Michigan has been quietly building steam with each passing week. Now they step onto the prime-time stage for the first time this season with a chance to demonstrate to the nation that they're back and the historic early losses are a forgotten memory. The Wolverines travel to Champaign, where the Illini have a little proving of their own to do. Last week, Illinois was not ready for prime-time in the theoretical sense. A loss at Iowa showed the lack of consistency needed to get over the top. But beat Michigan on national television, and they're right back to being in the mix of it.
Lloyd Carr's team has done some minor shuffling on the offensive line and is getting better play up front. The lineman will have to be ready, as it may be Carlos Brown rather then Michael Hart they're blocking for. The Detroit Free Press reports that even Hart's mother doesn't know if he'll play.
On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines have to be concerned that Juice Williams fits the mold of quarterbacks who have given UM fits lately--the running, spread the field type of QB. I have said before and will say again, I think style is being overrated. Michigan was simply not ready to play against Appalachian State and let it carry over into Oregon. This game will tell us a little more about whether it was philosophy or execution that was the source of the trouble for Ron English's defense.
Illinois hasn't beaten Michigan since 1983. Not coincidentally, that was the last time the Illini went to the Rose Bowl (though they did win the Big Ten in 2001, but ended up in the Sugar under the new BCS format). A victory here keeps that hope alive, and would be the perfect way for Ron Zook to celebrate his new contract extension.
Penn State goes to Indiana for a noon EST kickoff. The Lion offense has been rejuvenated by a change in strategy, reports Jeff Rice of The Centre Daily Times. It's the offense of Indiana that's on the mind of Joe Paterno though. The Hoosiers' combination of Kellen Lewis to James Hardy through the air is a potent one. But as talented a receiver as Hardy is, you can't beat a good defense being a two-man show. Lewis & Hardy may have a few moments, but I can't see them putting up the kind of offense they need to pull off an upset. Given the priorities down at IU, it's unlikely even a win would get everyone's mind off the latest recruiting problems surrounding Kelvin Sampson.