Michigan, with any realistic shot at a Big Ten title dashed by Iowa, tries to look forward
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Michigan football team entered November with an unlikely stake in a first-place tie and a slim chance of advancing to the Big Ten title game.
It woke up Sunday morning with neither.
The No. 13 Wolverines were upset Saturday in a 24-16 loss at Iowa, which dropped them to 7-2 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play. They also fell out of a tie for the Legends Division lead, which they shared with Michigan State and Nebraska entering the weekend.
The Cornhuskers also were upset, falling to Northwestern, although the Spartans edged Minnesota. They are 4-1 in Big Ten play, a game better than second-place Michigan, Nebraska and now Iowa at 3-2.
The Wolverines fell to both the Spartans and Hawkeyes, meaning they would lose on the first tie-breaker to either team. So, for Michigan to play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game, it would need both teams to lose twice in their final three games.
That is unlikely to happen, especially with Michigan State closing against Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern. Those teams have a combined record of 11-17.
Michigan was not focused on that big-picture scenario after the game, instead turning its focus to next week's game at Illinois — a second consecutive road game for a team that has struggled on the road.
That's the message senior defensive lineman Mike Martin planned to deliver to his teammates today as they reconvened in Schembechler Hall to begin watching film and preparing for the Illini.
"We know it hurts, it's gonna hurt, it should hurt, but that's in the past now," Martin said. "Tomorrow is going to come, and it's not going to be Saturday anymore. The game's over. We've just got to worry about Illinois. That's the next opportunity."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said in August at the team's media day that his goal for his first season at the helm was to win a Big Ten championship. It was a lofty pursuit for a team that had finished 6-18 in league play the previous three years, but one that remained alive into the final month of the season.
Now, with any realistic shot of a title dashed by the Hawkeyes — of course, they're not yet mathematically eliminated — he put up a strong front, although surely was disappointed.
"It's still November," said Hoke, who says this is the month of championships. "We've got a lot of games left."
He also found stakes for which Michigan can play, with its title contention run cut three weeks short.
"No. 1, we've got 24 seniors who are going to play their last three guaranteed football games at Michigan," Hoke said. "We're always going to coach for them, and we're always gonna play for them."