MADISON, Wis. — Michigan is all but eliminated from contention for the Big Ten East Division championship and, by extension, the Big Ten championship.
The 24-10 loss at No. 5 Wisconsin on Saturday pushed the No. 24 Wolverines further out of the race, and an impending Ohio State win eliminates the Wolverines completely. The Buckeyes were routing Illinois 45-7 in the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines likely will fall out of the College Football Playoff rankings, too, and they lost their starting quarterback.
Michigan doesn’t have much of a chance to win the Big Ten title anymore. But it still has a chance to redeem itself.
Michigan (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten) can punctuate its season with a win Nov. 25 against archrival Ohio State. A win against the Buckeyes can salvage a season that’s gone strangely awry, but has remained strangely successful, despite a merry-go-round of quarterbacks, the lack of wins against ranked teams, the wins against teams with losing records and the losses to Top 25 teams.
Michigan is also bowl eligible. The likelihood of making a New Year’s Six bowl is all but out of the picture. A win against Wisconsin would have vaulted Michigan into at least the top 15 in the CFP rankings.
Instead, Michigan can hope for a bid to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., or the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
Before it starts thinking about bowl destinations, however, Michigan has to focus on maximizing itself in the final week of the regular season.
Michigan must figure out how to compensate for and withstand the possible loss of quarterback Brandon Peters. Wisconsin’s Andrew Van Ginkel sacked Peters on third-and-5 from the Michigan 30 late in the third quarter. Peters left the field on a cart, then went to the locker room in a wheelchair. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t have an immediate update on Peters after the game.
“The next quarterback has got to come in and step up and help us get some wins,” linebacker/viper Khaleke Hudson said.
That means John O’Korn could return as Michigan’s starting quarterback, after four less-than-stellar starts in October. Or Wilton Speight could make a miraculous return after missing seven games with cracked vertebrae, sustained Sept. 23 at Purdue.
“I think John’s completely capable of running our offense,” Wolverines running back Chris Evans said. “I think he’ll do a fine job for us. He treats every week like he’s the starting quarterback. I think he’ll be ready to go.”
But O’Korn can only do so much for the Wolverines, who squandered a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter against the Badgers. The Wolverines hurt themselves Saturday with a lack of third-down conversions (5 of 17) and a lack of substantial offensive plays. Of Michigan’s 48 rushes and completions, only 3 went for more than 20 yards — all pass plays.
“We beat ourselves [Saturday],” defensive lineman Maurice Hurst said.
“I felt like the game was in our hands coming out of the second half, and we just didn’t execute. I feel like there has to be some more execution, especially coming into this next game.”
“This next game” is one of Michigan’s last games, and it’s their final opportunity to make their corrections. “This next game” has to be Michigan’s best game. There is still a lot at stake.
“Just keep fighting,” Harbaugh said. “This one hurts, but we’ll keep fighting, keep battling.”