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ichigan won’t make the
College Football Playoff
this year. It hasn’t been
statistically eliminated from the Big
Ten, but for now, its chances of a
conference title
reside on tech-
nicalities and
blind hope.
Those were
the goals the
Wolverines har-
bored before the
season started,
the goals they
kept clinging
onto after Wis-
consin blitzed them in Madison last
“We know that we’re gonna see
them again in my hometown, for the
Big Ten championship,” said redshirt
freshman linebacker Cam McGrone
a week after that loss. “I don’t really
mind hearing it, cause I know when
we see them again, we’re gonna
smack ‘em in the mouth.”
Barring an unforeseen charge by
Michigan and multiple slip-ups from
Ohio State and Penn State, that’s not
going to happen.
“Win our next game,” Jim Har-
baugh said this week when asked
what would make a successful sea-

son. “That’s our goal.”
There’s not much else to say at this
point. There is no big-picture goal
because all of those evaporated into
the State College night last Saturday.
As far as front-facing public declara-
tions go, brash statements have been
beaten out of the Wolverines.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing
to salvage for the season. The gulf
between 7-5 and 10-2 is still wide,
both in terms of public perception
and of what this season will mean
to those inside Schembechler Hall.
Michigan, in many ways, is playing
only for itself at this point. That’s not
Much as everything with this
program centers around Harbaugh’s
record on the road against ranked
teams — the record that ultimately
brought down his team this year —
he still has the opportunity to notch
wins against Michigan’s rivals. He
has yet to beat Ohio State in four
tries. He lost in his first matchup
against Notre Dame last year. He has
yet to beat Michigan State at home,
with a lackluster 2-2 record against
the Spartans.
That adds up to a 2-7 record
against Michigan’s biggest rivals,
despite the Wolverines being favored
in six of those nine games. As far as

reversing narratives go, there’s still a
pretty big one staring Harbaugh, and
Michigan, in the face.
Much as the Wolverines have
disappointed this year, all three of
those games are at home. Winning
all of them is a tall order, especially
with Ohio State looking like one of
the best teams in the country. Notre
Dame and the Buckeyes are both top-
10 teams. But beat them and nobody
will go into the offseason feeling
apprehensive about Josh Gattis as
offensive coordinator, and nobody
will feel anything but good about
2020. Do that and Michigan can claw
its way to a New Year’s Six bowl,
giving way to unfounded optimism
around the program.
If the Wolverines take moral
victories against those three teams,
they’ll have their worst season since
2014, when they went 5-7, missed a
bowl game and fired Brady Hoke.
That’s what these next six weeks
No equivocating. Not if Michigan
wants to be considered a top-tier
“Do you define struggling as,
are you winning the games? If you
look at it in terms of winning, yeah,
I guess our record doesn’t really
reflect everything that goes into it,”

said Carlo Kemp when asked about
struggles against top-10 teams this
week. “... But we fought (against Penn
State). We fought our way all the way
back to present ourselves with an
opportunity to win the game. And
the score of the game and the records
of those ranked matchups that you’re
talking about, they don’t reflect that.
And it’s a curse and it’s a blessing. It
doesn’t reflect everything that goes
into those games and the preparation
and how they’ve been on your mind
since the last time you played them
or the last time you lost to them.
“Sometimes, they don’t go your
way. But you don’t document the
fight or the good plays and the posi-
tives of those games. The only thing
that gets reported is the score and
the record.”
It might be wrong to say that
Michigan struggled at Penn State
when it had a chance to tie the game
at the 3-yard line and force overtime.
But there is no doubt that Michigan
has struggled to win these kinds of
games. Fair or not, that’s what mat-
ters in the end.
Most of Michigan’s players and
coaches fell into Harbaugh’s rheto-
ric — “win our next game” — when
asked about bigger-picture goals this
week. It fell to senior quarterback

Shea Patterson to expand on that.
“We have an opportunity,” Pat-
terson said. “We have a decision
to make. Our goal is to win every
game the rest of the season. I love
this team. We’re all so close, and we
trust each other, and we love playing
together. I don’t think there is any
other goal than to just win.”
Do that, and this season will feel
a whole lot different at the end of
November than it does right now.

Sears can be reached at searseth@

umich.edu or on Twitter @ethan_sears.

What’s left to play for?



Jim Harbaugh has struggled against Michigan’s rivals.

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