The last five weeks were fun. Michigan fans got the chance to see their team destroy three straight opponents, the team got seldom-used players involved, and most importantly, it wiped its slate clean after a season-opening loss to Notre Dame.
But all of that was expected. A loss to any of those five would have been the worst of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.
The real tests begin Saturday, and there’s no hiding that.
The Wolverines’ last five start times have ranged from noon to the seldom-used 4:30 time-slot and been broadcast on Big Ten Network and Fox Sports 1. This week, they’ll be in primetime on ABC. A few hours before that, ESPN’s College Gameday will descend on the Diag.
But while the buzz around Ann Arbor will be impossible to ignore, the team is unfazed.
“As a veteran team, we’ve been on this stage a couple of times,” said junior cornerback Josh Metellus. “First game of the season, we had that stage. Last year, we had that stage a couple of times.”
Added fifth-year senior fullback Jared Wangler: “We love it. We love the big games, can’t really ask for much more. Under the lights, against Wisconsin. We get juiced up for this kind of stuff.”
As for how they embrace the hype, each player is different.
Junior linebacker Devin Bush wants to block out outside noise so he’s among those that will not be watching Gameday. On the flip side, senior wide receiver Grant Perry wants to know what Lee Corso and co. have to say about the team.
“We get pretty excited, the hype of the media talking about College Gameday coming here,” Perry said. “…I tune in a little bit to see what people say. But it doesn’t really faze me.”
No matter what they hear outside the program, though, Michigan’s emphasis is on itself, both on and off the field.
“We focus on ourselves first,” Metellus said. “We focus on Michigan first. We do what we have to do. Everybody does their job, now they gotta beat our job. … So it’s not we have to go out there and beat them. We do what we do and they have to beat that.”
Added Perry: “We get into these big games these next three weeks, we can’t be tight. We gotta be loose. Prepare the way we’ve been preparing. So we just gotta stay on that track and not treat this differently than anything else.”
The preparation is the same but the team acknowledges that the magnitude is different.
Whether they insulate themselves like Gil and Metellus or embrace the hype like Perry and Wangler, every Wolverine knows that games like Saturday’s will define their season.
“One of the reasons you come here is to win these big games,” Wangler said. “You gotta win these games to win the championship. That’s why you come to Michigan.”