After another win over Ohio State, Michigan set for second straight Big Ten title game
After a big win over Ohio State last weekend, the Michigan Wolverines are set to take on Purdue in the Big Ten Conference football championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Saturday.
There has also been a lot of off-field news this week involving Michigan and Michigan State players who are facing criminal charges for separate incidents.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to discuss it all.
Big Ten Conference championship game: No. 2 Michigan vs. Purdue - 8:00 p.m. in Indianapolis
Wolverines riding high after win over OSU
Michigan beat Ohio State 45-23 on November 26. The Wolverines were down by three at the half. Then Michigan put up 28 points in the second half. The win marked the first time Michigan had won two straight over Ohio State since their games in 1999 and 2000.
"That might be the single greatest performance, the second half at least, I've ever seen out of a Michigan team. And I'm not a spring chicken, either," Bacon said.
"I've never seen a bigger gap in coaching performance during a game than I did that day. Ryan Day at Ohio State is a great coach, but his game plan made no sense to me. And Michigan, with far fewer five-star players, their top recruits, this game should not have been close, and yet it was flipped the other way. The game plan for Michigan was just so much better than the game plan for Ohio State."
Corum out for the postseason
According to multiple reports, Michigan running back Blake Corum will have knee surgery and miss the entire postseason. Michigan has shown it can win without Corum — he was only in for a few plays against the Buckeyes — but it’s a disappointing end to the season for one of the game’s best players this year. Corum had 1,463 yards rushing and 19 total touchdowns.
"It’s a huge loss, even with [running back] Donovan Edwards playing the game of his life against Ohio State last weekend. But Blake Corum was arguably the best player in college football this year and a Heisman Trophy candidate. So, that is obviously a big deal for him. Second of all, we’re not sure how that’s going to affect his [NFL] stock going forward," Bacon said.
Michigan co-captain faces felony charge
The Wolverines will be without Corum for the Big Ten title game, but it appears defensive lineman and team co-captain Mazi Smith will play Saturday, despite news that he's facing a felony weapons charge.
On Wednesday, the Washtenaw County prosecutor charged Smith with carrying a concealed weapon. That charge carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $2,500 fine. Smith was arrested after Ann Arbor police found a gun in his car during a traffic stop for speeding on October 7. Smith reportedly did not have his driver's license with him at the time.
A judge is allowing Smith to travel out of state with the team and U of M has said Smith will continue to practice and play.
Michigan vs. Purdue
When the Wolverines take on Purdue, it will be their first meeting since 2017. The Boilermakers, who won the Big Ten West division, are 8-4 this season and won their last three games. But Purdue has also struggled to close out games. Four of their wins came by a touchdown or less.
Bacon says Michigan is a clear favorite.
"If Michigan's attitude is where it should be, it's not going to be that close. I can give you the quote from [former Michigan coach] Bo Schembechler, 'The upset is in the mind of the favorite.' In other words, when the gap in talent is that great, they cannot beat you without your permission," he said.
But that's not a guarantee.
"Go back to 2018 and the same coach, [Purdue] Coach [Jeff] Brohm, he beat No. 2, undefeated Ohio State 49-20 at Purdue. And Purdue was unranked. I was there for [Michigan's historic, upset loss to] Appalachian State in 2007. The whole 'never say, never' quote applies [here]," Bacon said.
He also noted one more critical factor.
"Don't forget, the doggone ball is pointy. No one knows where it's going to bounce."
The national title picture
After Michigan beat Ohio State, the Wolverines moved up a spot in the College Football Playoff Rankings to No. 2. The top four are the University of Georgia, Michigan, Texas Christian University, and the University of Southern California. Ohio State fell to No. 5.
Only the top four get a shot at a national title, but Bacon says even if Purdue upset Michigan, there's a good chance the Wolverines would still make the playoff.
"It's very hard to predict what that [CFP] committee is going to do, but if Michigan lost a good game to Purdue, they'd probably move down to No. 4 having been 12-0, with a very impressive win over Ohio State at Ohio State," he said.
"More interestingly, perhaps, would be if Ohio State can sneak into the top four. If Ohio State had not gotten blown out by Michigan instead of [losing by] a close score, they would probably get in and they might still."
"I've never seen a bigger gap in coaching performance during a game than I did that day."John U. Bacon on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh outmaneuvering Ohio State's Ryan Day
One of the complexities of the national title picture is the conference championship games themselves. Because of their success, Michigan gets to play in the Big Ten's ultimate game this weekend. But the Wolverines are at risk of falling in the polls because they will play one more game than the Buckeyes, who will just watch and wait this weekend.
"Your reward is to risk it all again," Bacon said. "It's a messed up system, obviously. But, you know, it has always been a messed up system and they mess it up in different ways about every five or ten years."
Big Ten announces penalties for MSU players
In other Big Ten news this week, the conference announced its penalties for the incidents in the tunnel at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor after the Michigan-Michigan State game in October.
There are seven Spartans players facing criminal charges. MSU had suspended them for the past four games. For all but one, the Big Ten says the suspensions are sufficient and the players are reinstated. (An eighth player who was suspended, but not charged criminally, was reinstated after three games.) The situation is different for cornerback Khary Crump, who is the only player facing a felony charge.
The Big Ten has suspended Crump for an additional eight games next season. In videos from the tunnel Crump can be seen swinging his helmet at a Michigan player who is not wearing a helmet.
"I've talked to [other] prosecutors about this and they say what the [Washtenaw County] prosecutors did is very typical and what they would do with similar [situations for] 19, 20, 21 year olds in a parking lot of a bar, say, who are involved in some sort of fight — six misdemeanors and the one felony. So they're not being picked on as far as that goes," Bacon said.
"They will have a very good chance, without any serious priors in their record or if they do community service, [that] all of it will get expunged ultimately. That also strikes me as fair. Nobody wants to see lives ruined over this incident."
Bacon is a former high school hockey coach and has written extensively about the sport. In the NHL, it's unusual to see a group of players attack one other player, but fistfights that leave players bruised and bloody are commonplace. Police and prosecutors are almost never involved.
"Hockey's got its own code that the law has largely stayed out of, insofar as it's, by and large, self-policed. I hate to say it, but in an NHL game, the one guy gets a five-minute major [penalty], and everyone else gets two-minute minors. And you keep playing that night," he said.
"So, you can ask yourself about the moral code of the NHL versus college football, but that's where it stands."
Editor's notes: Some quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.
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