The Monday After: Michigan is improved, but the Wolverines aren't all the way back just yet
A look back at the weekend that was in college football, including Michigan's upset of Wisconsin
On a weekend where things were going wrong for so many, everything seemed to be going right for Michigan. The Wolverines picked up a critical win on Saturday night, crushing then-No. 15 Wisconsin 38-13 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a result of Michigan's win and chaos elsewhere in the polls, the Wolverines climbed from No. 12 to No. 6 in the AP Top 25, just ahead of Texas at No. 7.
And that placement seems fitting because, like Texas, we've spent an awful lot of time over recent years wondering whether Michigan is Back. Of course, now the question many are wondering about Michigan is whether it's a contender for the College Football Playoff. A No. 6 ranking in mid-October would certainly suggest as much, but even with the Wolverines' dismantling of the Badgers on Saturday, I can't help but remain a bit skeptical of Michigan's chances.
First of all, I'm not sure how much a win over Wisconsin should be worth in 2018. What Michigan did was impressive, don't get me wrong. Michigan's 25-point win was only the third time a team has beaten Wisconsin by double-digits since the 2011 season. The previous two teams to do it were Ohio State in 2014 and Alabama in 2015. Both of those teams went on to win national titles.
I don't think the formula is that simple, however, and again, this Wisconsin team isn't the Wisconsin team most of us expected in 2018. The Badgers went to Ann Arbor with a loss to BYU on their resume and a defense that has been abysmal by Wisconsin standards. In their first two games of the season against Western Kentucky and New Mexico, the Badgers defense allowed only 4.37 yards per play; in the following three games against BYU, Iowa and Nebraska, it allowed 7.12 yards per play. The Wolverines offense picked up 6.43 yards per play against the Badgers on Saturday night, which was better than BYU did against it but was worse than both Iowa (7.48) and Nebraska (7.62) by a full yard.
None of this is to say what Michigan did wasn't impressive; it just adds some context to Michigan's performance and just how "big" of a win Wisconsin could prove to be this season. Even with that context, the fact is that Michigan's defense smothered the Wisconsin offense, and this defense will be able to play against anybody in the country. This means the wild card in Michigan's season will continue to be the offense, and indications are that this is Michigan's best under Jim Harbaugh thanks to an improving offensive line as well as the arm and legs of Shea Patterson -- legs that sometimes hide the offensive line's deficiencies with their mobility.
Something else we have to consider is that Michigan beat Wisconsin in Ann Arbor. Winning at home hasn't been a problem since Harbaugh returned. Under Harbaugh, Michigan is 22-4 at home. Even last season, when the Wolverines finished 8-5, they went 4-2 at home with the only losses coming to Michigan State and Ohio State (these two are also responsible for the other two home losses in 2015). The road has been far less forgiving, as Michigan is 12-8 outside the Big House (including neutral sites and bowl games). This season, the Wolverines have played two games on the road, losing the season-opener to Notre Dame, and falling behind Northwestern 17-0 before rallying for a 20-17 win.
Michigan has three road games left on the 2018 schedule, and while I'm not concerned about Rutgers, the other two are Michigan State and Ohio State. Those two games -- along with a home game against Penn State -- are the games that will determine whether this Michigan team is truly a playoff contender because those are the games playoff teams win.
In other words, there are still questions remaining about this Michigan team, and it's got a lot left to prove. It's No. 6 ranking is more a reflection of the carnage of this weekend than it is how well Michigan's played in 2018, and whether it deserves that ranking. All of that said, while I'm not ready to buy in on the Wolverines completely, I'm a lot more optimistic about this team's chances in the Big Ten now than I was following the Notre Dame loss.
And if you're Michigan, having people wonder whether or not you're a playoff contender at all is certainly a step in the right direction.
Biggest Winner of the Week
While Michigan was a big winner, it wasn't the biggest winner of the week. That honor falls to the one team that has beaten Michigan this season: Notre Dame. Now, make no mistake, Notre Dame isn't a winner due to the way it performed. The Irish looked terrible against Pittsburgh in a 19-14 sleepwalk that should have been expected after big wins against Stanford and Virginia Tech in consecutive games. But Notre Dame isn't a winner for what it accomplished; it's a winner for what everyone else failed to do.
