ANN ARBOR - Quarterback John Navarre huddled with some of his teammates Saturday to watch college football during Michigan s off week. And they had quite an enjoyable day.
First, Miami lost to Tennessee. Then Florida State lost to Clemson. And Virginia Tech lost at Pittsburgh.
Those three results allowed the fifth-ranked Wolverines (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) to climb back into the national championship race.
They are ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches polls and No. 8 in the Bowl Championship Series standings that were released last night.
“I don t even know for sure if we re back in the [national championship] race - that s something that s out of our hands,” Navarre said yesterday. “We re going to focus on the only thing that s still in our hands, and that s the Big Ten championship.”
UM is the highest ranked team in the polls with two losses. With victories over Northwestern (5-5, 3-3) Saturday and No. 4 Ohio State (9-1, 5-1) on Nov. 22, plus losses by No. 2 Southern Cal and No. 3 Louisiana State, the Wolverines likely have a chance to finish No. 2 in the BCS and play No. 1 Oklahoma for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl.
“I think our players realize those polls are great for the interest they generate, but they don t have a lot of meaning at this point,” coach Lloyd Carr said. “Really, they don t have any meaning at all [until the season s over].
“[But] as long as there are games to be played, I think anything s possible.”
Navarre, a fifth-year senior, is focused on helping Michigan win its first Big Ten title since 2000, when it shared the crown with Northwestern and Purdue. The Wolverines are one of three teams tied for the conference lead, along with Ohio State and Purdue, which play Saturday in Columbus.
“The next two weeks are very important for us,” Navarre said. “There are a lot of seniors who are winding down their careers who still haven t won a championship here. It s very important for us, and for me, to get one in the next two weeks.
“The Big Ten championship is our first goal and the Rose Bowl is our bigger goal. But if we don t win out, we re not going to do anything or go anywhere [of any significance]. We know that and it makes our job easier of not looking past Northwestern. They re a good ballclub and they re dangerous. They re going to play us well.”
Michigan, 7-2 after off weeks under Carr, has won seven of its last 10 matchups against Northwestern, but is just 3-3 in the last six games. The last time the two teams played, in 2000 in Evanston, Ill., the Wildcats upset the Wolverines 54-51.
“Anybody who takes [Northwestern] lightly, or not seriously, is foolish,” defensive end Larry Stevens said.
Navarre, who grew up in Cudahy, Wis., less than an hour from Northwestern s campus and chose the Wolverines over the Wildcats, will get a chance to play in front of his friends and family for the final time Saturday.
He will be making his 40th career start, ranking him second behind Rick Leach, who made 47 starts from 1975-78. Navarre is 29-10 as a starter, and with a victory over the Wildcats he would tie Elvis Grbac for the second-most wins by a UM quarterback. Leach went 38-8-1.
Navarre has a 19-2 career mark at Michigan Stadium, but is just 10-8 on the road. Eight of those losses have come by a touchdown or less, including four by three or fewer points.
He is completing 57.6 percent of his passes for 2,494 yards and 19 touchdowns, tops in the Big Ten. He ranks second in total offense and passing offense to Michigan State s Jeff Smoker.
“John s been playing very well, and our team has been playing well, but we can t get full of ourselves,” tailback Chris Perry said. “We have two games to go. Anybody in the Big Ten can beat you at their home. We have to focus on Northwestern first before we can worry about anything else.”
The Wolverines are riding a season-high four-game winning streak, thanks to that incredible 31-point fourth-quarter explosion to beat No. 17 Minnesota 38-35 in Minneapolis on Oct. 10.
“That was a wakeup call for the whole team,” Navarre said.
Michigan also has evened its road record at 2-2, after starting the year by dropping the first two, at Oregon (31-27) and Iowa (30-27).
“Our mind-set now is that we have to finish this thing off,” Navarre said. “We had a much-needed break this past weekend and we re going to work hard this week in practice to make sure we don t come out flat against Northwestern.
“We want to keep this momentum going, on both offense and defense.”