The Big Ten season is barely a week old, and already we as Michigan fans are at a crossroads. A pivotal game. A fork in the road. Insert cliche here.
But let's be frank: this Michigan-Michigan State game really does set the tone! Both teams have experienced some tests on their nonconference schedule, and both teams have seen where their strengths and weaknesses lie. But they still haven't had that one true test that separates the contenders from the pretenders. (I'm just full of them today. I sound like an ESPN analysist.)
So where do we go from here? Well, we'll just have to play the game to find out. One team will be 6-0, probably rise up a spot or two in the national rankings, and spend the next few games showing that this perfection is real. Another team will be 5-1, climbing from a hole, and trying to convince people that the first five games were in fact the real deal - not the last game.
If we look at last season with Michigan, it all went downhill after the State game. They lost in overtime in East Lansing, and they just couldn't muster any more energy. I remember watching the last few games at Wisconsin and against Ohio State, and wondering where the electric atmosphere was. It's like they were just in a daze, or at least rushing as quickly as possible to get the season over with.
From what I've seen with State (and it hasn't been all that much, to be fair), I've seen them be a very capable team; a team that could beat Michigan. I have no doubt that this game could be won by State on Saturday. (I just really hope it's not.) But if Michigan wants to prove its real-ness to the country and to the fans, they have to show that they have what it takes to beat this excellent State team.
I hope that the defense enjoyed their brief rests off the field against Indiana, because they'll probably be experiencing that again this week. State will probably use a four-down method and just keep pounding the ball and passing it at the most opportune times - the most opportune times to make the Michigan fans go "UGH! Not again!"
If the defense can recover from those mishaps and show that it can learn, then we'll be fine. That's the best way for a young defense to prove itself: fix the mistakes as quickly as possible! If Greg Robinson wants to keep his job, he needs to show that his young defense is learning and fixing the problems. The defense can only get better...right?
As much as Denard Robinson is the leader of this team, the defense is what will make this team top tier in the Big Ten (with their outstanding offense brought down a bit by its middling defense) or just the middle-of-the-road (with their outstanding offense brought down by their lousy defense). This game against a true opponent with a lot of talent will set the tone for the rest of the year.
I am still smarting from the sting of last season's State game - probably the most lingering loss I've felt in a while. All I want to see is a Michigan win on Saturday, and proof that this team is going to take the high road, going to prove its worth, going to be the dominant force, going to choose wisely, etc., etc. etc.