You’d be excused if you saw this NJ.com headline — Michigan third team to be installed as huge favorite vs. Rutgers — and thought the writer was poking fun at one team’s hype and another’s woes, as opposed to pointing out a fact heading into Saturday’s game.
I mean, the same article includes a video in which the Rutgers football writers, at least one of whom took great offense to Jim Harbaugh recruiting in New Jersey, desperately searching for a single positive from Rutgers’ 58-0 loss to Ohio State on Saturday. They eventually come up with two: a RU player who was carted off the field appears to be OK and Illinois is the opponent in two weeks.
Harbaugh said in his postgame press conference, after Michigan beat Wisconsin to improve to 5-0, and again in his presser yesterday, that Michigan will treat Saturday like a championship game. And, really, that mindset works in college football, where one loss really can derail your championship hopes.
Still, after five straight home games, the last against a top-10 team, an emotional let-down would be understandable. A former Wolverine who stays in touch with current player tells me the coaches, seniors, and other team leaders won’t allow it. Michigan and also-unbeaten Ohio State are always sizing each other up, and the former player added that Harbaugh will want to beat Rutgers by a bigger margin than the Buckeyes did.
The Wolverines are only favored by 28 points. And it is their first road of the season (I’m nearly certain no other team this season has gone this long without leaving campus). Might the first road trip affect the freshmen? Unlikely. There’s a strong New Jersey presence on the team, there will be plenty of maize and blue in the stands, and, just for the heck of it, let’s recall that Jim Harbaugh’s first Stanford team, in 2007, won its first road game of the season — against No. 2 USC as a 41-point underdog.