's about maintaining a strong push for the premier preps in the land and keeping true one of the country's most impressive runs—going 19-0 at The Big House is impressive, despite the ups and downs.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81