ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan was clinging to what seemed like a slim chance to win the Big Ten title just a few days ago.
That notion suddenly seems much more realistic.
The Wolverines got some of the help they need Saturday night when Nebraska beat Michigan State on a disputed call. Now, the 15th-ranked Wolverines (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) have to win three more games and hope Ohio State — or another team — hands the Spartans another setback.
If that scenario plays out, Michigan will earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game for the first time.
“I’m sure they’re aware of that,” coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “If not, we’ll make them aware.”
It sounds as if Harbaugh’s players are well aware of what needs to happen for them to end the school’s 11-year conference title drought. The Wolverines are refusing, so far, to say they will be pulling for the rival Buckeyes to beat the rival Spartans next week.
“Rooting for Ohio State? I don’t know that we could go that far with it,” defensive lineman Taco Charlton said.
Linebacker Joe Bolden and Charlton were quick to say they’re more focused on beating Indiana (5-5, 0-5) this Saturday on the road than allowing Big Ten championship scenarios to occupy too much of their time.
“We’re worried about Indiana,” Bolden insisted.
Michigan fans’ worries about quarterback Jake Rudock have faded and they will probably find it easier to support him the rest of the season because Harbaugh is now raving about him. Harbaugh chose to start Rudock over Shane Morris and stuck by him even when the graduate transfer from Iowa was struggling with turnovers.
The former Michigan and NFL quarterback has had his faith in Rudock rewarded because he is coming off perhaps the best game of his career. Rudock was 18 of 25 for a career-high 337 yards with two touchdowns and ran for a 4-yard touchdown along with a 2-point conversion in the 49-16 win over Rutgers.
“He looked like an NFL-type quarterback, someone that had a future playing in that league,” Harbaugh said. “The way he is now playing and operating, I see that jump that he has made.”
Harbaugh jumped at the opportunity to share his displeasure with the officials for calling unsportsmanlike conduct on Michigan for an “intent to deceive,” as it lined up tight end Jake Butt near the sideline, far from the formation, and threw to him against the Scarlet Knights. Even when Harbaugh was asked about the play of running back De’Veon Smith, he answered by lamenting the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“The rule book has no specifics on that,” Harbaugh said. “And you’re putting the officials in a tough spot. It’s an interpretation. Everything else in the rule book has specifics and it should, but that doesn’t.”
And two days after the game, Harbaugh was clearly still stewing about a targeting call that was not made against Rutgers for hitting a Michigan player high on a punt return.
“I’m offended for our defenseless player,” he said. “You can put that on the list.”