Now, after losing to a Penn State team that came in 0-5 with losses to Maryland, Nebraska and Iowa by a combined 43 points over the last three weeks, that opportunity has passed.
At 2-4 with games against Maryland, Ohio State and one remaining team in the Big Ten West, Michigan has essentially guaranteed itself a losing record for 2020, unless the Buckeyes have to cancel the Michigan game due to COVID-19.
It’s a shocking drop for a program that had never come close to this type of performance under Jim Harbaugh, winning 10, 10, eight, 10 and nine games in each of his first five season.
Yes, it’s been a strange, unpredictable year because of the pandemic. But that’s something every team has had to deal with.
Defense was a problem once again Saturday, allowing 417 yards and 27 points to a Penn State offense missing three of its best players -- Pat Freiermuth, Journey Brown and Noah Cain -- and dealing with a quarterback controversy.
Unlike in previous games, it was the rushing attack that killed Michigan, as the Nittany Lions rushed for 254 yards and 5.1 yards per attempt.
Calls for Michigan to replace Don Brown at defensive coordinator have intensified. In previous years, even though he was getting exposed against Ohio State, Brown was at least keeping Michigan near the top of the country against the rest of the Big Ten.
Now, with teams like Rutgers and Penn State putting on offensive clinics against the Maize and Blue, there’s little for Brown to fall back on.
The difference between last week and this week: The offense was also terrible.
An early injury to Cade McNamara derailed any chance Michigan had in the game. During a quarterback run just before a touchdown, McNamara took a hard hit and came up favoring his right shoulder. Even when he came back after missing a couple of drives, McNamara clearly was not the same.
He finished the game just 12 of 25 for 91 yards. Joe Milton completed just one of three pass attempts in relief.
Mike Sainristil had a difficult day with Giles Jackson sidelined due to injury. He dropped what would have been a first down on Milton’s second drive, then muffed a punt to set up a Penn State score after the defense got a stop.
That felt like a nail in the coffin, and Michigan never recovered.
Hassan Haskins was the only offensive bright spot, turning 17 carries into 101 yards and two touchdowns. Michigan has clearly found its No. 1 running back.
Other than that, well, Michigan fans can only hope to forget about the 2020 season.
Michigan appears destined to finish the season winless at home unless it can rebound and knock off a Maryland team that’s in a much better place than the Wolverines. Taulia Tagovailoa is a talented quarterback, and the Terrapins are trending in the opposite direction as Michigan.
With a beatdown looming in Columbus the following week, will the Wolverines even show up on Saturday? It’s a question that shouldn’t need to be asked, but unfortunately, we simply don’t know the answer.