ANN ARBOR, Mich. - What's next for the Michigan football program?
It's only been five days since the beatdown in Madison, but with fans, experts and rivals piling on the shortcomings of the Jim Harbaugh era, it's seemed much longer.
Michigan just needs to get back on the field, and Saturday's game against Rutgers couldn't come at a better time.
Rutgers is the worst team in the Big Ten and a near 30-point underdog against the Wolverines. This is Michigan's last tune-up game before a brutal eight-game stretch to end the season, so the offense needs to click and the defense needs to plug up the holes exposed by the Badgers.
If Michigan can put together a complete performance, even against Rutgers, that would be the first step toward putting the Wisconsin debacle in the rearview mirror.
Then, No. 14 Iowa comes to Ann Arbor. The Hawkeyes will be 4-0 heading into that matchup, including an impressive road win over rival Iowa State.
Iowa is very good, especially at the quarterback position. Nate Stanley is a reliable senior who doesn't turn the ball over and can make all the throws. The Hawkeye defense will be the closest to Wisconsin's that Michigan has seen.
But Michigan should at least be able to hang with Iowa at home, and if it can find a way to win the game, it could be a much-needed confidence booster heading into a pair of road games.
Michigan doesn't look like a team that can compete with ranked opponents, so a win over Iowa would be just what the doctor ordered.
A trip to Illinois completes the three-game stretch, and although the Fighting Illini look better this season and have Michigan transfer Brandon Peters at quarterback, they also lost to Eastern Michigan and struggled at Connecticut.
The talent gap between Michigan and Illinois is so wide, the Wolverines should be able to win, even on the road.
Wins over Rutgers, Iowa and Illinois won't cure what happened in Wisconsin, but that stretch gives Michigan an opportunity to get back on track, beat a ranked opponent and win a road game.
After this stretch, absolutely no games are guaranteed, so Michigan needs to be 5-1 at the end of the first half.
A lot can change during a college football season. Penn State got smashed by Michigan in 2016 before winning the conference title. Ohio State has lost in blowout fashion to unranked teams each of the last two years and still come within inches of the College Football Playoff.
Michigan could still salvage the 2019 season, but it has to start this weekend and carry over into the following two weeks.
Last year, the Wolverines responded to their first loss with 10 straight victories. After being down 35-0 in Madison, a 5-1 start to the season wouldn't sound so bad.
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