I am writing this preview while battling a snowstorm along Interstate 76 on my way back to Ann Arbor from Villanova, where the Michigan men’s basketball team walloped the Wildcats, 73-46 last night.
That fact carries no humor for me, because my chances of surviving until Saturday’s “game” against Indiana are currently dwindling by the minute. But it may be amusing to you, considering the only memory you should have of a Wolverines-Hoosiers football game is two years ago, when the two played through a driving blizzard in Ann Arbor.
Saturday’s forecast suggests history might repeat itself and, in the lead-up to the game, that may very well be the biggest storyline. Because, much like last week’s game against Rutgers, the matchup barely elicits writing about.
And therein lies the reason that the Indiana game two years ago is the only one most Michigan fans will remember. The Hoosiers have won just one matchup between the schools over the past 50 years — and zero at Michigan Stadium.
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For most Wolverines’ fans, this game is a little more than a hindrance on Michigan’s path to Columbus for The Game nine days from now. That is the game that determines whether 2018 enters the Wolverines’ pantheon of great seasons that fell short or if they continue on their path to the College Football Playoff.
The same could be said for Saturday’s game — if Michigan loses, its fairytale season will come to an end — except that it won’t lose. Because Indiana just is not very good.
Sure, the Hoosiers are better than Rutgers, and could go to a bowl game with a win over Purdue next week. But that puts them in the same tier as Maryland, SMU, and Western Michigan — a trio of teams that the Wolverines beat by an average score of 45-earlier this year.
I used to fill this space by analyzing whether Michigan’s opponents could take advantage of its weaknesses — specifically its offensive line and secondary. But that was an activity for September, when the Wolverines still had weaknesses. With Shea Patterson’s play elevating every week, the offensive line developing into a strength, and the secondary anchoring the nation’s best pass defense, there is no point in contemplating Michigan’s chances of losing.
But for the sake of completeness, I texted a friend who works at Indiana to ask about the Hoosiers’ strengths.
His response: “Inside run game (Stevie Scott), short passing game. Those are about all our strengths.” Followed by five lines about their weaknesses, finishing with “it’s hard to tell what’s especially bad on (defense) when it all looks bad.”
Without much doubt surrounding the final score, the most intriguing storyline on Saturday may be how the Wolverines’ departing players perform in their last game at Michigan Stadium.
That list will include some role players who should be able to get playing time late in the fourth quarter but it also includes some of Michigan’s biggest stars. Karan Higdon, Tyree Kinnel, Zach Gentry, Chase Winovich, Brandon Watson, and Bryan Mone are among the Wolverines’ departing seniors to watch. Juniors Rashan Gary, Khaleke Hudson, and Devin Bush are also likely playing their last ever home games and could be joined by Shea Patterson, David Long, and Lavert Hill if they elect to declare for the draft.
While those stars could all be playing in their last games at Michigan Stadium, their main goal on Saturday will be ensuring that they have plenty more games wearing the maize and blue. Against Indiana, that should not be too much of a challenge.