The state of the Michigan football program has been examined from just about every angle possible this week, following a home loss to Utah and the stains of a 31-0 defeat at Notre Dame still settling. The Coca-Cola ticket deal did not help, but this week has seen detailed looks at the struggles at Michigan ranging from the job security for head coach Brady Hoke, the questions to be answered at quarterback and the performance of athletics director performance of athletics director Dave Brandon. As if that was not bad enough, we also saw retrospective pieces on Michigan’s 1994 loss at home to Colorado. If any team has a need to hit a reset button on the 2014 season, it just might be Michigan.
This weekend Michigan will open up Big Ten play at home against Minnesota in the battle for the Little Brown Jug. It may be too late to completely restore the image of Michigan football, which has been slowly rusting since Hoke’s first season in Ann Arbor, but opening up the conference schedule with a win could be just what Michigan needs to turn things around. At least for a week. In a purely hypothetical and technical matter of speaking, Michigan can still play for and win the Big Ten championship. That likely requires beating Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State (in that order) just to get to Indianapolis, but even winning just two of those three games could be enough. You have to think Hoke leading Michigan to a conference championship would silence critics and save his job, right? How often is a coach let go after winning a power conference championship?
This is not to say Michigan should be considered on the same level as Michigan State, but this is the beauty of college football’s regular season structure. The performance in non-conference games can determine if a team is a national title contender, but most everybody gets a chance to reset the season with the opening of conference play. Even you, Purdue.
What are some other teams that could use a conference schedule to save the season?
Fresno State comes to mind in the Mountain West Conference. The defending MWC champs had some big shoes to fill on the roster this season and starting out with USC, Utah and Nebraska was a rough way to make any transition. At 1-3, the Bulldogs should enjoy getting back into conference play this weekend. Outside of a road trip to Boise State, Fresno State still looks like a top contender out of the West Division. Fresno State visits New Mexico tonight.
Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt should look forward to getting back to conference play this weekend as well. The Ragin’ Cajuns went through non-conference play with a record of 1-3 and lost three straight decisive games to Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and Boise State by a combined score of 138-44.
Hit those reset buttons and make the most of whatever is left on the schedule. This is what conference play is all about.