Ohio State is on a bye this week, but Urban Meyer, the team, and most fans would rather keep rolling after last week’s utter destruction of Rutgers. It’s also the last weekend before the first College Football Playoff standings come out, and it’s probably better to have a solid performance fresh in the committee’s mind than not, but fortunately for the Buckeyes, most of the other top teams are off this week too. There’s also the issue of injuries, and like most teams this time of the season, Ohio State is pretty banged up. A week off before the most important month of the season is probably for the best, even if it slows momentum a little.
Michigan is coming off their bye week today, and the break couldn’t have come at a better time for the Wolverines. With an extra week to move past the shocking, devastating loss to Michigan State, they can focus on the future and a Big Ten title that is still within their reach (although they’ll need help to get there).
Michigan travels to Minnesota to take on a struggling Gopher team coming off not only a bye week, but also a tearful goodbye from head coach Jerry Kill, who retired Wednesday on the advice of his doctor. I’m a big believer in the impact of intangibles on college football games, and it will be interesting to see how the competing intangibles manifest themselves on the field tonight.
For Michigan, there’s desperation. Realistically, the Wolverines need to win out to still have a shot at the Big Ten title and potentially a spot in the playoff (although that ship may have already sailed.) Michigan is also looking for redemption. The bizarre, instantly-viral way the Michigan State game ended has the potential to be a season-defining moment. It’s Coach Harbaugh’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen. Losing tonight could be severely damaging, with two more road trips coming up in the next three games.
From Minnesota’s perspective, there’s the obvious intangible of winning for a beloved, outgoing coach. Emotions will be running high, especially considering the circumstances of Coach Kill’s departure. He isn’t being fired for lack of performance or some scandal. He was already inspirational just for being able to coach at a high level in his condition, and now he becomes the kind of inspirational that can fuel a player or two (or an entire team) to a lights-out performance. Playing at home and under the lights only adds to that potential.