Northwestern Wildcats (7-3, 3-3) at Michigan Wolverines (3-7, 2-4)
Noon, Saturday at Michigan Stadium
Line: Michigan -4
This might quite possibly be the hardest game of the season to predict for Michigan, seeing how things have gone thus far.
After last week's dominating win at Minnesota, what team can I possibly expect to show up on Saturday after the Wolverines have stunk for the better part of the season?
Will Michigan revert back to form, or will they answer the call and carry momentum from last week to give the 15 seniors on the team their last home win at the Big House?
I'm going with the latter. Why? Because there's something different about Michigan that I noticed last week, and it was a sense of pride restored and urgency not seen all season.
Michigan players and coaches have for the most part been embarrassed with how the 2008 season has gone, and if there's any saving this year, it's going out on a high note.
Northwestern comes into the 69th meeting with the Wolverines a different team than in years past. The Wildcats have actually won a few games.
But look at who Northwestern has beaten to become bowl eligible. The likes of Syracuse, Duke, Southern Illinois, and Ohio were their non-conference competition.
The only team the Wildcats have beaten with a .500 record was Minnesota, and that came on a final minute pick six, not to add to the fact we all saw what a fraud the Gophers are anyway.
Let's see how these two match up.
Michigan Pass Offense vs. Northwestern Pass Defense
Nick "The Human White Knight" Sheridan is back as your starting quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines.
Will he save the day and slay the mighty Wildcats, or will he wave the white flag once again?
All right, I'm getting out of hand with the analogies, but I can't help it.
I'm happy he's getting the nod over Steven Threet. I've always believed you have to go with the hot hand, and while Sheridan may have not been exactly on fire, he did play pretty good.
The passing offense altogether is starting to gel.
Pass blocking has improved, the wideouts are getting better each week, and Sheridan and Threet have been improving with every snap.
Martavious Odoms is quickly becoming a top weapon and Darryl Stonum is making strides. This unit with Greg Matthews could be really dangerous next season.
Northwestern is ranked 84th in the nation, giving up 228.9 yards per game, and Brendan Smith has been pretty good in coverage.
Smith has two interceptions and six pass breakups, but the Wildcats' secondary only has eight picks this season. Northwestern's pass rush is much more dangerous with 27 sacks, led by Corey Wootton's 7.5.
If Michigan's pass blocking can hold up and give Sheridan some time, then he might be able to pick apart the secondary.
Michigan Rush Offense vs. Northwestern Rush Defense
After being a major strength for the second half of the season, this unit might falter this weekend, especially if Brandon Minor doesn't play.
Minor is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and has excelled in the zone read rushing attack, breaking multiple rushes for long runs.
Without that threat, Michigan might be in for a long day.
My only hope is that Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw are prepared to step up and make some plays. Shaw has shown the ability to break one, as has McGuffie, but far too often McGuffie goes down on first contact.
Northwestern is 44th in rush defense giving up just over 120 yards per game against mostly cupcakes.
Corey Wootton has 13.5 tackles for loss, showing his ability to get into the opponent's backfield. In fact, Northwestern as a team has accumulated 69 tackles for loss.
Brad Phillips leads the Wildcats in tackles with 85 as the strong safety and has the tenacity that coach Pat Fitzgerald had as a player.
If there was ever an opportunity for McGuffie and Shaw to show that they'll be significant factors in Michigan's backfield for years to come, this is it.
Rich Rodriguez is bringing in a slew of running backs in next year's recruiting class, and there have been rumors of McGuffie being homesick, signaling a possible transfer.
I hope that doesn't happen and he actually pans out, but he has to become either more elusive or show some toughness and break some tackles.
Without Minor I'm giving the advantage to Northwestern, simply because Shaw and McGuffie haven't proven to be every down backs yet. Flashes of it, but not quite sold.
Northwestern Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense
Word is that C.J. Bacher will be back this week after being injured the past couple weeks.
Bacher is not what you expect out of a Northwestern quarterback. He's actually pretty decent. He's thrown for 1,700 yards, 10 touchdowns, a 59 percent completion percentage, and has a 109.8 efficiency rating.
But he has thrown 11 interceptions and his receivers are not that good. No one has outstanding stats, but maybe that's because Bacher has shown an ability to throw the ball around and spread the wealth.
Eric Peterman has three touchdowns and averages 11.9 yards per catch, and that's the best Northwestern has.
After last week, I'm not sure what secondary will show for Michigan on Saturday. Last week they shut down a pretty good quarterback and passing offense after being awful most of the year.
Until Stevie Brown, Brandon Harrison, and the rest of the secondary show they can put it together for consecutive games, I'm not holding out hope.
Northwestern Rush Offense vs. Michigan Rush Defense
Northwestern running backs Tyrell Sutton and Mike Kafka are both averaging around five yards per carry, and Bacher is a sure threat to take off.
Northwestern averages 160.3 yards on the ground, while Michigan is giving up 135.2 to opponents.
Putting Will Johnson back on the line every down was the logical thing to do after the disaster that was the 3-3-5 Purdue experiment.
Going with the 4-2-5 last week worked out brilliantly, and hopefully the Wolverines and Scott Schafer stick with that and keep things simple.
Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber was never a threat to take off though, and Michigan is once again faced with a spread quarterback.
We all know how this has worked out before for the Wolverines. Not pretty at all.
But Bacher is coming off an injury and might not be as prone to take off as normal, especially if he watched tape of Michigan last week and saw how hard the hits were that Brandon Graham has been giving out.
Northwestern has no viable threat to take one all the way, and with Zoltan "Space Lord Emperor of the Universe" Mesko making it impossible for return men by putting balls into the outer atmosphere, it's highly unlikely the Wildcats break one Saturday.
Michigan return men, on the other hand, have been getting better, but the fumbles are starting to resurface, and they need to get that solved right away.
K.C. Lopata is once again solid, and I'm not completely fearful of him blowing a game. He blew one this year, so I guess that fills Michigan's kickers' quota for giving up a game.
Northwestern kicker Amado Villarreal is 17-for-21 with a miss coming as close as 25 yards out and has missed two PATs this year.
Northwestern has only won five games at Michigan Stadium, with the last coming in 1995, and have lost eight of the last nine against Michigan.
Am I going to follow the adage of 2008 of teams being due to beat Michigan? Not this time.
Northwestern is much like Minnesota: a team that padded its schedule with nobodies and a fraud as a bowl eligible team.
Michigan, on the other hand, has 15 seniors who do not want to lose their final home game and be remembered for being the team that only won two of seven home games in a season.
Prediction: Michigan 31, Northwestern 17