Howe: The Pressure is on Michigan in Matchup with Hawkeyes

October 4, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – I won’t go as far as to say Iowa is playing with house money when it travels to Michigan this weekend. The ultimate goal should be winning every game and claiming a national championship around here.

That said, losing in Ann Arbor won’t be the end of the world for the Hawkeyes. It might be for the Wolverines. At the very least, it could signal the beginning of the end of favorite son Jim Harbaugh’s run at his alma mater.

Wisconsin embarrassed and physically dominated Michigan last month. Army took it to overtime before falling at the Big House two weeks before that. Unrest has settled in for Maize and Blue Nation.

Harbaugh was brought back to resurrect a proud program, meaning compete for Big Ten titles and national championships. He hasn’t. He hasn’t defeated arch rival Ohio State. His teams have stumbled in big games, going 1-9 against ranked opponents.

Winning 10 games in three of the last four campaigns would be cause for parades in many towns across the country. In Big Blue Land, it’s just not enough.

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A loss Saturday likely takes Michigan out of the Big Ten race and continues a conference championship drought dating back to 2004. Fans begin thinking a little harder about Harbaugh’s $7 million annual salary. Maybe he looks at getting out of Dodge ahead of the posse.

It’s hard feeling sorry for the guy after he showed up sleeping over at a recruit’s house, and orchestrating a signing day party with Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and Ric Flair. The bravado raises already intense expectations.

Harbaugh pulled the Wolverines out of the depths to which they fell under Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez. He’s won a lot of recruiting competitions against other top program. He’s produced top-level NFL talent.

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That’s all bought him time from Michigan followers continually looking forward for the payoff. And that was expected this season with the Buckeyes navigating a coaching change while also replacing plenty of talent headed to the pros. The Big Ten writers picked the Wolverines as their champs, and Ann Arbor was buzzing.

Instead of realizing those predictions, they’re sitting at No. 19 in the AP Poll with little margin for error. Meanwhile, Ohio State is rolling along, unbeaten and in the Top 5. Penn State sits at 4-0 and No. 12.

But before Michigan attempts righting the ship against Big Ten East powers, it faces the No. 14 Hawkeyes from the “inferior” West division. It can’t afford another loss against the league’s group of albatrosses. It would hurt in practicality and perception.

Make no mistake, an Iowa win sets it up for what could be a special season. Beating a blue blood, no matter the circumstances, carries significance and boosts the resume. It’s important.

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But the Hawkeyes could claim victory in the rest of their games even if they slip up this week. That would mean wins against Wisconsin, Penn State and potentially Ohio State in the conference title game. Playoff or not, that’s a huge year.

The Wolverines aren’t afforded that luxury. And they’re expected to beat teams like Iowa at home. Odds makers are favoring them.

They’re needing their best performance of the season. So far, their defense is more vulnerable than it’s been in recent memory. The running game looks average, at best. Iowa appears strong in both of those areas, which are historically important to succeeding in the Big Ten.

The pressure is on in Ann Arbor. And, thankfully, we’ll be there to see it.

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