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Published: Monday, 11/26/2012

Michigan may be ‘elite’ at 2nd glance

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke saw his Wolverines lose 26-21 to Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. Bowl-schedule practices will give UM time to sharpen its two-quarterback system and a win against a good opponent in a holiday bowl game might change the last impressions of this team. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke saw his Wolverines lose 26-21 to Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. Bowl-schedule practices will give UM time to sharpen its two-quarterback system and a win against a good opponent in a holiday bowl game might change the last impressions of this team.
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Some heavy thinking, perhaps, but it’s still college football over lightly:

Is Michigan among the game’s elite teams?

The record, 8-4 after Saturday’s 26-21 loss at Ohio State, says no.

RELATED ARTICLE: Michigan has time to heal, reflect after loss

The four losses might say otherwise. All came away from the friendly confines of the Big House and came against teams with a combined record, to date, of 45-3.

The Wolverines lost to the only FBS unbeatens, Notre Dame and Ohio State, and to an 11-1 Alabama team that is a win away from meeting Notre Dame in the BCS championship game. The other loss came amidst a quarterback quandary to 10-2 Nebraska, which will be the favorite to win the Big Ten title game and play in the Rose Bowl.

After a magical debut season under Brady Hoke, there was little fairy dust sprinkled over the Wolverines during the 2012 season.

Maybe Hoke’s mistake was being too good, too fast. His declaration that anything short of a Big Ten title is a failed season serves only to heighten expectations and, in turn, disappointments.

An odd and unnecessary risk, going on fourth-and-three short of midfield with the lead early in the second half, backfired on Hoke at Ohio State. What followed was an offensive meltdown wrapped around some curious play-calling.

Bowl-schedule practices will give UM time to sharpen its two-quarterback system and a win against a good opponent in a holiday bowl game might change the last impressions of this team.

■ The Big Ten coach of the year will be either Urban Meyer of Ohio State (12-0) or Bill O’Brien of Penn State (8-4).

Their two teams, both of which are ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions, were a combined 14-2 in conference play. The other four members of the Leaders Division were a combined 9-23.

■ Bowls look at teams differently than you and I might, but here’s how we’d rate the attractiveness of those Big Ten teams that are eligible, the last three courtesy of 6-6 records:

1. Nebraska; 2. Michigan; 3. Northwestern; 4. Wisconsin; 5. Michigan State; 6. Purdue; 7. Minnesota.

■ Now, the same for the Mid-American Conference, five of which figure to receive bids:

1. Northern Illinois; 2. Kent State; 3. Ball State; 4. Toledo; 5. Bowling Green; 6. Ohio; 7. Central Michigan.

■ While we’re in a “lists” mood, here is one man’s ranking of FBS leagues:

1. SEC (no debate allowed); 2. Pac-12; 3. Big 12; 4. Big Ten; 5. ACC; 6. Mid-American; 7. Mountain West; 8. Big East; 9. WAC; 10. Conference USA; 11. Sun Belt.

■ One day after the vast majority of teams ended the regular season, heads rolled. The ax fell Sunday on Auburn coach Gene Chizik (two years after a national championship), North Carolina State’s Tom O’Brien, Boston College’s Frank Spaziani, and Purdue’s Danny Hope.

They hit the unemployment line with Cal’s Jeff Tedford, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Western Michigan’s Bill Cubit, whose dismissals were announced earlier.

Undoubtedly, there will be more.

■ Finally, it has been 24 seasons since Notre Dame last won a national championship and very few expect that drought to end if the Irish line up opposite Alabama in the BCS title game.

Two things — the Domers have played a better schedule than most casual fans realize and their defense might be as good as any in the country.

Notre Dame is 12-0 and nine of the wins came against bowl-eligible teams. Only one of those nine opponents scored more than 14 points and four were held to 10 or fewer points.

The Irish should not be a pushover for anybody.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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