ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The marquee non-conference game on Michigan football’s schedule has a very different feel this week after No. 20 Washington lost to Montana, an FCS team.
Michigan will host Washington on Saturday night in what figured to be the first of many top-25 games for the Wolverines. Instead, the Huskies will drop from the rankings after starting the season on a sour note.
Montana is widely regarded as one of the top teams in FCS, so it’s not as if Washington lost to a group of scrubs. But as the 20th-ranked team in the preseason, Washington has conference title and New Year’s Six aspirations, and Saturday was an opportunity for Michigan to pick up a signature win.
Now, the narrative will completely change.
If Michigan wins, instead of getting credit for beating a ranked team, the sentiment will be, “Michigan beat the team that lost to Montana.” On the other hand, a loss to Washington would now be viewed in a much worse light, especially since it’s the very next week.
Yes, Washington had a rough first game. But this is still a team capable of beating Michigan and competing for a Pac-12 championship. The Wolverines can’t afford to lose focus or take the Huskies lightly.
Not only is former Michigan receiver Giles Jackson coming back to the Big House seeking some revenge against his old teammates, but Washington returned 10 starters on offense and eight starters on defense from a year ago.
This is an experienced team, and it will arrive in Ann Arbor eager to get back on track. A road win against Michigan -- even an unranked Michigan -- would go a long way toward erasing the bad feelings from last week.
The feel of this week’s night game has changed, but the reality of it hasn’t. Michigan still has to prepare for the same players, the same scheme and maybe even a little added desperation.
Washington presents an opportunity for Michigan to reassert itself as one of the better teams in the Big Ten. Jim Harbaugh and his staff need to make sure the Montana game doesn’t affect preparation as much as it will perception of the game.