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Michigan football doesn't look like Big Ten championship contender despite 2-0 start

Sloppy Wolverines survive home tests against Middle Tennessee State, Army

Khaleke Hudson #7 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. of the Army Black Knights fumbled the ball which was recovered by Michigan during the second overtime to end the game at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team is 2-0, but you wouldn't know it if you took a stroll through the streets of Ann Arbor.

Michigan survived a major scare this weekend, beating Army in double overtime without leading the entire 60 minutes of regulation. The second showing compounded concerns that arose during Michigan' less-than-dominant performance against Middle Tennessee State in the opener.

MORE: Michigan defense quietly off to excellent start, with one major exception

Now, a team that was just weeks ago picked as the favorite to win the Big Ten championship hardly feels like a true contender.

Before we dive into that, let's get a few things straight:

  • Every indication suggests Army is a very good football team. The Black Knights went 11-2 last season and arrived in Ann Arbor on a 10-game winning streak. During the preseason and leading up to the game, Army was a popular upset pick. After the game was close, people don't want to give the Black Knights any credit. It seems a bit hypocritical.
  • Whether or not Army is a great team, playing Army is weird. The preparation is unique and the challenges teams face during the game are unique. Michigan has been preparing for the triple option since the spring, but only a game against Army can truly prepare a team to play Army.
  • As impressive as some Big Ten teams have looked, it's hard to know if their competition has been any good. Did Wisconsin beat a solid Group of Five team in South Florida, or a team that won't go to a bowl game? Was Syracuse a deserving top 25 team when it got demolished by Maryland? We'll know the answers in a month or two.
  • Michigan's struggles

    The sudden exodus from the Michigan bandwagon isn't just a result of needing overtime to beat Army or allowing Middle Tennessee State to put up 21 points. It's more about how Michigan doesn't look anything like what the coaches promised in the offseason.

    All we heard out of Ann Arbor was how dynamic the Josh Gattis offense would be and how it perfectly fit Shea Patterson's playing style.

    Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines shouts for an official during the first half of a game against the Army Black Knights at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

    Michigan put up 14 points in regulation against Army. It needed two overtimes to get to 340 total yards. Where are the explosive plays? Where's the speed in space?

    Michigan's biggest play against the Black Knights was a Michael Barrett pass to Daxton Hill on a fake punt. It was a gimmick. The vaunted Michigan offense needed a trick play from a linebacker to a true freshman safety to kickstart its first scoring drive.

    Army is a disciplined team that stays within itself and executes at a high level. But Michigan is supposed to have the athletes to run away from the Black Knights on offense. Where were the big plays from Tarik Black? Or Nico Collins? Or Nick Eubanks?

    Wide Receiver Nico Collins #4 of the Michigan Wolverines gets tackled by defensive back Jaylon McClinton #7 of the Army Black Knights during the second half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

    Where was true freshman sensation Mike Sainristil, who the coaches hailed as a breakout candidate? Even with Donovan Peoples-Jones on the sideline, he hasn't been a factor in the first two games.

    Michigan hasn't been explosive on offense, that's for certain. Combine that with a chronic fumbling problem and you've got exactly what happened Saturday: an offensive disaster.

    After fumbling four times against MTSU in the opener, Michigan did so again this weekend. Last year, the Wolverines lost three fumbles in 13 games. They've already lost five fumbles this season.

    READHow Ronnie Bell came up clutch time after time vs. Army

    Michigan's archaic 2018 offense rarely made big plays. The only difference so far this year is that it also turns the ball over.

    And the defenses are only going to get tougher as Big Ten play begins.

    Other Big Ten teams

    Sure, Michigan is mostly to blame for no longer being the favorite to win the conference, but the performances of other top teams also have to be considered.

    Most notably, Ohio State looks as dangerous as ever.

    Assuming the Buckeyes would take a step back with Justin Fields was inherently flawed in the first place, considering he was a top 10 all-time recruit out of high school and looked capable in limited opportunities at Georgia.

    But so far, Ohio State has looked nothing short of elite.

    Quarterback Justin Fields #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes eludes the tackle attempts of Bryan Wright #11 and Arquon Bush #9 of the Cincinnati Bearcats while picking up yardage in the first quarter at Ohio Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

    The Buckeyes played an 11-win team of their own this weekend, destroying Cincinnati 42-0. There's absolutely no question that Ohio State has the most talented roster in the Big Ten. The question was whether Ryan Day and Fields could keep up the level of play the Urban Meyer established.

    Early returns suggest the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

    Fields is completing 76% percent of his passes for an average of 9.2 yards per attempt. He's thrown six touchdown passes and run for three more without an interception.

    Ohio State is the favorite in the Big Ten East, and it's not close.

    The rest of the league looks strong, as well. Wisconsin won its first two games by a combined score of 110-0, including a 49-0 blowout at South Florida.

    Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers scores a touchdown past Norman Anderson #16 of the Central Michigan Chippewas in the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium on September 07, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    Maryland hosted No. 21 Syracuse this weekend and smoked the Orange by 43 points. The Terps have put up 142 points in two games under Mike Locksley.

    Even Michigan State's offense showed massive improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, dropping 51 points on Western Michigan.

    The Big Ten, especially the East Division, has looked incredible through two weeks. That further compounds the concerns about Michigan.

    Does it really matter?

    The bad news for Michigan is that its flaws are real, legitimate concerns going forward. The good news: Michigan is still 2-0 and still has a chance to correct those issues going forward.

    For example, think about Ohio State's 2018 regular season. The Buckeyes not only got their doors blown off by Purdue, they also struggled against the likes of Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Maryland. For weeks the narrative was the Ohio State wasn't dominant, so much so that Michigan somehow went into Columbus as the favorite.

    But when championship time rolled around, Ohio State was back, blowing past Michigan, Northwestern and Washington to win a Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl.

    Daxton Hill #30 of the Michigan Wolverines carries the ball after making a catch against the Army Black Knights on a fake punt during the first half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

    Michigan could still turn the season around, but it needs to improve.

    And it needs to be fast. A trip to Wisconsin looms after the bye week, and the Badgers look like the better team so far. Jack Coan is an upgrade at quarterback. Jonathan Taylor is the most dangerous running back in the nation. The Badgers defense is strong.

    Forget the Big Ten championship -- Michigan has at least seven difficult individual games to worry about. A schedule that includes Wisconsin, Penn State, Maryland, Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State has never looked more daunting. Michigan needs to figure things out in a hurry.


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