Notre Dame's playoff odds did nothing but increase on Saturday. All around them potential challengers for that playoff spot fell. With Oregon's win over Washington and USC beating Colorado, the Pac-12 has no undefeated left, and it's biggest playoff contenders all have at least two losses. The Big 12 lost its only remaining unbeaten in West Virginia as well, though Oklahoma and Texas still loom as playoff threats. In the SEC, Georgia lost, making it less likely the SEC will get two teams in again.
All of which means that Notre Dame's odds improved quite a bit.
Halftime Show of the Week
Halftime shows, uh, find a way.
Oakland Raiders Tribute of the Week
Al Davis would be proud of this move.
Column of the Week
Bowling Green was featured on the wrong end of that previous highlight, and Bowling Green also fired its coach this weekend, relieving Mike Jinks of his duties halfway through his third season with an overall record of 7-24. The decision led to a column from The Toledo Blade's David Briggs that burned former Bowling Green athletic director Chris Kingston alive. In this scenario, Briggs is Pusha T, and Kingston is Drake. Check out this fire.
With Bowling Green fresh off a Mid-American Conference title powered by one of the country's highest-flying offenses, then-AD Chris Kingston wanted to keep a good thing going. So he Googled which team had the best offense that year, noted it was Texas Tech, and essentially targeted the top Red Raiders assistant he could afford.
Conservatively speaking, it was the dumbest coaching search in college football history.
While that's the best part of the column, the whole thing is terrific, and I suggest you read it whether or not you give the slightest of damns about Bowling Green or its football program.
Random Ranking of the Week
This week we're ranking the worst opponents for Northwestern to schedule during homecoming weekend. No reason!
2. Notre Dame
5. Ohio State
All rankings are final!
Tweet of the Week
Cruel but funny.
Stat of the Week
Texas Tech beat TCU 17-14 on Thursday night in Fort Worth, Texas. It was the first time Texas Tech won a game while scoring fewer than 20 points since a 12-0 win over Texas A&M in 2001. Texas Tech's QB that night? It was now-coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Perception Poll of the Week
How much did Georgia's loss to LSU hurt its perception? I asked Twitter who the favorite was in the SEC East after the loss: Georgia or The Field.
I agree with the voters here in that I do think Georgia is still the best team in the division. A loss to LSU on the road isn't anything to be ashamed of, even if the Bulldogs played poorly. I think, if anything, this loss just showed us that this year's Georgia isn't as good as last year's Georgia, so those who were trying to crown Georgia "The New Alabama" may have had a rude awakening on Saturday. Still, it's a pretty good team, and I think it'll win the SEC East.
Either way, we'll have an answer in the next three weeks. Georgia's on a bye this week, but then it gets Florida in a neutral-site game in Jacksonville and Kentucky in Lexington.
Stat of the Week II
I don't know what it means if it even means anything, but it's interesting nonetheless.
AP Voters of the Week
This week's honors go to Lauren Brownlow of WRAL in Durham, North Carolina and Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. Our two voters were the high voters on Penn State in this week's AP Top 25, as both had the Nittany Lions at No. 13 on their ballots.
Let's take a closer look at Penn State's resume to this point. It has two close losses at home to Ohio State and a Michigan State team that was unranked and coming off a home loss to Northwestern. A Michigan State team that neither of you put higher than 18 on your ballots (and that's probably too high) even after it beat Penn State. Penn State's best win was an overtime win over Appalachian State, which Brownlow has at No. 19 on her ballot (a move I respect, and I generally like Brownlow's ballots because she gives Group of Five teams a lot more love than most). It's other three wins have come against Kent State, Pitt and Illinois.
How does this scream top 13 resume? If Penn State were Maryland would you have it ranked at No. 13 with the same results? I'm going to assume no because, like Penn State, Maryland is also 4-2 and it has a win over Texas (No. 7 for Horowitz, No. 9 for Brownlow) yet it doesn't appear on either of your ballots. Now, you can argue that Maryland's losses are worse than Penn State's (they are), but enough to leave one unranked and the other at No. 13? I don't think so.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
2. Ohio State
3. Notre Dame
Until the next Monday After!
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