ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team has been terrible as an underdog under coach Jim Harbaugh, but it will have to buck that trend it if hopes to survive a trip to Wisconsin this weekend.
Most of the preseason hype that tabbed the Wolverines as Big Ten favorites has evaporated in the first three weeks of the season. Not only has Michigan looked shaky in early tests against Middle Tennessee State and Army, but Ohio State, Wisconsin and other Big Ten teams have looked even better than expected.
Over the last nine days since a double-overtime win against Army, Michigan's stock has plummeted. It dropped four spots in the AP poll despite being undefeated and is being written off as perhaps the fourth- or fifth-best team in the conference.
But, for once, could that actually help the Wolverines?
For more than a week, the players have had to sit around and listen to talk about how disappointing they've been -- all while owning a 2-0 record. Nobody expects Michigan to go into Madison and steal a win from a Wisconsin team that won its first two games by a combined score of 110-0.
In this situation, Michigan has been awful under Harbaugh.
From 2015 to 2017, Michigan went into six games as the underdog:
- Sept. 3, 2015: 24-17 loss at Utah
- Nov. 28, 2015: 42-13 loss to Ohio State
- Nov. 26, 2016: 30-27 loss at Ohio State in double overtime
- Oct. 21, 2017: 42-13 loss at Penn State
- Nov. 18, 2017: 24-10 loss at Wisconsin
- Nov. 25, 2017: 31-20 loss to Ohio State
Michigan isn't just 0-6 as an underdog, it has been blown out in the majority of these games. The 2016 Ohio State game is the only one in which Michigan really had a chance to win.
This weekend, the Wolverines are 3.5-point underdogs, and that line could grow before Saturday arrives.
In these types of games, Harbaugh teams have often looked tight in big games. When something goes wrong, everything will implode. Michigan is never able to bounce back and turn the game around.
Michigan has had two weeks to prepare for this game, and unlike in most seasons, expectations are trending downward. Instead of feeling pressure, Michigan should go into the game with a chip on its shoulder.
It would be the first time that has happened since Harbaugh arrived. And don't even try to bring up the 2018 "Revenge Tour."
Michigan has a talented roster, but that hasn't translated to an impressive product on the field the first two games.
Shea Patterson, in particular, should go into Madison with something to prove. With three lost fumbles and several errant throws so far this season, nobody has come under the microscope more so than Patterson.
As a returning starter and senior, he should look more polished. This is his chance to show the first two weeks aren't simply who he is.
Michigan isn't on the same level as Ohio State again this year, but it will get even worse if Michigan is blown out at Wisconsin.
This feels like a turning point in the season. Michigan will either rise to the occasion and win a game it's not supposed to for the first time under Harbaugh, or the season will head down a familiar track and the Wolverines won't be Big Ten title contenders.
It's about time Michigan surprises the country with a win, not a loss. If they go into Madison with a chip on their shoulder instead of a fear of losing, the Wolverines are talented enough to pull an upset.