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Published: Sunday, 10/9/2005

Are Wolverines uninspired, or are they just mediocre?

ANN ARBOR - Let's hope the University of Michigan football team was flat as week-old bubbly yesterday against its former personal Big Ten punching bag.

Let's hope the Wolverines lost their mental and physical edge after knocking off arch-rival Michigan State a week ago and have yet to recover.

Otherwise, coach Lloyd Carr, his players and their vast legion of fans will be forced to confront a harsh reality after the Wolverines wound up with egg on their faces in their inexcusable 23-20 loss to Minnesota at Michigan Stadium.

It's 2005. Do you know where your defending Big Ten champions are?

Michigan isn't Michigan anymore.

"It's not a good feeling losing like this," senior linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.

The Wolverines don't strike fear in their opponents. They are filled with self-doubt and

confusion.

Michigan (1-2 in the Big Ten) is 3-3 for the first time since 1990. The Wolverines lost to Minnesota - also losing the coveted Little Brown Jug that is awarded to the winning team - for the first time in 19 years.

"It's been 19 years since we've had the Brown Jug," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "We have some guys in the locker room right now who aren't 19 years old!"

Touche.

Carr used to be Mason's kryptonite. Before yesterday, he was Amos Alonzo Stagg against Mason (6-0) and was 8-0 against Minnesota.

Following yet another disappointing loss, Carr could only repeat the same tired cliches he has summoned all year.

"We are going to try to regroup," Carr said. "You've got to fight. It's a challenge and we have to step up to meet it."

Carr didn't address another possibility. That maybe Michigan has already played its best football. Maybe this is as good as it gets for UM.

After all, good teams don't lose every other week, as Michigan has done since a Sept. 10 home loss against Notre Dame.

Unless they're overrated.

Michigan is reeling. In fact, with road games remaining against Iowa and Northwestern and home games against Penn State, Indiana and Ohio State, if the Wolverines don't develop some week-to-week consistency, they could become the first UM team to post a losing record since 1967.

"Since I've been here, there hasn't been anything like this," senior wide receiver Jason Avant said.

"It's a nightmare," added sophomore running back Mike Hart.

No, actually, yesterday's performance was merely more of the same: Michigan doing what it has done all year.

Squandering scoring opportunities. Failing to make key defensive stops. Missing clutch field goals. Making excuses for injuries.

There's no getting around the truth. At best, Michigan is an average college football team.

Some weeks the Wolverines are on top of their game. Last week's 34-31 overtime win at Michigan State was outstanding.

But one week after getting their swagger back, the Wolverines are painfully close to conceding the Big Ten title and reduced to playing for pride. Wonders never cease.



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