ANN ARBOR — There’s no chance left for the Michigan football team to win a conference championship, and that fact has forced the Wolverines to temper their goals for the remainder of the season.
Instead of boasting about their hopes of winning a Big Ten title, they’re looking only at Saturday’s game at Northwestern, a team that is in its own tailspin.
“They’re an underrated team,” UM right tackle Mike Schofield said. “Their record is very underestimated. They’re better than people think.”
Schofield, however, didn’t answer to the fact that Northwestern — a team that’s lost all five of its Big Ten games — is a three-point favorite for Saturday’s game in Evanston, Ill., per Sportsbook.com.
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While the NCAA frowns upon any association with gambling, the Vegas odds are indicative of Michigan’s current state.
The Wolverines (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) have lost three of their last four games, and the players and coaches heard the booing of a dissatisfied fan base during Saturday’s 17-13 loss to Nebraska at Michigan Stadium. Are the fans restless?
“They should be,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “It’s Michigan.”
In back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Nebraska, UM has finished with minus-69 yards rushing and has allowed quarterback Devin Gardner to be sacked 14 times. Following those two games, Michigan has dropped to fifth in the six-team Legends Division, behind Michigan State, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa.
“Two weeks ago [against Indiana] we had 700-some yards, and not against a great defensive football team,” Hoke said. “The next week, we play the No. 1 defense in the country [in Michigan State]. We didn’t play as well as we should. We’ve got to keep grinding away. There’s no easy fixes to anything ever in life, and this is life and life lessons. They’re taught that through the game of football.
“You evaluate afterwards. These kids have won six games and lost three. We’ve got three guaranteed opportunities left.”
Many regard Saturday’s Michigan State-Nebraska game as the de facto Legends Division championship game; the Big Ten championship, James Ross III acknowledged, is out of reach for the Wolverines.
"It’s very disappointing to see that’s not able to come about, but that won’t stop us from doing what we need to do,” said Ross, a sophomore linebacker.
The goal for the remainder of the season? Ten wins, as three regular-season games remain and Michigan is bowl-eligible. Will hard work translate to those final four wins?
“I’m very confident in my team,” Ross said. “Knowing how hard our guys worked and how hard we went about this season, we know it’s still there. We know it’s still in our hearts, and I have no doubt we’re going to come out fighting.
“Just because the Big Ten championship is out of reach, we’re not going to let that decide that. We’re going to go hard. That’s just the type of guys we are.”
HAND TO DECIDE: Da’Shawn Hand, the nation’s top 2013 recruit, will announce his college decision Thursday on NBCSN’s SportsDash with Yahoo Sports. Rivals.com ranks Hand, a 6-foot-4, 248-pound defensive end at Woodbridge (Va.) High School, as a five-star recruit whose top three schools are Michigan, Alabama, and Florida.
MARK OUT: Northwestern said senior running back Venric Mark will not return this season because of a broken ankle.
Mark ran for 1,366 yards in 2012 and was named an All-American as a punt returner. He has appeared in three games this season, rushing for 97 yards on 31 carries.
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