Michigan is ranked #2 in the nation, and it's the best Wolverine team I have seen since they won the National Title in 1997. In fact, I think this team might be better than that team.
Yes, I know that the 1997 team had something like eight or nine offensive starters that played in the NFL. I don't know if this Michigan team will have that many, but this team is loaded on both sides of the football.
The odds against Iowa winning this game are long, but it's not impossible.
Iowa is going to have to play a perfect football game to win. That means they are going to have to win the turnover battle, with them not giving the ball away at all. If you give the ball away to Michigan, as Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday, those mistakes will be compounded at the end of the week.
Does that mean that this Michigan team is unbeatable? No. If Buster Douglas can beat Mike Tyson once upon a time, the Hawks have their shot against the Wolverines. Probably a better chance than that.
Statistically speaking, Michigan's offense is not near the best in the nation; they rank 40th overall out of 119 teams. Iowa ranks 21st. Ohio State ranks 29th.
Michigan's defense is another story. They rank first in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game, allowing just over 32 yards per game. As a point of reference, Ohio State's defense in 2005 was considered to be one of the nation's best, if not the best. Six Buckeyes defenders were drafted by NFL teams in April, and that squad was 5th in the nation in total defense at years end. Those Buckeyes led the nation in rushing yards allowed at 73.4 yards per game.
Michigan is 7th in total defense this year. Notre Dame's offense gained 245 yards against Michigan. Wisconsin gained 248 yards against Michigan. Neither of those teams rushed for more than 12 yards against Michigan. Penn State had -14 yards against Michigan at home last weekend.
That's just the stone-cold reality that awaits Iowa this weekend.
Iowa's offensive line has done some reshuffling this week, as Marshal Yanda will start at left tackle and walk on Wes Aeschilman will start at right tackle, the first start of his career. My friend Steve Deace, who used to host a sports talk show 1460 KXNO and is a Michigan fan said this to me this week; if there is one team in the nation that you do not want to play with question marks on your offensive line, it's Michigan. I believe him.
Michigan will be without the services of potential all American receiver Mario Manningham, who will miss his second straight game following arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Iowa native Adrian Arrington will take his place, and he will do a capable job. Michigan still has the always dangerous Steve Breaston, a player who turned around last year's game between the Hawkeyes and Wolverines with that long swing pass late in the contest.
Iowa will face a healthy Mike Hart for the first time; in their previous two meetings with Hart at Michigan, he has not been 100%, and that has made a difference.
Iowa will have to be perfect in special teams, perhaps even scoring a touchdown from those units. A touchdown from the defense would also be good medicine for Iowa, because I can only see about 13 to 17 points coming from Iowa's offense.
The defense is going to have to force turnovers in this game, preferably deep in Michigan territory. Michigan is 5th in the nation in turnover margin, having forced 14 and committed just five; they have only lost one ball to a fumble this year. Iowa has lost six fumbles, had 10 interceptions and is 103rd in the nation in turnover margin. Iowa can't afford any dropped passes in this game, either, something that has really hurt them this season.
I know that none of this sounds encouraging, but I am not here to blow sunshine up your skirt, just tell you what I see.
I will call for a 38-17 win by the Wolverines, which is the same score of Iowa's late September game against Ohio State, but as always, I am hoping for the unexpected.