Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, October 14, 2011 at 9:42 AM
There's a lot of excitement right now in Ann Arbor, as the Michigan Wolverines have opened the season 6-0 straight up, and 5-1 against Las Vegas expectations. New head coach Brady Hoke has brought swagger and physicality to a team that may have tuned out controversial prior head coach Rich Rodriguez. There hasn't been this big a buzz about a Michigan team heading into a rivalry showdown against Michigan State since...since...since about LAST YEAR at this time!
Look at what the 2010 and 2011 Michigan teams have in common heading into Saturday's big TV game on the road against the Spartans:
Both were undefeated straight up coming in. Last year's team was 5-0 out of the gate, setting the tone with an impressive 30-10 win over respected Connecticut in the season opener.
Both scored dramatic wins over non-conference rival Notre Dame. Last year's team won 28-24 in South Bend. This year's team rallied late in a game you hopefully stayed up to watch ALL of!
Both won their Big 10 openers. Last year's team beat Indiana the week before playing Michigan State. This year's team struggled for awhile last week before pulling away late to a 42-24 win at Northwestern.
Both had talented quarterback Denard Robinson dashing all over the field making plays. Last year's team was a bit more wide open in this regard because Coach Rodriguez will run his quarterback into the ground until he gets hurt. Coach Hoke is more interested in keeping Robinson on the field for all 12 games.
For the most part, what everyone's saying about Michigan right now is what they were saying last year at this time. There are some minor differences. Coach Hoke is still in his honeymoon period, while Coach Rodriguez was under a "you better do something now or you're going to get fired" threat. The Michigan defense looks to be playing better ball this year, and that was a skeleton in the closet last year even during the 5-0 start. If you're allowing points to the likes of Indiana and Massachusetts...it's going to get nasty against the Big 10 powers.
Here's what happened a year ago at this time when Michigan State came to Ann Arbor.
MICHIGAN STATE 34, MICHIGAN 17
Total Yardage: Michigan State 537, Michigan 377
Rushing Yardage: Michigan State 250, Michigan 162
Passing Stats: Michigan State 19-26-0-287, Michigan 17-29-3-215
Turnovers: Michigan State 0, Michigan 3
Yards-Per-Play: Michigan State 8.0, Michigan 6.0
Pointspread: Michigan by 5
Note that Michigan entered the game ranked higher in the polls (#16 hosting #17) and was laying points here. It's easy to forget since State would go on to be tri-champions of the league while the Wolverines fell apart. At kickoff, Michigan was perceived as the better team on the heels of that 5-0 start that included a win over Notre Dame.
They were outgained by a huge margin here, while also losing the turnover battle. The first half of the season was largely an illusion created by a talented quarterback abusing a soft schedule. The loss to Michigan State started this free fall:
Michigan (+3.5) lost to Iowa 38-28
Michigan (-3) lost at Penn State 41-31
Michigan (-3) beat Illinois 67-65 in multiple overtimes
Michigan (-13) beat Purdue 27-16
Michigan (+3.5) lost to Wisconsin 48-28
Michigan (+16.5) lost at Ohio State 37-7
Michigan (+3) lost to Mississippi State 52-14
Michigan was 1-5-1 straight up in regulation the rest of the season...and they never covered another spread. Look at how often Vegas posted a Michigan game near a field goal...only to see a blowout occur. The Wolverines would lose to tri-champions Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State by a combined 123-38 score...before losing their bowl game by 38 points in what was supposed to be a toss-up.
So...don't assume that Brady Hoke has turned things around at Michigan! He may be only "holding serve" to this point in terms of matching last season. And, potentially worse, the beginning of the 2011 gauntlet starts on the road in East Lansing rather than at home.
Here's what's left for Michigan this season:
Saturday: at Michigan State on ESPN
October 29: vs. Purdue
November 5: at Iowa
November 12: at Illinois
November 19: vs. Nebraska
November 26: vs. Ohio State
If this were LAST year, that's a killer schedule. But...let's face it...Iowa has taken a few steps back this year...Nebraska may have taken five or six steps back this year...and Ohio State is just a bunch of imposters wearing uniforms at this point. The stage is set for Michigan to make a very dramatic run in the Big 10. A win Saturday in East Lansing puts them in the driver's seat to WIN the Legends Division! A loss could trigger another free fall...even if the mountain isn't as steep this year in terms of the caliber of opposition.
Our focus today has been on Michigan...but let's also remember that this is a huge game for Michigan State. They already have a win on the road at Ohio State, which was one of their tougher hurdles to deal with this year. They must also be thinking that Saturday's game is make-or-break for the conference crown.
Left for MSU in the Legends Division: Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern
Left for MSU from Leaders Division: Wisconsin and Indiana
Wisconsin is a home game next week...and is one of the few remaining great games on the Big 10 schedule this year because so many teams have taken steps backward. Should Michigan State beat Michigan, they could afford a loss to Wisconsin and still have a tie-breaker edge over the Wolverines because of that straight up victory.
Basically...if Nebraska doesn't find a defense soon...Michigan-Michigan State may be the defacto championship game in the Legends Division.
That's why we'll be watching the matchup so closely. What we see could trigger as many as three or four selections down the road for EACH team. And, there's also a chance that Michigan-MSU will show up as part of our popular TV Triple Crown...or even the 2011 GOLDEN GAME OF THE YEAR that is currently scheduled for this week.
Other possibilities for the TV Triple Crown or GOLDEN GAME:
LSU at Tennessee on CBS
Oklahoma State at Texas on ABC
Baylor at Texas A&M on FX
Alabama at Ole Miss on ESPN2
Arizona State at Oregon on ESPN
We'll start building our bankrolls tonight with Hawaii/San Jose State in the Friday Night game on ESPN. Saturday is a day you absolutely cannot miss because of the GOLDEN GAME. Selections will be up by midmorning here at the website for credit card purchase. You can always take care of business by calling us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.
The great thing about the Saturday GOLDEN GAME (we've won 21 of the last 26 of those by the way), is that we can come back Sunday in the pro's to let the winnings ride for even more cash! Among the NFL games of interest this weekend are:
Dallas at New England
San Francisco at Detroit
Houston at Baltimore
Buffalo at the NY Giants
Philadelphia at Washington
Minnesota at Chicago (Sunday Nighter on NBC)
Then GOLDEN GAME WEEKEND wraps up Monday Night with Miami-NY Jets on ESPN.
Hoke's Heroes may be ready to make a statement in the state of Michigan this Saturday. HURLEY'S HEROES are going to get the money all weekend long!