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Northwestern gameday study guide: Michigan

Before the season, this looked like a game that could have major implications for the Legends Division race. Michigan and Northwestern were considered two of three or four teams (Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern) in the running to represent the Legends in the Big Ten Championship game, so it was reasonable to think this game – along with a handful of other Legends contests in November – would knock one team out of contention, with the other remaining in the chase for a division title. Instead, neither Northwestern nor Michigan is in the running for a division championship. Both teams have drastically underperformed and enter this game with so much negative momentum, I’m not sure two Big Ten fan bases have been less excited about a conference matchup this season.

That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is, this game is far less important than many once thought it would be. Northwestern probably needs to win this game to qualify for the postseason – seeing how the Wildcats’ offense has played of late, I don’t envision them scoring many points against Michigan State’s top ranked defense next week (and I'm assuming NU beats Illinois, which isn't a guarantee) – while Michigan could defuse some of the unease Wolverines fans feel regarding Brady Hoke, who has come under intense scrutiny this season and lost the first home game of his UM tenure last week against Nebraska.

Neither team has lived up to expectations, but perhaps this game will be just as exciting as most suspected it would be in the preseason. Michigan and Northwestern don’t have a conference championship to play for. Other motivations loom large, though. Northwestern wins, and it’s in great position to extend its postseason streak to six seasons. Michigan wins, and the questions about whether Hoke is the right guy to lead the Wolverins back to Big Ten and national prominence will subside, at least until Michigan loses again.

There are things to play for here, even if it’s not the big-time matchup most once anticipated it would be.

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