Lackluster showings against Akron and UConn, along with a four-overtime loss to Penn State, have put Michigan at No. 22 in this season’s first BCS rankings.
Michigan isn’t getting a lot of respect nationally, and neither is the Big Ten, which has only three teams in the rankings—Ohio State at No. 4 and Nebraska at No. 24, in addition to the Wolverines.
Despite the initial low ranking, Michigan still has a chance to climb into a BCS bowl. The Wolverines play Ohio State and Nebraska at home and have road games against Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa remaining.
With their two toughest games at home, the schedule seems to favor the Wolverines. That is, if they can escape the stupor that seems to envelope them whenever they leave Ann Arbor.
Under head coach Brady Hoke, Michigan is 19-0 at home, but 6-8 when playing on the road or at neutral sites. Hoke has cited several factors, including the stress of young players acclimating to travel and the distractions posed by hostile crowds.
Michigan’s record-setting offensive explosion against Indiana (63 points, 751 yards) vaulted it back into the bottom of the football rankings. Quarterback Devin Gardner (584 total yards, five touchdowns), wide receiver Jeremy Gallon (369 yards, two touchdowns) and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (151 yards, four touchdowns) -- operating behind a rebuilt offensive line -- were virtually unstoppable.
Now the Wolverines need to put together a strong performance on the road. Michigan has a bye week before heading to East Lansing for a matchup with rival Michigan State. The Spartans have the No. 1-ranked defense in the nation and are undefeated in the Big Ten.
Spartan Stadium will be easily the most hostile environment Michigan will face this season. A win against Michigan State will be a major step for the Wolverines toward winning a Big Ten title, which Hoke has called his top goal.
Midway through his third season as head coach, it’s getting more difficult to understand why the Wolverines stumble on the road.
Despite a disappointing loss to Penn State, all of their goals are still attainable if they beat Michigan State.
Michigan controls its destiny; if the Wolverines run the table and win the Big Ten championship game, they can still make the Rose Bowl.
But lose a few more games and the Big Ten’s reputation takes another hit.