As Michigan faces Iowa for Big Ten title, Wolverines also have College Football Playoff hopes
Michigan will take on Iowa in the Big Ten Football Championship Saturday night in Indianapolis. The Wolverines will be trying to win their first conference title under head coach Jim Harbaugh. And with a win, Michigan is likely to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff, and a shot at a national title.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about the matchup and how it could affect Michigan State's chances of securing a spot in one of the premier college football bowl games.
Big Ten Football Championship: Michigan vs. Iowa at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Saturday at 8 p.m.
Doug Tribou: We haven’t spoken since Michigan’s win over Ohio State at the Big House last weekend. The game gave the Wolverines a share of the Big Ten East division title. It earned them a trip to the conference championship game. How does this win rank for Michigan in it’s long, long rivalry with Ohio State?
John U. Bacon: Well, you go back 117 games, incredibly, and I swear to God, I'm ranking this number two behind [former Michigan coach] Bo Schembechler's first game against Ohio State in '69. They faced a team that was the reigning national champs, undefeated in two and a half years. And Michigan beat them and set off the "Ten Year War." This one is way up there.
DT: There were a lot of key performances for Michigan against Ohio State, most notably running back Hassan Haskins and his five — count ‘em — five touchdowns and defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and his three sacks. What else stood out to you?
JUB: Those are the two top performers, no doubt. What was probably most surprising to me is how good Michigan's offensive line was in the second half while scoring four touchdowns. First down, second down, they got a first down. They just kept doing it — four drives, four touchdowns. They did not have a single tackle for loss behind the line of scrimmage, the entire game. That's almost unheard of.
This will be the 11th Big Ten conference championship game. Michigan is making its first appearance. Iowa has reached the game once before, but never won.
DT: Michigan State beat Penn State to close out the regular season with the Spartans' tenth win. Mel Tucker was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by both his fellow coaches and the media. How are MSU's prospects for landing a premier bowl game?
JUB: Well, first of all, hats off to Mel Tucker. That's one of the best coaching jobs I've ever seen, and he was always my pick for the Big Ten Coach of the Year. The prospects for the Spartans are very good for a "New Year's Six" bowl game. Those are the top six bowl games. But Doug, it comes with a gigantic catch. They have to root for Michigan to beat Iowa [on Saturday]. Then they'll get one. I don't know if Spartan fans can do that.
DT: Let’s turn to the conference championship game. Michigan is representing the Big Ten East. Iowa, the Big Ten West. Kick-off is Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Indianapolis. In the national College Football Playoff rankings that came out Tuesday, Michigan is No. 2 and the Hawkeyes are No. 13. Who are the players to watch on this Hawkeyes team?
JUB: Well, I'd say Tyler Goodson, their tailback. He's already run for about 1,100 yards on an offense that isn't very good. They ranked 10th out of 14 in the Big Ten. What to watch is their defense, which is one of the best in the Big Ten, and their special teams, which are fantastic. [Iowa head coach] Kurt Ferentz, his teams, they're always well-coached. They're always highly disciplined. So don't count on seeing too many mistakes.
DT: For years, Michigan fans have been desperate for a win over Ohio State. You tweet a lot about the fans and their reactions to games. They got that win over Ohio State. How will the Michigan faithful view the season if the Wolverines fall short of a national title?
JUB: Well, as you know, my most famous quote probably, sadly, is, "Some Michigan fans aren't happy unless they're not happy." So, I'm sure somebody will grumble. But I think the vast majority of fans, 90 percent, I'm guessing, will be just fine if Michigan wins its first Big Ten title since 2004, its first win over Ohio State in 10 years, and its first ever shot at a Big Ten title game, and the College Football Playoff. That's a lot of firsts for one year.
Yes, it'd be more fun for Wolverine fans if they win the national title, but I don't think that'll be a black mark on the season.
Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.