John U. Bacon: U of M, MSU, and Big Ten football are all flying high. Can they keep it up?
It's been a good month and a half for fans of the Spartans and Wolverines. The football teams at Michigan State and Michigan are both 6-0 and ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Morning Edition host Doug Tribou checked in with Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon to talk about what's ahead for the two teams.
Saturday's schedule: Michigan State at Indiana at noon. Michigan - bye. Next game October 23 vs. Northwestern.
Doug Tribou: Michigan State is 6-0 for the first time since 2015. The Spartans are ranked 10th in the nation and they'll be on the road against Indiana Saturday at noon. Beyond a win, what will head coach Mel Tucker be looking for from his team during this one?
John U. Bacon: Look simply, this is a trap game. Indiana was a great team last year, but right now they're struggling. They're 2-3. They're losing to everybody big. The temptation here is to look ahead to [the] bye week after [Indiana] for Michigan State and then, of course, a certain game against a certain in-state rival. So, his whole task this week is to not look ahead. Keep doing what they're doing. They're playing great football. His focus has been incredible. And right now, he's got to be in the very short list for coaches of the year. He's done a phenomenal job.
DT: John, the Wolverines are off this weekend. Their next game is on October 23 at home against Northwestern. Michigan's coming off a wild down-to-the-last-second win over Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are unranked. They've had their struggles this season. So what did that game tell us about Michigan's chances to keep winning in the back half of the regular season?
[October 30] could be, if not the greatest Michigan Michigan State game of all time, one of the top five or so just going into it.John U. Bacon
JUB: On the bad side, as you point out, Nebraska is 3-4. It's not a great team and you're on the road and so on. They felt very good to get out of that game with a victory. But that's not Ohio State. That's certainly not Alabama. It's not Penn State. It's not Michigan State, so that was revealing in that sense. The flip side is they showed a lot of grit. It's the first time they've been behind all season and they came back and found a way to win. I'll also add that Nebraska might be the best at 3-4 team out there. They took Michigan State to overtime and lost. They're playing better and better, so it's not a bad win [for Michigan].
Michigan is going to face [on Oct. 23] Northwestern, so that's another trap game right there because they're playing poorly this year. In both cases, you're playing lesser opponents and you're trying not to look ahead to the big game: Michigan vs. Michigan State.
DT: In the Associated Press national rankings, the Big Ten conference accounts for five of the Top 10. So, in addition to Michigan State and Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa are also in the top 10 — Iowa, No. 2 right now. Rankings can change very quickly in the heart of a football schedule. Which of those Big Ten teams are likely to stay near the top in the long run?
JUB: This one is pretty simple, actually. I would say Iowa, for sure. They're No. 2 right now. They play in the West Division, which is much easier than the East Division, and they'll be favored in every game going forward. So, if they stumble, it's their fault. Second would be Ohio State. They do have a loss to Oregon early on this season, but they're still the best team, I think, in the East. They're going to play all the big boys coming up Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan. But the fact is, Doug, that these teams are going to devour their own, as they say. They have five of the top 10. That's the first time that's ever happened in the history of the AP poll. The Big Ten, by that measure, has never been stronger, but they're about to beat each other up pretty badly.
DT: Well, John, one day that could have an effect on those rankings, as well, is coming up on Oct. 30, that's when Michigan visits Michigan State for their annual matchup.
JUB: Speaking of history, they've not both been in the Top 10 for that matchup since 1964. Even more amazing this time, they usually play the fourth or fifth game of the season. This will be the eighth game of the season, and they might still be undefeated based on the [results of the] next two weekends. That could be, if not the greatest Michigan Michigan State game of all time, one of the top five or so just going into it. That's a big one.