Weekend Spotlight: No. 24 Northwestern at Michigan
A critical game for Big Ten bowl positioning takes place this weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This Saturday the No. 24 Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) meet the Michigan Wolverines (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten) in a game that will ultimately go a long way in determining where the two teams will spend their holidays.
Series: Michigan leads 53-15-2
Series Since 1995 When Northwestern Got Good: Michigan leads 9-4
Series In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 33-6-2
Last Meeting: October 8, 2011; Michigan 42, Northwestern 24
Line, Although Gambling Is Wrong And Discouraged But Maybe You Use It To Make Your Weekly ESPN College Pick ‘Em Choices Like I Do: Michigan -9.5 as of Thursday.
Northwestern has been 7-2 in the second week of November three times since 1995, including 1996 when they finished 9-3 and played in the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Under Pat Fitzgerald they have made four consecutive bowl appearances (with this season being the fifth); only two of the Wildcats’ previous six bowl appearances have come in back-to-back years.
Michigan is looking for its first back-to-back seasons with nine or more wins since 2006 and 2007, Lloyd Carr’s final two years as head coach. It’s been five seasons since Carr was carried off the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium field following a thrilling shootout win over Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators. That game still stands as Meyer’s only loss to a Big Ten team (NB for Nov. 24, Buckeyes).
At first glance, the game will feature two of the top rushing attacks in the Big Ten. It features three individual conference rushing leaders: #2 (NU running back Venric Mark, 119.7 yards per game), #3 (UM quarterback Denard Robinson, 118.3 yards per game) and #11 (NU quarterback Kain Colter, 69.1 yards per game). However, Robinson’s status remains in doubt for Saturday. Backup Devin Gardner proved more than capable last week against Minnesota, highlighted by a 45-yard touchdown heave. It’s notable that both of Northwestern’s losses (to Penn State and Nebraska) can be attributed to weaknesses in defending downfield passing.
The two teams have five combined losses to teams with a combined record of 38-6 (counting Nebraska twice). The only loss that didn’t come to a team currently ranked in the Top 20 was Northwestern’s loss at Penn State (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten).
Stat That Makes It Sound Like Northwestern Should Win: Northwestern is third in the Big Ten in turnover margin at +6; Michigan is 10th at -4.
Stat That Makes It Sound Like Michigan Should Win: The Wolverines have yet to lose at home under Brady Hoke.
Northwestern’s Remaining Schedule: at Michigan State (Nov 17), vs. Illinois (Nov 24)
Michigan’s Remaining Schedule: vs. Iowa (Nov 17), at Ohio State (Nov 24)
The Road To Orlando*: Assuming No. 16 Nebraska goes on to win the Legends Division and the Big Ten Championship, the winner of this game is left to compete with Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) as the top remaining conference team. That team would also likely need one additional win in the final two weeks to keep the pole position. To be the “Best Available” by letter of the law, the Wolverines will need to win out and hope for one additional loss by Northwestern and Wisconsin. The Wildcats could lose one game down the stretch and still finish ahead of both Michigan and Wisconsin (unless either run the table); however, conference records and head-to-head performances always play heavy into the bowl selection order.
* – Not a guarantee.
- In August we previewed Northwestern with SBNation’s Sippin On Purple
- We also previewed Michigan with SBNation’s Maize N Brew
- SoP and MnB paired up for some Q&As on Northwestern (for MnB) and Michigan (for SoP)
- Michigan blog MGBlog broke down the Northwestern attack
- Northwestern blog Lake The Posts gives some historical perspective